Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Knockoff Economy by Kal Raustiala

I don't know why, but I enjoy reading books like this. They're not strictly business/economics textbooks, but they're much more interesting than the normal treatise. If I remember correctly, the last similar book I read was Overdressed by Elizabeth E. Cline. (and I have another one waiting to be read. I think).

The Knockoff Economy aims to examine the link between Copying and Innovation, and if copying has an effect on the industry itself. In the face of conventional wisdom, the book shows that in the industries studied (although it may not apply to all industries), copying can actually help to grow the industry and spur innovation.

The industries examined in the book are: fashion (which is why it reminded me of Overdressed), cuisine, comedy, football, fonts, finance, etc. They're a fairy diverse range of industries (although most of them are in the Quaternary industry - and I'm not sure if football counts as an industry) which means that the odds that this phenomenon is a statistical anomaly/limited to one industry is slightly less.

But in summary, the argument is that copying can help propel something into a trend, or the slight delay is enough for a first-mover advantage so there isn't much need for IP (or in some cases, like food, it's very hard to copyright stuff).

She ends with an epilogue on Music as a low-IP industry, something that I found very interesting considering the current state of the music industry.

Each chapter is really well-written, with a lot of examples. This being an advanced copy, I didn't get to see a lot of the graphs, but considering the fact that I normally can't understand them, I imagine that I didn't lost much. The only "downside" was the length of the chapters. For some reason, each chapter felt very very long.

Of course, this book focused very much on the American industries. I can't remember many references to China, but considering that China has managed to copy things like Apple stores and entire companies (e.g. NEC), I'd be very interested in a book talking about whether the new level of imitation that China has achieved is positive or negative.

So, is imitation the best form of flattery?

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.


  1. This is Chris Sprigman; I'm the co-author of The Knockoff Economy. I wanted to thank you for reading and reviewing the book! All best regards.


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