the absurdity of patent trolls

The red bar shows the number of patent lawsuits from patent trolls. Photo from NPR.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of podcasting. I also like finding bad patents. Unfortunately, now bad patents are threatening podcasts. An unsuccessful inventor named Jim Logan is using an extremely vague old patent to sue popular podcasters. People like Logan and his company, Personal Audio, are known as “patent trolls,” sometimes referred to formally as PAEs (patent assertion entities) or NPEs (non-practicing entities). Instead of actually making products, patent trolls just own patents and use them to get other companies to pay them licensing fees.

What’s especially troubling about these trolls is that they are not just targeting large technology companies who can defend themselves: they are going after small businesses and individuals. MPHJ, a company that says it owns patents for scanning documents to email, sent over 9,000 letters to small businesses demanding the purchase of a license costing at least $1,000 per employee. Another company, Lodsys, sent letters demanding payment to app developers for Apple products because they were using in-app purchasing in their apps, a feature that is part of Apple’s operating system. A third troll, Innovatio, tried to get hotels and cafes to pay as much as $2,500 per location for providing their customers with Wi-Fi. Fortunately, Cisco, Netgear, and Motorola intervened and Innovatio only received around 3.2 cents per device.

Last but not least, Personal Audio is suing popular podcasts like the Adam Carolla Show for absurd amounts of money. In an interview with fellow podcaster Marc Maron, who was also sent a letter by Personal Audio, Carolla said that the company originally asked him for $3 million. Once Carolla found out that it would cost $1.5 million to fight the case in court, he started a crowdfunded “defense fund.” The patent that Personal Audio claims covers podcasting is ridiculously nebulous. As an article from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to “defending civil liberties in the digital world,” explains, the patent describes Logan’s invention as an “apparatus for disseminating a series of episodes represented by media files via the Internet as said episodes become available…” Furthermore, in an episode of NPR’s Planet Money podcast titled “When Patents Hit the Podcast,” Marc Maron is interviewed and reads from the letter he received. It says, “The…patent covers important technology related to automatically identifying and retrieving media files representing episodes in a series of those episodes becoming available.” Planet Money explains the origins of Logan’s patent:

Back in the nineties, Jim Logan started a company called Personal Audio. The concept was simple — people could pick out magazine articles they liked on the internet, and his company would send them a cassette tape of those articles being read out loud. The cassette tapes didn’t catch on like Jim hoped, but he had bigger dreams for the idea behind them.

He dreamed that one day you wouldn’t need a cassette player, you would just be able to hear smart people talking about whatever subject you wanted, and that audio would be magically downloaded to a device of your choice. He says he dreamed of podcasting as we know it today.

Now Jim Logan did not create the technology to podcast. He himself is not a modern-day podcaster. But he did get a patent on that big dream of downloading personalized audio, and he claims to have the patent on podcasting.

So, in other words, Logan just came up with an idea that is like podcasting but did not actually invent how to do it. The situation isn’t unlike if I were to patent the idea of a flying car and when someone actually invents it, I demand that they pay me a license fee. It’s just silly.

It’s one thing that companies are using overly broad patents to collect undeserved licensing fees, but the fact that they are targeting people and businesses that had nothing to do with creating the “infringing” technology takes the unjustness of the situation to a whole new level. Alex Blumberg of Planet Money says, “It’s like if you had a patent on the automobile. If you were the guy who invented the car, imagine if instead of going after General Motors and Ford, you went after the drivers…”

Companies, organizations, and the government are taking action against patent trolls. For example, different retail trade organizations teamed up and created a campaign to raise awareness about patent trolls, President Obama proposed legislation to prevent patent trolling, and the EFF filed a challenge against the patent being used to sue podcasters.

If you would like to learn more about patent trolls and changes to the system that could prevent them, I recommend reading the article “Everything You Need to Know About Trolls (The Patent Kind)” from Wired.

There is also an interesting TED Talk from a man who beat a patent troll who sued his company for infringing on a patent for “the creation and distribution of news releases via email.” Seriously.

good documentaries streaming on netflix (part 2)

I’m much less busy than I have been in recent months, so I want to get back in the habit of blogging regularly. I’ve been researching some new topics to blog about, but for now I’ll take the unoriginal approach of doing a new version of one of my older posts. A while ago, I wrote about five good documentaries that you can stream on Netflix. Since then, I have seen four more documentaries on Netflix that I would describe as “good.” I could inflate the goodness of another pretty good documentary, say Mitt, to make my list have a solid five films, but the only reason to do that would be because we use a base ten counting system and five is half of ten. Besides, I’m considering doing a post comparing Mitt to the superior 1993 film The War Room, which followed Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign (unfortunately, The War Room is unstreamable). Anyway, without further ado, here is my list:

the house I live in

Photo from BBC News.

