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IB DP Economics Study Notes

2.11.5 Barriers to Entry & Exit

Understanding barriers to entry and exit is paramount in analysing market dynamics, competition levels, and business strategies within various industries. These barriers impact the ease with which firms can venture into or retreat from a market.


Barriers to Entry

Barriers to entry are obstacles that deter or prevent new competitors from easily entering an industry or market. These barriers can arise from various sources:

  • Structural Barriers: Stem from the basic nature of the industry and the specific market requirements.
  • Behavioural Barriers: Result from actions taken by existing firms to discourage new entrants.
  • Legal Barriers: Arise from legal and regulatory constraints imposed by governing bodies.
An image illustrating barriers to entry

Image courtesy of educba

Barriers to Exit

Barriers to exit are factors that hinder a firm from leaving a market, despite potential losses or strategic shifts. They essentially trap a firm within a market or industry, impacting its long-term decisions.


Barriers to Entry

1. High Start-up Costs: Some industries demand substantial initial investments. For instance, setting up a power plant, launching a new airline, or establishing a car manufacturing unit requires colossal capital.

2. Economies of Scale: Larger, established firms might have cost advantages that new entrants struggle to match. For instance, bulk purchasing or long-standing relationships with suppliers can lead to discounted rates unavailable to new entrants.

3. Access to Suppliers and Distribution Channels: Exclusive agreements or control over essential channels can act as significant deterrents. For example, a new soft drink manufacturer might find it challenging to get shelf space in supermarkets that have exclusive deals with dominant soda companies.

4. Patents and Licences: Intellectual property rights can block new entrants. For instance, a patented drug formula prevents other pharmaceutical companies from producing the same medicine until the patent expires.

5. Branding and Customer Loyalty: An established brand reputation can be hard to challenge. New entrants would need substantial marketing efforts and resources to sway loyal customers.

6. Government Regulation: Industries like nuclear energy, healthcare, or banking often require stringent regulatory approvals, making entry difficult for new competitors.

7. Switching Costs: If consumers face costs (either monetary or in terms of effort) to switch from one product to another, this can deter new firms. For example, moving from one software platform to another might entail training costs.

An image illustrating different types of barriers to entry

Image courtesy of wallstreetmojo

Barriers to Exit

1. Specialised Assets: Assets tailored for specific industry uses can't be easily liquidated or repurposed. For instance, a newspaper printing press has limited use outside its specific industry.

2. Contractual Obligations: Long-term contracts, leases, or agreements can bind firms, making exit costly or legally challenging.

3. Redundancy Costs: Exiting certain markets might necessitate laying off workers, leading to severance pay and potential legal challenges.

4. Emotional Barriers: Owners might have personal or emotional attachments to their businesses, especially in family-run ventures.

5. Strategic Alliances: Commitments to partners or stakeholders can hinder a firm's ability to smoothly exit a market.

Implications for Market Structure


  • High Barriers to Entry: High barriers often result in monopolies. One firm dominates, shielded from competition. They can set prices, determine product quality, and have significant market influence. Understanding the dynamics of a monopoly can further elucidate the implications of high entry barriers.


  • Medium Barriers to Entry: Here, a handful of firms dominate, watching each other's strategies closely. They might engage in tacit collusion, where without formal agreements, they implicitly cooperate, setting prices or outputs beneficial for all. This competitive environment is typical of an oligopoly, where barriers to entry maintain the status quo among few dominating firms.

Perfect Competition

  • Low or No Barriers to Entry & Exit: A multitude of small firms exist, competing fiercely. The market determines prices, and individual firms are price takers, with no power to influence market conditions.

Monopolistic Competition

  • Low Barriers with Differentiation: Numerous firms exist, but each offers slightly varied products. While they have some market influence due to differentiation, new entrants can still join relatively easily. This market structure highlights the role of monopolistic competition, where low entry barriers meet product differentiation.

Strategic Implications

  • Innovation and R&D: In markets with towering entry barriers, firms might be complacent, not feeling the push to innovate. In moderately competitive arenas, there's a constant drive to outdo rivals through innovation.
  • Pricing Strategies: High entry barriers grant firms the luxury of setting higher prices. In contrast, competitive markets can lead to cost-based pricing, offering value deals to attract consumers.
  • Mergers and Acquisitions: To fortify their position, firms might look to merge with or acquire potential rivals. This strategy can further heighten entry barriers, consolidating the industry further.
  • Advertising and Branding: In industries where branding is a significant entry barrier, firms will invest heavily in advertising, aiming to deepen customer loyalty.

