Enrique Andreu, Damien Neven, Salvatore Piccolo, Roberto Venturini

We characterize the degree of price authority that competing upstream principals award their downstream agents in a setting where these agents own private information about demand and incur nonverifiable distribution costs. Principals cannot internalize these costs through monetary incentives and design “permission sets” from which agents choose prices. The objective is to understand the forces shaping delegation and the constraints imposed on equilibrium prices. When principals behave noncooperatively, agents are biased toward excessively high prices because they pass on distribution costs to consumers. Hence, the permission set only features a price cap that is more likely to bind as products become closer substitutes, in sectors where distribution is sufficiently costly, and when demand is not too volatile. By contrast, when principals behave cooperatively, the optimal delegation scheme is richer and more complex. Because principals want to charge the monopoly price, the optimal permission set features a price floor when the distribution cost is sufficiently low, it features instead full discretion for moderate values of this cost, and only when it is high enough, a price cap is optimal. Surprisingly, while competition (as captured by stronger product substitutability) hinders delegation in the noncooperative regime, the opposite occurs when principals maximize industry profit.