The reluctant preference: Communities of enthusiasts and the diffusion of atypical innovation

Giovanni Formilan, Cristina Boari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Exploring the initial diffusion of innovation, this paper investigates how early adopters reach a tipping point with a shared and emphatic preference for atypical products. In a community of enthusiasts where members mutually observe each other, we show that potential buyers are reluctant to express a preference for highly atypical products despite their vanguard positive attitude towards atypicality. We argue that such reluctance is driven by a membership-validating concern: while favoring highly atypical products, potential buyers still need to avoid atypical but low-quality alternatives that would undermine their sense of membership to the vanguard group. Consistently, we hypothesize that the endorsement granted by other community members to a basket of atypical products alleviates – and eventually removes – potential buyers’ reluctance. Between equally endorsed alternatives, potential buyers will then include the most atypical one in their displayed preference, thereby revealing their vanguard attitude and validating their membership to the in-group. We situate our analysis in a community of enthusiasts for electronic music recordings and find robust support to our hypotheses. By raising the bar of how a product must be to be distinctive, membership-seeking enthusiasts raise the threshold of atypicality. In so doing, they also expand the range of products deemed typical by the general consumer. These twined processes fuel the ongoing diffusion of innovation.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberdtab001
Number of pages21
JournalIndustrial and Corporate Change
Early online date14 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Jul 2021


  • diffusion of innovation
  • atypicality
  • communities of enthusiasts
  • reluctant preference
  • creative industries


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