I first learned about this film from an episode of This American Life (one of my favorite podcasts). The episode discussed how the director, Eugene Jarecki, had been showing the film, which is about the war on drugs and the criminal justice system, in prisons around the country. Both prisoners and staff members would watch the movie, and the folks at This American Life decided to use the film as a catalyst for a discussion between prisoners and guards. The film depicts stories from individuals affected by the drug war and how it has devastated poor communities. The film’s website says, “Over forty years, the War on Drugs has accounted for more than 45 million arrests, made America the world’s largest jailer, and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet for all that, drugs are cheaper, purer, and more available today than ever before.” My favorite line in the movie is when David Simon, a former journalist and creator of HBO’s The Wire, explains, “It’d be one thing if it was draconian and it worked; it’s draconian and it doesn’t work…” Some of the most eye-opening parts of the film are when it explains how the history anti-drug laws has had a lot to do with race, the absurdly large difference between the minimum sentences for crack and powder cocaine, and the financial incentives for cops and police departments to put most of their efforts into drug offences.

Overall, The House I Live In is fantastic and I strongly encourage you to see it. You can click here to view the trailer.

dirty wars

Dirty Wars is an Oscar-nominated documentary that has won numerous awards. Even comedian Louis C.K. tweeted that all Americans should see it. The film is based on a book by investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, who previously authored a best-selling book on the private military group Blackwater. The film follows Scahill as he embarks on a journey that takes him to countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen. He starts by examining a NATO and US military cover-up of the deaths of five Afghan civilians with no terrorist connections, leading him to learn about the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a highly covert military unit and the only one that reports directly to the White House. JSOC conducts night raids in Afghanistan, some of which are successful, while others result in the deaths of innocent people. Scahill discovers that in a three month period, about 1,700 night raids occurred. Later in the movie, Scahill explores the ideological transformation of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric who was originally against terrorism but then became a radical who called for violence against Americans. Both al-Awlaki and his son were subjects of targeted killings by the US. His son may have been killed for no reason other than because he had the potential to follow in his father’s footsteps, which Scahill calls, “A twisted logic; a logic without end.” Dirty Wars is a powerful film that makes the viewer question if America’s actions in the Middle East are doing more harm than good.

Not only is Dirty Wars an extremely important film, it lacks any dull moments and is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat as Scahill uncovers secrets of American covert operations. Click here to view the film’s trailer or here to watch the first few minutes of it.

we steal secrets: the story of wikileaks

WikiLeaks’ Logo

This is a good film for anyone wanting to learn about WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. Prior to viewing the documentary, I knew little about Assange, WikiLeaks, or Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), a soldier who leaked documents to the website. Director Alex Gibney chronicles the rise of WikiLeaks and how it published revealing documents on subjects ranging from an Icelandic banking collapse to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What amazed me the most about WikiLeaks was how small of an organization it is. In an interview, WikiLeaks supporter Gavin MacFadyen described it as “a corner gas station with some extremely bright attendants.” Journalist Mark Davis said, “I see this story entirely as one man against the world. One man against the world.” He also stated, “It was Julian Assange, his $300 laptop, ten SIM cards and a very, you know, cheap jacket that he’d put on to get through the interview.”

The film received much criticism from WikiLeaks, which made an annotated version of the script, aiming to correct inaccuracies. However, the annotated script WikiLeaks originally published the day before the film’s release did not contain crucial on-screen internet conversations between Chelsea Manning and hacker Adrian Lamo, probably because WikiLeaks may have been using an audio recording instead of the actual screenplay. Gibney made his own annotations in response to the WikiLeaks annotations. While I did not read every annotation, the ones I reviewed seemed to generally show that many of the facts presented in the film which WikiLeaks perceived as inaccurate were not, in fact, inaccuracies. In my opinion, Assange was portrayed favorably, at least until the section of the film that deals with the sexual abuse allegations against him. I thought Manning was portrayed in an extremely positive light. Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir writes,

Many people in Assange’s orbit appear to have convinced themselves that Gibney is in favor of prosecuting Manning and Assange, overtly or covertly supports the mainstream media campaign to demonize WikiLeaks and is a defender of government spying and secret-keeping. That either means that they haven’t listened to anything Gibney actually says or that they think he’s lying. While the film has received overwhelmingly positive reviews, it has only 4.3 stars out of 10 from IMDB users, a highly unusual split that may reflect an organized campaign by Assange supporters (whether or not they’ve actually seen the film).

