In Porter's model, substitute products refer to products in other industries. To the economist, a threat of substitutes exists when a product's demand is affected by the price change of a substitute product. A product's price elasticity is affected by substitute products - as more substitutes become available, the demand becomes more elastic since customers have more alternatives. A close substitute product constrains the ability of firms in an industry to raise prices.
The competition engendered by a Threat of Substitute comes from products outside the industry. The price of aluminum beverage cans is constrained by the price of glass bottles, steel cans, and plastic containers. These containers are substitutes, yet they are not rivals in the aluminum can industry. To the manufacturer of automobile tires, tire retreads are a substitute. Today, new tires are not so expensive that car owners give much consideration to retreading old tires. But in the trucking industry new tires are expensive and tires must be replaced often. In the truck tire market, retreading remains a viable substitute industry. In the disposable diaper industry, cloth diapers are a substitute and their prices constrain the price of disposables.
While the threat of substitutes typically impacts an industry through price competition, there can be other concerns in assessing the threat of substitutes. Consider the substitutability of different types of TV transmission: local station transmission to home TV antennas via the airways versus transmission via cable, satellite, and telephone lines. The new technologies available and the changing structure of the entertainment media are contributing to competition among these substitute means of connecting the home to entertainment. Except in remote areas it is unlikely that cable TV could compete with free TV from an aerial without the greater diversity of entertainment that it affords the customer.
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