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What is Marginal Revenue & How to Calculate It?

Imagine running a café that sells 100 cups of coffee each day for £5 each. At first glance, it seems that selling an additional 10 cups daily would straightforwardly boost your income by £50. However, the reality of business economics is rarely so simple. 

What if attracting those extra customers requires a promotional discount or additional expenses? This is where the concept of marginal revenue becomes crucial. Marginal revenue helps business owners understand the actual financial gain from selling one more unit of a product. 

In this discussion, we'll explore the definition of marginal revenue, its importance in business decision-making, and provide a step-by-step guide on how to calculate it, enabling businesses to make more informed and profitable decisions.

What is Marginal Revenue?

Marginal revenue is a term used in economics and business to describe the additional income generated by selling one more unit of a product or service. It is calculated by assessing the difference in total revenue when an additional unit is sold. In simpler terms, it represents the extra amount of money a business makes for each additional item sold after covering the initial costs.

For instance, if a company sells an item for £100 and the sale of the next item increases total revenue to £195, the marginal revenue of selling that item is £95. This concept is vital for businesses as it helps them understand how changes in production and sales levels can affect their overall profitability. It also plays a critical role in making decisions about pricing, production levels, and assessing the effectiveness of marketing strategies.

In practice, marginal revenue can decrease as more units are sold, especially in competitive markets. This is because, to sell more products, a company might need to lower prices or increase spending on advertising and promotions, which can reduce the revenue gained from each additional sale. Understanding marginal revenue allows businesses to find the most profitable balance between the cost of producing more and the income generated from sales.

Importance of Marginal Revenue

Marginal revenue is vital in business, serving as a key guide for making strategic decisions. It's importance can be seen in several crucial areas:

  • Boosting Profit: Understanding marginal revenue helps businesses maximise their profits. It involves comparing the additional income from selling one more product with the cost of making it. This helps find the most profitable level of production.

  • Assessing Customer Demand: Marginal revenue is a useful tool for understanding customer interest in a product. By looking at past data, companies can figure out how strong the demand is and how much customers are willing to pay. This information is key for planning and positioning in the market.

  • Planning Production: Good production planning relies on understanding marginal revenue. Using demand data, companies can predict the right amount of products to make, avoiding making too little or too much.

  • Setting Prices: Marginal revenue also helps in deciding prices. It shows the income from selling one more item, which helps set competitive prices that attract customers while still adding to overall income.

In short, marginal revenue isn't just about money; it's a strategic tool that improves many parts of a business, from profit to market position. Its role in guiding business decisions is crucial for successful business management.

How to Calculate Marginal Revenue?

To calculate marginal revenue, you need to understand how much extra income is generated for each additional unit sold. 

Formula for marginal revenue

Marginal revenue = Change in total revenue / Change in quantity

This means you divide the increase in total revenue by the increase in the number of units sold. 

Example of Marginal Revenue Calculation

Here's a step-by-step guide to calculating it:

  • Determine the Initial Revenue and Quantity: First, find out the total revenue and the number of units sold initially. For example, if a company sells 2,000 items at £100 each, the initial revenue is £200,000.

  • Calculate the New Revenue and Quantity: Next, calculate the revenue and quantity after increasing production. For instance, if the company then sells an additional 10 items, and total revenue increases to £200,800, your new revenue is £200,800 and the new quantity is 2,010 items.

  • Apply the Marginal Revenue Formula: Use the formula to find the marginal revenue. Subtract the initial revenue from the new revenue, and divide this by the change in quantity. In our example, the change in revenue is £800 (£200,800 - £200,000), and the change in quantity is 10 items. So, £800 / 10 = £80. Therefore, the marginal revenue per additional item sold is £80.

This calculation is really useful for businesses to understand how much they earn from selling more products. It helps with making good decisions about prices and how many items to make. 

It's worth remembering that as you sell more, the extra money you make on each item might go down. This is because you might have to lower prices to sell more, or the market might have too many of your products already. This is called the law of diminishing returns.

Marginal Revenue and Other Economic Metrics

1. Marginal Revenue and Average Revenue:

  • Marginal revenue is the additional income generated from selling one more unit.
  • Average revenue is the income per unit, calculated by dividing total revenue by the number of units sold.
  • In competitive markets, price is equal to both marginal and average revenue.
  • In monopolies, marginal revenue decreases with each additional unit sold.
  • Marginal revenue in monopolies is always at or below average revenue due to price fluctuations with quantity sold.

2. Marginal Revenue vs Total Revenue

Marginal revenue is the increase in income from each additional unit sold, while total revenue is the sum of all sales income. Marginal revenue directly impacts total revenue, as each additional unit sold increases the total income.

3. Marginal Revenue and Marginal Cost

  • Marginal revenue and marginal cost are essential for determining profitability.
  • Marginal cost represents the cost of producing one additional unit.
  • A firm maximizes its profit when its marginal cost matches its marginal revenue.
  • If the marginal revenue is higher than the marginal cost, the firm is profitable.
  • However, when production extends beyond the point where marginal revenue equals marginal cost, further production becomes less profitable and can result in losses.

4. Marginal Revenue Curve and Demand Curve

  • The marginal revenue curve is generally positioned below the demand curve.
  • This relationship is influenced by the price elasticity of demand, which measures the responsiveness of quantity demanded to changes in price.
  • When demand is elastic (meaning a small price change leads to a significant change in quantity demanded), marginal revenue is positive.
  • In contrast, when demand is inelastic (where changes in price have little effect on quantity demanded), marginal revenue becomes negative.
  • The point of unitary elasticity occurs when quantity demanded changes proportionately to price changes, resulting in marginal revenue equaling zero.

Marginal Revenue Curve


In summary, marginal revenue is crucial in business economics, providing key insights for profit, pricing, and production strategies. It helps businesses understand the financial impact of selling more products, guiding decisions on how to maximise profits, assess consumer demand, and set optimal production levels. 

Using the marginal revenue formula, businesses can navigate pricing and competition challenges effectively. Moreover, the relationships between marginal revenue and other economic metrics like average revenue, total revenue, and marginal cost are vital for strategic planning. Understanding marginal revenue is essential for businesses to succeed in today's competitive market, helping them make informed, long-term strategic decisions.

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