Discussing WikiLeaks’ criticism of the film, Gibney said, “Instead of saying, ‘Go see this film and then read my commentary,’ it was, ‘Don’t see this film.’ Not exactly the transparency agenda.”

Click here to see the trailer.

the revisionaries

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”

The Revisionaries is a film about how some Religious Right members of the Texas school board, led by former chairman Don McLeroy, have attempted to bring intelligent design into science textbooks and alter history textbooks to express their own political beliefs. For example, they tried to remove the idea that the constitution supports the separation of church and state from history textbooks. The standards the Texas school board sets affect the entire nation, because as the film’s website explains,

Texas is one of the nation’s largest textbook markets because it is one of the few where the state decides what books schools can buy rather than leaving it up to local districts, which means publishers that get their books approved can count on millions of dollars in sales. Further, publishers craft their standard textbooks based on the requirements of the biggest buyers. As a result, the Texas board has the power to shape the textbooks that children around the country read for years to come. Varying estimates claim that between 45% and 85% of American classrooms use Texas state textbooks.

The film follows the conflict between board members and different groups trying to influence their decisions. It also tracks McLeroy’s reelection campaign.

Click here to view the trailer, which gives a very good idea of what the film is like.

celebrity itunes playlists

I recently discovered that you can browse celebrity playlists on the iTunes website. Hundreds of celebrities, from famous artists like Jay-Z to the cast of Breaking Bad, have given iTunes playlists of some of their favorite songs. It can be interesting to browse your favorite celebrities’ playlists and find out what kind of music they like. The celebrities will also sometimes give a short description of why they like a song. Here are the five most interesting facts I learned after viewing numerous celebrity playlists:

  • LeBron James put the song “Hate Me Now” by Nas and Puff Daddy on his playlist. I think it suits him.
  • Comedian Bill Maher listens to rap music. He put “Ten Crack Commandments” by the Notorious B.I.G., “Drug Ballad” by Eminem, and “The Seed 2.0” by the Roots on his six song playlist.
  • Comedian Zach Galifianakis surprisingly listens to a lot of serious and emotional music, much of which is by indie bands. Click here to check out his playlist.
  • Kanye West listens to a lot more than just rap. As a Kanye fan, I knew he listened to lots of different types of music, since he samples music from many different genres. However, I did not expect only only seven out of the nineteen songs in his playlist to be rap. Kanye also put one of his own songs on his playlist, which seems like something he would do.
  • Chris Rock likes a wide variety of music. No two songs in his playlist are similar.

is this the worst advertising campaign of all time?

It’s no secret that many people are scared of flying. While most airlines would want to avoid acknowledging this fear, a 1967 ad campaign for Pacific Air Lines, which was supervised by comedian and ad consultant Stan Freberg, chose to embrace it. Newspapers and magazines ran full-page ads displaying the following message:

Hey there, you with the sweat on your palms! It’s about time an airline faced up to something—most people are scared witless about flying. Deep down inside, every time that big plane lifts off that runway, you wonder if this is it, right? You want to know something, fella? So does the pilot, deep down inside.

Needless to say, an advertisement that basically says pilots are scared of flying is extremely risky, and that may be an understatement. Executives at Pacific Air Lines objected to the ads when they were proposed, but the president of the company was pleased with the idea. Once the ads appeared in newspapers, many pilots became angry since they thought it just wasn’t true that they were scared of flying.

Pacific Air Lines had more to their campaign than just the ads, though. They also gave travelers items including a rabbit’s foot for good luck, a cuddling blanket, and a book titled The Power of Positive Thinking. It sure doesn’t seem very positive to suggest that pilots worry when their plane takes off and that people need a rabbit’s foot to get through a flight. In addition to the ridiculous items, when the plane landed, flight attendants were supposed to exclaim, “We made it! How about that?” If the campaign had continued, planes would’ve been painted the color of locomotives and whistles would have been installed on them to simulate the experience of being on a train. Pictures of telephone polls passing were planned to be projected in the cabin.

Not surprisingly, the campaign was a dismal failure. The company was already in financial trouble, which may have been why they were willing to run such a risky ad in the first place. Shortly after the ad campaign began, the president of Pacific resigned and the company became a part of West Coast Airlines. After the campaign was abandoned, the company attempted to sell the rabbit’s feet and cuddling blankets back to the distributors. I’m not sure if they were successful, but I doubt there’s much of a market for rabbit’s feet.

The information for this blog post came from a 1967 article in the St. Petersburg Times, now known as the Tampa Bay Times and a chapter in the book The Smile-High Club: Outrageous But True Air Travel Stories.

how do bad movies get good blurbs for advertisements?

