According to the Financial Times Lexicon, a zero sum game has the following definition.
“An economic transaction in which whatever is gained by one party must be lost by the other.”
To put it another way, in a zero sum game if the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses subtracted, they will sum to zero. Many have applied the zero sum concept to industries.
Marketing as a zero sum game
From Dave Trott’s Predatory Thinking:
“Marketing, like war, is a zero-sum game. If you want something you have to take it from someone else. In order for someone to win, someone has to lose. Adam Mogan described it as ‘like a knife-fight in a phone box’. There isn’t anywhere to hide. There isn’t any place for bystanders. Everyone has to choose. Do they want to be the predator or the prey? Because, if they don’t choose, the choice gets made for them.”
Retail as a zero sum game
From Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail:
“On a store shelf or in any other limited means of distribution, the ratio of good to bad matters because it’s a zero sum game: Space for one eliminates space for the other. Prominence for one obscures the other. If there are ten crappy toys for each good one in the aisle, you’ll think poorly of the toy store and be discouraged from browsing. Likewise it’s no fun to flip through bin after bin of CDs if you haven’t heard of any of them.
But where you have unlimited shelf space, it’s a non-zero sum game. The billions of crappy Web pages about whatever are not a problem in the way that billions of crappy CDs on the Tower Records shelves would be. Inventory is “non-rivalrous” on the Web and the ratio of good to bad is simply a signal-to-noise problem, solvable with information tools”