Hundreds of scholars have written thousands of peer-reviewed research papers about business models. To date, no single consensus has emerged on exactly what a business model is or precisely how to study or measure it in a rigorous way.
A series of dramatically different definitions for business models have been published. They are often based on intuition or extrapolation from high-level observations. To demonstrate why relatively little progress was made on business model research, here is just a short list of alternative definitions, all from respected scholars and highly cited research:
- “A business model is an architecture for product, service and information flows, including a description of the various business actors and their roles” (Timmers, 1998, p. 4).
- “[Business models] are, at heart, stories-stories that explain how enterprises work” (Magretta, 2002, p. 87).
- “[A business model] is the set of activities which a firm performs, how it performs them, and when it performs them so as to offer customers benefits they want and to earn a profit.” (Afuah, 2003, p. 2)
- “The business model provides a coherent framework that takes technological characteristics and potentials as inputs and converts them through customers and markets into economic outputs” (Chesbrough & Rosenbloom, 2002, p. 532).
- “[The business model] is a set of expectations about how the business will be successful in its environment” (Downing, 2005, p. 186).
- “A business model is… a description of the value a company offers to one or several segments of customers and of the architecture of the firm and its network of partners for creating, marketing, and delivering this value and relationship capital, to generate profitable and sustainable revenue streams.” (Osterwalder, Pigneur & Tucci, 2005, p. 10)
- “A business model articulates the logic and provides data and other evidence that demonstrates how a business creates and delivers value to customers. It also outlines the architecture of revenues, costs, and profits associated with the business enterprise delivering that value.” (Teece, 2010, p. 173)
There are similarities and themes across these, and the many other definitions that have been developed since Amit and Zott’s early work. It appears that management scholars may never agree completely on a business model definition.