Ever wondered how so many movies, including terrible ones, are able to get exceptional blurbs from critics in advertisements? Well, in many cases movie studios will actually take critics out of context to get great blurbs out of negative reviews. The Slate Magazine article “‘[Best] Film Ever!!!'” provides comprehensive information on how movie blurbs work. The article describes the rules, or perhaps lack of rules, for quoting critics in advertisements:

There’s no official check on running a misleading movie blurb, aside from the usual laws against false advertising. Studios do have to submit advertising materials like newspaper ads and trailers to the Motion Picture Association of America for approval. But the MPAA reviews the ads for their tone and content, not for the accuracy of their citations. When a new movie comes out, the studio’s marketing department scans the reviews, picks the most positive quotes, and figures out how to represent them in advertisements. Publicity teams don’t necessarily try to make blurbs line up perfectly with the original reviews. They do, however, generally avoid wild inaccuracies, so that the reviewer doesn’t throw a fit or file a lawsuit.

Although publicity teams generally avoid wild inaccuracies, there are still plenty of examples where critics have been blatantly taken out of context, or worse. Sometimes, these blurbs are changed, such as when a critic complained after he/she was quoted as calling the movie Se7en “a masterpiece,” when the original quote called the introductory credits “a small masterpiece of dementia.” Vanity Fair‘s Mike Ryan was quoted by ABC as having said that that the series Lost was “the most addictively awesome television show of all time.” He really said it was “the most confusing, asinine, ridiculous—yet somehow addictively awesome—television show of all time.” Roger Ebert said that he once wrote a negative review of a movie based on a novel he had enjoyed and the studio used positive adjectives he used to describe the novel to promote the movie without his approval. Fortunately, the studio stopped using the quote after Ebert complained. Gelf Magazine has a section called “The Blurbs,” which exposes blurbs from New York Times ads that take critics out of context. The following examples of quotes taken out of context are from the Gelf Magazine articles listing the “Best Worst Blurbs,” for 2007 and 2008.

  • Jack Matthews of the New York Daily News was quoted as having said that Live Free or Die Hard was, “hysterically…entertaining.” He actually said, “The action in this fast-paced, hysterically overproduced and surprisingly entertaining film is as realistic as a Road Runner cartoon.”
  • Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune was quoted for an ad for the movie Norbit as having said that “Eddie Murphy’s comic skills are immense.” He actually said, “Murphy’s comic skills are immense, and ‘Dreamgirls’ shows he’s a fine straight dramatic actor too. So why does he want to make these huge, belching spectaculars, movies as swollen, monstrous and full of hot air as Rasputia herself—here misdirected by Brian Robbins of ‘Good Burger,’ ‘Varsity Blues’ and that lousy ‘Shaggy Dog’ remake?”
  • An ad for Year of the Dog claimed that it was one of the year’s best reviewed films. According to Gelf, thirty-two movies were in theaters at the time that had a higher rating on Metacritic, a movie review aggregate website.
  • In an ad for Funny Games, Ty Burr of the Boston Globe was quoted as having said, “Fasten your seatbelts—This director doesn’t play nice, fair or easy.” However, Burr said this quote after watching a preview for the film months prior to actually seeing it. He later called the entire film, “infuriating and moot.”
  • In an ad for Leatherheads, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone was quoted as saying, “Clooney throws us a rowdy party of a movie.” He actually said, “Clooney throws us a rowdy party of a movie. Or does he? Leatherheads could be subtitled We Only Kill the Things We Love.”

When studios can’t find any good quotes from well-known or noteworthy critics, they often will turn to local stations or newspapers and inflate their credentials. For example, according to the Washington Post, ads for The Nanny Diaries used critic Milan Paurich of WKBN-TV in Youngstown, Ohio. However, he was described as working for “CBS TV” because that is the network WKBN-TV is affiliated with. The label “CBS TV” implies that Paurich is an important critic for a major network when there are actually over 200 stations that CBS is associated with, many of which having movie reviewers. The aforementioned Washington Post article explains:

Film critic Erik Childress, who has examined how movie studios use blurbs for the Web site Ecritic.com, says movie companies regularly turn to lesser-known and out-of-the-way critics when more prominent reviewers have panned a film. He calls the practice lazy as well as foolish. “When you see some name you’ve never heard of [in a movie ad], it’s fun to do some research,” he says. “You find out that the guy praising ‘Rush Hour 3’ is really some local station’s former weatherman or daytime talk-show host.”

The article gives the examples of Lisa Stanley and Jim Svejda, who are both claimed to be “CBS Radio” critics in ads. Both Stanley and Svejda are actually associated with local radio stations in Los Angeles; Stanley works the morning shift at KRTH-FM and Svejda is a part-time critic at KNX-AM.

