[UPDATE: I've revised the bottom chart, where the scale went funky for some reason, and responded to all the comments with some additional data and clarification here.]
First, apologies for the absence. For most of the past two weeks I was at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, with a full slate of moderating duties. Then I zipped down to the Entertainment Gathering in Los Angeles, where I spoke about the end of the blockbuster. Before I share some slides from that speech, a few notes about the book.
The fact that I'm done with the manuscript (but not the edits, thus the late nights this week) does not mean that I'll be ending this blog. Just the contrary--once I'm through with this last flurry of work on the book, I hope to be blogging more often than ever. Just a few more weeks....
Amazon is listing the book for pre-order already, but please note that the subtitle and cover are not the final ones and will almost certainly change over the next few weeks. The ISBN won't so you can safely pre-order from that page (please do!). The publication date now looks like it will be June 30th.
Now back to the theme of this post. In my previous posts on the death of the blockbuster, I focused on music. But for my EG speech, I added some additional research on movies. Here's some of that data:
At first glance, the blockbuster looks alive and well in Hollywood:
But let's look a little closer. Box office revenues peaked a few years ago:
And that picture would have looked worse if theaters hadn't raised prices. Here's the same period expressed in terms of per capita movie theater attendance (adjusted to a constant population size):
Meanwhile, the fraction of total box office that comes from the blockbusters (top 25 films) has been steadily falling, even as the cost of making those films (expressed here as a percentage of total box office revenue) has been rising:
Bottom line: even in Hollywood, the home of the blockbuster, hits are losing their power. It's not nearly as dire as in music, but it's trending in the same direction. Does this mean the end of movies? Not at all--there have never been more films made, just as there has never been more music available than today, despite the fact that the bestsellers sell less.
It's not that people aren't watching films and listening to music, it's that they're watching different films and different music--we're just not following the herd to the same hits the way we used to. I'd guess that most of the decline in box office is due to the rise of the DVD, not a loss of interest in movies. Likewise for music, where the ubiquitous white earbuds suggest that music has never been a bigger part of our culture, despite the fact that CD sales are back to mid-90s levels.
Here's a good Denver newspaper story (pegged to the closure of a local music store) that considers the music industry after the hit. Key sentence:
While sales are down, more music is being produced and heard than ever before in history.
That's only a paradox if you're thinking of music through a hit-colored lens. Only a tiny faction of musicians are professionals. The rest do it because it's fun. They keep their day job and make music because they want to. Never underestimate the motivational power of fun.