Tag: price discrimination

If ever there was something to make you clean out your house and sort out your ‘rubbish’, this has got to be it!! A Chinese vase found gathering dust in an attic has just sold for £43 million at auction. The buyer will pay around £53 million after paying the buyer’s 20% commission to the auction house and VAT. The seller will get around £40.75 million, after deduction of the seller’s commission by the auction house. The auction house itself will make over £10 million – not a bad day to be an auctioneer!

With the price starting at £500,000, onlookers could hardly believe it as the price began to increase by £1 million at a time. The buyer is thought to be a Chinese person or a state-backed company. And, just in case you didn’t realise, the FT article does make special mention that the person is likely to be ‘wealthy’!

The Chinese vase sold for over 40 times its estimate, with speculation that the price was forced up by a Chinese cultural agency owned by the state. As China aims to regain many of its lost artefacts, prices for objects such as this have been pushed up: although perhaps £53 million is a little expensive for the everyday consumer! However, unstable financial markets and rising inflation may also be partly to blame for the surge in prices for objects such as this. We’ve seen how gold and other commodities have increased in value throughout the recession, as investors look for more stable investments – and the same appears to be happening in the world of art. I’ll certainly be keeping a look out for any dusty artefacts!

House clearance vase fetches £53 million Financial Times, Jan Dalley, Peter Aspden and Justine Lau (12/11/10)
Chinese vase: the suburban auction house that made £12m Telegraph, Andy Bloxham and Martin Evans (12/11/10)
Qianlong Chinese porcelain vase sold for £43m BBC News (12/11/10)
Chinese vase fetches record $69 million in UK auction Reuters (12/11/10)


  1. Why are auctions a good way of selling and buying a product?
  2. The auction house has made over £10 million from this sale, despite only employing 8 people. Does this income guarantee the success of this business?
  3. Using a demand and supply diagram, explain the factors that have fuelled the price increase in artefacts, such as this Qianlong porcelain vase.
  4. Why are people investing in assets, such as art and commodities, rather than in more traditional financial assets?
  5. Could an auction be an example of price discrimination?

As students, many of you probably have a student identification card, which you might use when you go to the cinema or when you buy something in a shop offering student discounts. Your parents or grandparents, if they are 60 or over, may get similar discounts, and your younger siblings or nieces and nephews may pay nothing for certain services.

It doesn’t cost a cinema more to provide a seat for an adult than it does for a child, a student or a senior citizen. So, why is it that firms can charge different groups of consumers different prices, even though they are consuming the same good or service? We are, of course, referring to the ability of a firm to price discriminate. The following short cases look at the concept in action.

Price discrimination: Russians get a discount Daily Markets, Mark Perry (12/10/10)
Theme park tickets and passes for Florida residents Walt Disney World 2010
Price discrimination: India and Disney World Daily Markets, Mark Perry (10/10/10)
Freedom’s just another word for getting a state subsidy The Economist (18/10/10)


  1. What are the different types of price discrimination?
  2. In the cases in the articles above, what type of price discrimination is being used?
  3. Illustrate this concept on a diagram and explain why a firm would use price discrimination. How will it affect revenue and profits?
  4. What are the key conditions needed for price discrimination to take place? In the cases above, why is it that British consumers are charged a higher price? What does this tell us about their price elasticity of demand?
  5. What forms of price discrimination (a) are being practised by US private universities and (b) being proposed in the Browne report for students at English universities?
  6. What other examples of price discrimination can you think of? Try and think of examples that fit into the different types of price discrimination.

Passenger groups have reacted angrily to the raising of off-peak fares by South West Trains by around 20% on many journeys. The train company has increased unregulated fares significantly where there is little competition, but appears to have limited the increases on journeys where there is competition. Is this an abuse of their monopoly position?

Train firm accused of abusing monopoly Times Online (8/5/07)
Price hike angers train watchdog BBC News Online (8/5/07)

1. Discuss the extent to which South West Trains has a monopoly on its rail journeys.
2. Using diagrams as appropriate, show the reasons why South West Trains has chosen to increase off-peak prices by as much as 20%.
3. Discuss the likely value of the price elasticity of demand for off-peak rail journeys. To what extent will this have influenced South West Trains’ pricing decision?