Another tactic studios use to get good blurbs for bad films is using critics that like almost everything and constantly exaggerate how impressive movies are. While researching these kinds of critics, one name kept appearing–Earl Dittman.

In Schlock Value: Hollywood at It’s Worst, critic Richard Roeper, the former co-host alongside Roger Ebert of At the Movies, writes about this infamous critic:

One thing that we can agree on: Earl Dittman loves movies. Big movies, small movies, action movies, comedy movies, action/comedy movies, sequels, prequels, trilogies, buddy movies, dramas, romances—if the picture is in focus and the sound is working, you’ve got a fighting chance of getting an ‘attaboy!’ from the Dittman quote machine. The media are fascinated with Dittman. He’s been the subject of a 20/20 segment on ABC and articles in USA Today and the Toronto Star, and online journalists have skewered him in several in-depth pieces. Dittman was even one of the ‘critics’ named (along with Maria Salas, Jeff Craig and Mark Allen, among others) in a 2001 class-action suit filed by a group called Citizens for Truth in Movie Advertising. They alleged that quote whoring duped them into seeing bad movies and that the studios were essentially purchasing positive reviews by paying all expenses for reporters who come to Los Angeles to screen films and interview the stars…Dittman’s more famous than 99 percent of the legitimate critics in the country—not just because he likes so many movies, but because he likes so many movies that just about everybody else despises.

So, just who is this Dittman guy anyway? He works for Wireless Magazines, which includes five publications. In a CNN article, Dittman claimed that Wireless distributes publications in 183 markets that do not include New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles.

Variety magazine’s Timothy M. Gray has been listing the best movie blurbs of the year since the 90s. Dittman is a staple of these articles (Click here, here, and here to view some of the Variety articles featuring Dittman.). Dittman’s quotes from the Variety articles are as follows, with the reviewed films’ Rotten Tomatoes ratings added:

The Legend of Bagger Vance — “As perfect as any film could get.” (2000) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 43%.

Almost Famous — “The best film of the year.” (2000) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 88%.

What Women Want — “The most entertaining and delightful film we’ve seen all year.” (2000) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 54%.

Into the Blue — “It will leave you breathless.” (2005) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 21%.

Derailed — “It will leave you breathless!” (2005) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 20%.

Guess Who — “An extraordinarily funny, laugh-a-minute, side-splitting comedy!” (2005) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 43%.

King’s Ransom — “A gut-busting and side-splitting comedy!” (2005) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 2%. That’s right, only 2%. Only one out of 50 critics counted on the Rotten Tomatoes rating liked the film, yet Dittman apparently loved it.

Lucky Number Slevin — “The year’s best thriller!” (April 7, 2006) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 51%.

RV — “The best family film of the year.” (April 28, 2006) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 23%.

From calling a badly reviewed film “as perfect as any film could get” and then calling another film “the best film of the year” to overusing the words “breathless” and “side-splitting” to naming the best films of the year in April, Earl Dittman’s film criticism is so terrible it’s hilarious.

Roger Ebert once wrote an article on his website called “Movie Quote Whores of 2005” (Yes, Roger Ebert was apparently a user of the term “quote whore.”) In the article, he quotes a list of quotes Dittman supplied to the studio to use to promote the film Robots, which currently holds a 64% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Dittman’s quotes were leaked to Criticwatch by an editor for the Robots trailer. The following is just one of the ten quotes that Dittman supplied:

Wow! ‘Robots’ is absolutely magnificent … Although there’s still nine months to go in 2005, ‘Robots’ is such a spectacular animated film that it already deserves the Number One spot on every critic’s year-end Top Ten list … if ‘Robots’ is any indication of the caliber of animated motion pictures we can expect from Hollywood from this day forward, audiences are in for the best movie-going years of their lives … Count ‘Robots’ as one of the funniest and brilliantly conceived computer-generated animated films of the new millennium.

Dittman is hardly the only critic that consistently loves poorly-reviewed films and writes grand overstatements praising them. Another such critic is Shawn Edwards of WDAF-TV in Kansas City, although he is cited as being from Fox TV, the affiliated network, in ads.

Edwards is heavily featured in Variety‘s best blurbs of the year for 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. Here are his quotes:

Barbershop 2 — “The best comedy of the year!” (Feb. 6, 2004) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 68%.

White Chicks — “The funniest comedy of the year.” (July 9, 2004) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 15%.

Little Black Book — “The best romantic comedy of the year!” (Aug. 1, 2004) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 21%.

The Chronicles of Riddick — “One of the best sci-fi films ever! Extraordinary! A true classic that’s not to be missed! Vin Diesel is ecstatically superb.” (June 11, 2004) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 29%.

