Reading: Changes in Equilibrium

Photo of four folded newspapers; photo is very green

The Four-Step Process

Let’s begin this discussion with a single economic event. It might be an event that affects demand, like a change in income, population, tastes, prices of substitutes or complements, or expectations about future prices. It might be an event that affects supply, like a change in natural conditions, input prices, technology, or government policies that affect production. How does an economic event like one of these affect equilibrium price and quantity? We’ll investigate this question using a four-step process.

Step 1. Draw a demand and supply model before the economic change took place. Creating the model requires four standard pieces of information: the law of demand, which tells us the slope of the demand curve; the law of supply, which gives us the slope of the supply curve; the shift variables for demand; and the shift variables for supply. From this model, find the initial equilibrium values for price and quantity.

Step 2. Decide whether the economic change being analyzed affects demand or supply. In other words, does the event refer to something in the list of demand factors or supply factors?

Step 3. Decide whether the effect on demand or supply causes the curve to shift to the right or to the left, and sketch the new demand or supply curve on the diagram. In other words, does the event increase or decrease the amount consumers want to buy or producers want to sell?

Step 4. Identify the new equilibrium, and then compare the original equilibrium price and quantity to the new equilibrium price and quantity.

Newspapers and the Internet

According to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, more and more people, especially younger people, are getting their news from online and digital sources. The majority of U.S. adults now own smartphones or tablets, and most of those Americans say they use them in part to get the news. From 2004 to 2012, the share of Americans who reported getting their news from digital sources increased from 24 percent to 39 percent. How has this trend affected consumption of print news media and radio and television news? Figure 1 and the text below illustrate the four-step analysis used to answer this question.

The graph represents the four-step approach to determining changes in equilibrium price and quantity of print news.

Figure 1. The Print News Market: A Four-Step Analysis

Step 1. Develop a demand and supply model to think about what the market looked like before the event. The demand curve D0 and the supply curve S0 show the original relationships. In this case, the analysis is performed without specific numbers on the price and quantity axis.

Step 2. Did the change described affect supply or demand? A change in tastes, from traditional news sources (print, radio, and television) to digital sources, caused a change in demand for the former.

Step 3. Was the effect on demand positive or negative? A shift to digital news sources will tend to mean a lower quantity demanded of traditional news sources at every given price, causing the demand curve for print and other traditional news sources to shift to the left, from D0 to D1.

Step 4. Compare the new equilibrium price and quantity to the original equilibrium price. The new equilibrium (E1) occurs at a lower quantity and a lower price than the original equilibrium (E0).

The decline in print news reading predates 2004. Print newspaper circulation peaked in 1973 and has declined since then due to competition from television and radio news. In 1991, 55 percent of Americans indicated that they got their news from print sources, while only 29 percent did so in 2012. Radio news has followed a similar path in recent decades, with the share of Americans getting their news from radio declining from 54 percent in 1991 to 33 percent in 2012. Television news has held its own during the last fifteen years, with the market share staying in the mid to upper fifties. What does this suggest for the future, given that two-thirds of Americans under thirty years old say they don’t get their news from television at all?