Abstract: From the Phonograph to the Internet: Standards in Software/Hardware Systems, 1873-2000

Gerben Bakker


Since the introduction of the phonograph in 1877, many different software/hardware standards have been introduced in consumer electronics. The evolution of the industry therefore provides an excellent opportunity to study the standardization process. This paper first develops a practical way to examine standardization and to measure it. A second part then uses this approach to study individual cases of standards. It takes a more specific look at the strategies of individual companies to set new standards in the consumer electronics and music markets. The paper then evaluates what insight these cases give us and how this compares to the theoretical and economic works on path dependence, standardization, and increasing returns. The paper compares cases of both successful and failed standards since 1877—such as the phonograph, gramophone, diamond discs, LP, EP, 8-Track, Fidelipac, audiocassette, VCR, compact disc, DAT, minidisk, DVD, and internet browsers. The fact that a recorded music standard hardly enjoyed more than ten years of hegemony suggests that lock-in did not need to result in long-run market failure and that standardization balanced static and dynamic efficiency, a balance that could differ across industries and technologies.