Hitch — “’Hitch’ is the comedy of the year.” (Feb. 6, 2005) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 69%.

Be Cool — “The coolest movie of the year!” (March 3, 2005) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 30%.

Batman Begins — “It’s the film of the year!” (2005) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 85%.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants — “The most charming and wonderful movie you’ll see all year.” (2005) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 77%.

Waiting… — “The craziest comedy of the year!” (2005) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 31%.

The Skeleton Key — “The best thriller of the year.” (2005) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 37%.

Get Rich or Die Tryin’ — “The most powerful movie of the year!” (2005) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 16%.

Nacho Libre — “You won’t see a funnier movie all year!” (June 16, 2006) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 40%.

Little Man — “The wildest, funniest and most hilarious movie of the year!” (July 9, 2006) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 12%.

No Reservations — “The most delightful movie of the year!” (July 22, 2007) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 41%.

Resident Evil: Extinction — “The most exciting movie of the year!” (Sept. 28, 2007) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 22%.

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium — “The most magical movie of the year!” (Nov. 11, 2007) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 37%.

I Am Legend — “The best movie of the year!” (Dec. 15, 2007) Rotten Tomatoes rating: 70%.

As you can see, Edwards contradicts himself many times such as when he is names multiple movies as the best comedies of the year. He also likes to name the best films of the year as early as the beginning of February. What motive would he have for giving exaggerated praise to so many movies? According to Gelf Magazine, Edwards told the Kansas City Star, “The quotes you read of mine, alongside Roger Ebert and all the top-notch critics, has totally helped my career as a film critic and my credibility.”

I think it’s sad that many legitimate critics probably aren’t able to get quoted in ads and gain more exposure because people like Dittman and Edwards, who were quoted 36 times each in 2005, give ridiculously positive quotes for movies all the time.

other questionable movie marketing practices

Besides taking critics out of context or using quotes from “critics” who seem to think every film is the best of the year, movie studios use other dubious tactics to promote films.

Sony Pictures once had to offer a $5 refund to all Americans who saw certain films that had been advertised using quotes from film critic David Manning, who was completely made up. This blunder cost Sony $1.5 million and they suspended two employees. In addition, Sony later admitted to posing two employees in their marketing department as fans in a testimonial ad for The Patriot. The company isn’t exactly a stranger to sketchy advertising techniques; in my blog post on astroturfing, I wrote about how Sony used actors disguised as tourists to advertise a new phone and made an inauthentic fan blog to promote the Play Station Portable. Sony isn’t the only studio that engages in dishonest advertising, though. According to a Los Angeles Times article, in 2002, multiple movie sites traced the IP addresses of people making posts on message boards promoting certain films to studios like Universal and Paramount.

the two best movie reviews of all time

Variety‘s 2008 article on the year’s best movie ad quotes provides the two funniest quotes about movies I have ever read. They don’t really give examples of specific problems about blurbs in advertisements that I wrote about in this blog post, but they’re hilarious.

Richard Roeper on Forgetting Sarah Marshall: “One of the funniest movies of the decade. I want to get down on my knees and declare my undying love for this movie … An instant classic. I laughed out loud 20 times… I don’t think I can oversell this, I loved it. One of the funniest damn movies I’ve ever seen.”

Peter Travers said that Pineapple Express was, “like if ‘Superbad’ met ‘Midnight Run’ and they had a baby, and then ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘True Romance’ met ‘Freaks and Geeks’ and ‘Undeclared’ and they had a baby, and by some miracle those babies met — this would be the funny movie they birthed.”

how much money do artists make from itunes or streaming services

I decided to write this post after stumbling across an article in The Atlantic titled “How Musicians Really Make Money in One Long Graph.” It showed how many monthly sales or streams an artist would have to achieve in order to earn monthly minimum wage. The information, which came from informationisbeautiful.net was unbelievable. But not unbelievable as in really surprising or shocking–literally unbelievable. For example, the article said that an artist would need over 4,000,000 streams per month on Spotify to make monthly minimum wage. After doing more research, I found that this claim is untrue, at least in many situations. This post will focus on how money is made from music downloading and streaming because I doubt physical music has much of a future. Although physical music was more popular than purchasing downloads in 2012, physical sales declined a whopping 12.8%, according to The Huffington Post. This post will use information about Spotify, Pandora, and iTunes because they are the most popular online music services, even though using Pandora when Spotify exists is like using a typewriter when you have a computer. I didn’t actually bother to check the claim that those three are the most popular, but how many people do you know that use Napster or Amazon? (Yes, Napster is still a thing and it does streaming now.)

