Ebay: Using Media to Teach Economics

Dirk Mateer, Penn State University
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Ebay is a parody of I Want it That Way by the Backstreet Boys a #1 hit from 1999. This song contains animated lyrics and an economic explanation that are synchronized to the music. The song explores a wide range of economic issues including: markets, supply and demand, and gains from trade.

Learning Goals

One of the beauties of using music to teach economics is the depth of the ideas that can be explored. EBay is about the exchange process and the song nicely shows how trade creates value. This gives the instructor a chance to to explore consumer and producer surplus and more broadly social welfare concerns. This song also highlights a different aspect of exchange, transaction costs and how eBay lowers those costs for all parties -- thereby improving efficiency. At the same time, since the song discusses PayPal and online customer satisfaction ratings this opens the door for a fruitful discussion of risk aversion. In sum, the song does a wonderful job of communicating -- in a very funny way -- the positive-sum nature of market transactions.

Context for Use

Principles of economics. Best used as a lead into the section of the course on markets.

Description and Teaching Materials

EBay is a four-minute animated song with an economic explanation of the lyrics.

The entire animation can be accessed at Music for Economics and played in class over the Internet. Ebay is just one of over 40 examples at Music for Economics that instructors can access for use in class.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Music for Economics contains copyrighted material. You need to obtain an ID and PW from the site creators to access the musical animations in the database.

This song should be used as a lead in to the portion of the course on markets. I do this by showing the animation before class begins to set the stage for the discussion that takes place that day and then I reference back to the music as the class unfolds. Other instructors may prefer to use the animation in class. The time required to show the animation is five minutes without discussion.