Unraveling the process of creative destruction: Complementary assets and incumbent survival in the typesetter industry


When radical technological change transforms an industry established firms sometimes fail drastically and are displaced by new entrants, yet other times survive and prosper. Drawing upon an unusually rich data set that covers the technological and competitive history of the typesetter industry from 1886 to 1990, this paper uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis to unravel this process of creative destruction. It argues that the ultimate commercial performance of incumbents vs. new entrants is driven by the balance and interaction of three factors: investment, technical capabilities, and appropriability through specialized complementary assets. In this industry, specialized complementary assets played a crucial role in buffering incumbents from the effects of competence destruction, and an analysis that examined investment or technical capabilities in isolation would have led to misleading results. This work thus highlights the importance of considering multiple perspectives when examining the competitive implications of technological change.

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