spotify’s royalties

Spotify is a music streaming service that offers users three options: listening for free on a computer with ads, paying $5 a month to listen without ads, or paying $10 for being able to also listen on mobile devices and download music. The actual formula for calculating royalty payments for Spotify is very complicated, but Rolling Stone gave the royalty arrangement of one band manager. In that situation, if a song is streamed 60 times, the songwriter receives 9 cents and the artist receives 38 cents, which is then split with the label depending on the contract. Using the Rolling Stone rates, I calculated that an artist would make over $25,000, which would be split with a label, if people streamed their songs 4,053,110 times, the amount the Atlantic article says would be needed to make monthly minimum wage. I also calculated the combined amount that an artist and label would make using the Atlantic rates, which was over $7,500, less than a third of the money Rolling Stone reported would be made. Since the actual Spotify royalty formula is extremely complicated and is different for different artists, I checked a couple other sources to get an idea of which figure was generally more accurate. According to NPR, Erin McKeown, who doesn’t have a label, gets $0.004 per play, which means she would make over $16,000 if her music was streamed 4,053,110 times. A second Atlantic article, which came out after the unbelievable one, talks about how cellist Zoë Keating’s songs had been streamed 72,800 times and she only made $281.87, meaning she makes around $0.0039 per play, almost identical to the amount McKeown is payed (note that Keating’s figures are after CD Baby’s 9% commission). In a 2011 blog post titled “Spot the Spotify Payment,” independent artist David Harrell writes,

Without any promotion in the regions where Spotify is currently available, our total number of plays is relatively small, though our Spotify activity seems to be increasing each month. The per-spin payouts we receive via CD Baby are quite variable, ranging from around two hundredths of cent to more than one cent for each stream. (We also had a few spins that rounded out to ‘$0.00000000’ after CD Baby’s commission.) I’m assuming the payout amount depends on free vs. premium listens, as well the subscription prices in each region and currency exchange rates.

Harrell says that he made an average of approximately $0.0029 per play from August 2009 to March 2011 before CD Baby’s 9% commission, meaning he would make about $10,500 if his music was streamed the amount of times the first Atlantic article claimed was required to make monthly minimum wage (Harrell later made an updated post where he said the average payment for stream in June, 2012 was around $0.008). Just to clarify, McKeown, Keating, and Harrell are all independent artists. According to Keating:

Spotify does not pay the same per play to Indie rights holders as it does to Major labels. Majors are shareholders in Spotify and their deals are confidential. That matters to me, but doesn’t seem to matter to others.

Therefore, I can’t disprove the original Atlantic article, but the fact that information from three indie artists and Rolling Stone provide much higher royalty situations at least demonstrates that the Atlantic article greatly oversimplified Spotify’s royalty agreements. Also, it is important to mention that a 2013 New York Times article said the following about Spotify’s rates, further explaining how complicated the company’s payment methods are:

Spotify declined to comment on its rates, but according to a number of music executives who have negotiated with the company, it generally pays 0.5 to 0.7 cent a stream (or $5,000 to $7,000 per million plays) for its paid tier, and as much as 90 percent less for its free tier.

is spotify bad for artists?

Keating says she made over $45,000 dollars on iTunes from October 2011 to March 2012, the same time period when she made less than $300 on Spotify. Does this mean artists shouldn’t use the service? Not necessarily. Keating also explains:

I think Spotify is awesome as a listening platform. In my opinion artists should be view it as a discovery service, rather than a source of income. […] I wish Spotify would do more to facilitate the connection between listeners and artists — i.e show that the artist is playing nearby, or add links to buy music. It’s early days, so maybe this will happen eventually. [sic]

I know Spotify currently provides concert notifications because I can see them on my own account. There are other arguments to why Spotify is good for artists as well. For example, it could decrease the amount of piracy because people can stream as much music as they want on their computer for free, although there are ads. Also, it can lead people to listen to more obscure tracks that they otherwise wouldn’t download. I know this from my personal experience. Before I used Spotify, I would rarely buy music from iTunes, opting instead for using Pandora. When I did buy music from iTunes, I usually only purchased my favorite tracks from my favorite artists. With Spotify, I listen to many of my favorite artists’ less popular songs that I would not have purchased on iTunes and likely wouldn’t have shown up on Pandora. In general, I listen to much more music now that I have Spotify than when I used Pandora and iTunes. People being exposed to a greater amount and variety of music means that they are probably more likely to attend live shows.

iTunes

Rolling Stone explains how iTunes works in this simple image:

