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Demand, Innovation and the Dynamics of Market Structure: The Role of Experimental Users and Diverse Preferences

Malerba, F   Nelson, R   Orsenigo, L   Winter, S

The Journal of Evolutionary Economics   17 (4) 371-399

January 2007   (Date Deposited November 2007)

The history of a number of industries is marked by a succession of eras, associated with different dominant technologies. Within any era, industry concentration tends to grow. Particular eras are broken by the introduction of a new technology which, while initially inferior to the established one in the prominent uses, has the potential to become competitive. In many case new entrants survive and grow, and the large established firms do not make the transition. In other cases, the established firms are able to switch over effectively, and compete in the new era.

This paper explores a model which generates this pattern and has focused on the characteristics of the demand. We argue that the ability of the new firms exploring the new technology to survive long enough to get that technology effectively launched depends on the existence of fringe markets which the old technology does not serve well, or experimental users, or both. Established firms initially have little incentive to adopt the new technology, which initially is inferior to the technology they have mastered. New firms generally cannot survive in head-to-head conflict with established firms on the market well served by the latter. The new firms need to find a market that keeps them alive long enough so that they can develop the new technology to a point where it is competitive on the main market. Niche markets, or experimental users, can provide that space.