By comprehending barriers to entry and exit, IB Economics students can decode the underlying dynamics of various markets, providing a comprehensive lens to evaluate business strategies and policy implications. Moreover, understanding government intervention and market failures and the role of externalities in causing welfare loss can offer deeper insights into why these barriers exist and their broader economic impacts.


Yes, there are industries where barriers to entry are extremely low. Digital platforms and online businesses, particularly in their infancy, had low entry barriers. For instance, setting up a basic blog, opening an online store, or starting a niche digital service often requires minimal capital and can be done by almost anyone with internet access. Another example is the gig economy, where individuals can offer services like driving or delivery without major investments. However, even in these industries, other forms of barriers such as brand loyalty, network effects, or platform dominance can emerge over time.

Barriers to entry can disproportionately affect small-scale entrepreneurs and start-ups. While large corporations might have the financial muscle to overcome high start-up costs, regulatory hurdles, or the need for specialised knowledge, smaller entities might struggle. High barriers can deter potential entrepreneurs from entering the market, leading to reduced innovation and fewer new business ventures. Furthermore, when dominant firms engage in predatory pricing or other anti-competitive behaviours, it becomes particularly hard for start-ups to compete, potentially stifling the growth of innovative new businesses.

While barriers to exit might initially sound negative, they can occasionally benefit a market. For instance, if firms find it difficult to exit an industry due to high sunk costs, they might be more inclined to invest in research and development to innovate and stay competitive. This can lead to advancements in technology, process efficiencies, or the development of new products, benefiting consumers in the long run. However, barriers to exit can also have downsides, such as keeping inefficient firms in the market, leading to an over-allocation of resources in an industry that could be better used elsewhere.

Government intervention to reduce barriers to entry often stems from a desire to promote competition and protect consumer welfare. A more competitive market environment can spur innovation, push firms to be more efficient, lead to fairer pricing, and offer consumers a greater variety of products and services. By reducing barriers, the government can facilitate the entry of new firms, disrupting potential monopolistic or oligopolistic behaviours. This could mean providing grants or subsidies for start-ups, enforcing stricter anti-trust regulations, or even breaking up large companies if they become too dominant, thereby restricting competition.

Firms can actively create barriers to entry in various ways to maintain or enhance their market position. This can include:

1. Branding and advertising: By creating a strong brand image and investing heavily in advertising, firms can foster customer loyalty, making it difficult for newcomers to sway consumers.

2. Predatory pricing: Temporarily slashing prices to a level where newcomers can't compete, with the aim of driving them out of the market before raising prices again.

3. Exclusive contracts and agreements: By entering into exclusive agreements with suppliers or distributors, firms can block new entrants from accessing vital resources or distribution channels.

4. Patents and copyrights: Holding patents or copyrights can prevent new entrants from producing similar products or services.

5. Economies of scale: Large firms can produce goods at a lower per-unit cost, giving them a pricing advantage over potential newcomers.

These strategies, while effective in warding off competition, might sometimes attract scrutiny from regulatory bodies, especially if they unfairly disadvantage new entrants or harm consumer welfare.

Practice Questions

Briefly describe the difference between structural and behavioural barriers to entry. Provide an example for each.

Structural barriers to entry arise from the inherent nature of the industry and the specific requirements of the market. For instance, high start-up costs in industries such as nuclear energy or car manufacturing are structural barriers, as they naturally deter new entrants due to the sheer capital needed. On the other hand, behavioural barriers result from actions deliberately taken by existing firms to discourage newcomers. An example of this would be an established brand investing heavily in advertising to reinforce customer loyalty, making it difficult for new brands to gain a foothold in the market.

How do high barriers to entry influence the market structure, and what might be the resulting implications for consumer welfare?

High barriers to entry typically result in fewer firms entering the market, leading to structures like monopolies or oligopolies. In a monopoly, a single firm dominates the market, having significant power to set prices, determine product quality, and influence other market conditions without the threat of new entrants. This lack of competition can lead to higher prices, reduced consumer choice, and potentially lower product quality. In oligopolies, a handful of firms might engage in tacit collusion, implicitly cooperating to set prices or outputs, which could again disadvantage consumers. Both scenarios may lead to reduced consumer welfare due to limited choices and potentially higher prices.

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Written by: Dave
Cambridge University - BA Hons Economics

Dave is a Cambridge Economics graduate with over 8 years of tutoring expertise in Economics & Business Studies. He crafts resources for A-Level, IB, & GCSE and excels at enhancing students' understanding & confidence in these subjects.

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