The data is based on if an artist receives 16% of sales. Rolling Stone says that artists generally get 12-20% of sales, depending on their popularity. It is also important to note that an artist would get $0.89 if they were not on a label. iTunes does not only use $1.29 downloads, though. The aforementioned New York Times article says that “[o]n a 99-cent download, a typical artist may earn 7 to 10 cents after deductions for the retailer, the record company and the songwriter, music executives say.” However, that download is not specified to be from iTunes.

pandora

Rolling Stone explains how Pandora pays royalties:

The rates go up every year, but the broad formula is that big ‘pure play’ companies, such as Pandora and Slacker, pay either 25 percent of their total revenue per year, or a little more than $.001 per song — whichever is greater. These payments go to a music-business collection agency known as SoundExchange, which then pays 50 percent of it to the copyright owner (usually a record label like Warner or Sony), 45 percent to the artist and 5 percent to non-featured performers. Smaller Internet radio companies pay slightly lower rates.

They also provide a graphic to illustrate this concept.

If you want to learn more about how artists make money in today’s complicated music industry, I recommend checking out David Harrell’s blog and money.futureofmusic.org. The latter site provides very in-depth information on how musicians make money.

Update: Since I wrote this post well over a year ago, there have been many more interesting articles written on this subject. Also, many celebrity musicians have weighed in on whether Spotify and other streaming services are good for the industry. Here are a few of the most notable celebrity opinions about Spotify, Pandora, etc.:

  • Taylor Swift pulled her entire catalog from Spotify. Her label claims that she earned less than $500,000 for US streams from the service in the 12 months prior to her music’s removal, less than she would make by selling 50,000 albums. Spotify says that she was paid $2 million for worldwide streams and would have been able to make $6 million a year if she stayed with the service.
  • Bette Midler made an anti-streaming tweet that got a lot of attention. However, her royalties do not seem typical; if you use the Pandora royalty rates from the Rolling Stone article, Midler should have made around $1,880. A Pandora spokesperson said that the company paid over $6,400 for Midler’s streams (I assume the spokesperson is referring to the total payment before it was divided between Midler and the label). I don’t know why Midler reports that her royalties were so low. Maybe she is in a bad situation with her label.

  • Comedian Joe Mande criticized Spotify’s low royalties on Twitter.

  • Nigel Godrich and Thom Yorke of Atoms for Peace made a series of tweets explaining why they’re pulling music off of Spotify. In an interview, Yorke called Spotify the “last desperate fart of a dying corpse.” Yorke’s other band, Radiohead, self-released their 2007 album online and let fans pay any price for it.
  • Laura Sheeran, Ed Sheeran’s cousin, removed her music from Spotify after she made only £10.84 (about $16) for 40,000 streams.
  • Bono defended Spotify by saying, “I see streaming services as quite exciting ways to get to people. In the end, that’s what we want for U2 songs.”
  • Ed Sheeran said he supports streaming services because they give exposure to his work, which makes it more likely that people will go to his shows.
  • David Lowery of the band Cracker says that he was paid only $16.89 for over a million streams on Pandora of the song “Low,” which he owns 40% of. Using the Rolling Stone rates, he would have been paid a little over $200, so either Rolling Stone‘s or Lowery’s rates are inaccurate.
  • Aloe Blacc, who co-wrote and sang Avicii’s hit song “Wake Me Up,” wrote a piece in Wired calling for streaming services to “pay songwriters fairly.” He says that he was paid less than $4,000 by Pandora for co-writing the song, which was streamed over 168 million times in America. However, Pandora says it paid $250,000 to rights holders for “Wake Me Up,” so Blacc’s low royalties must be due to the way the money is split between the rights holders.
  • Jay-Z will likely acquire Aspiro, which owns both WiMP, a Scandinavian streaming service, and Tidal, the US and UK version of WiMP. Jay-Z’s company will pay $56 million if the deal goes through.

more interesting articles on streaming services

  • Streaming is credited with dramatically reducing the amount of music piracy in Norway. An International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) study showed that in 2009, 80% of Norwegians under 30 downloaded music illegally; in 2014, the rate had decreased to 4%. In the first half of 2013, total music sales in Norway increased by 17%, thanks to streaming.
  • Spotify now has a website called Spotify Artists, which explains the company’s royalty policy in detail. Spotify says that, on average, artists earn around $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream. (These rates mean that Laura Sheeran should have made around $240-$336 for 40,000 streams, instead of merely $16.) However, the company stresses that it does not pay a fixed royalty for every stream a song gets. The image below shows Spotify’s formula for paying out royalties. Since the label or publisher is paid royalties from Spotify and it then distributes them to the artist, the amount of money an artist makes from streaming varies depending on the artist’s contract.
  • Time calculated the Spotify royalties for the most popular songs of 2014.
  • Cuepoint, a music blog, published an article with suggestions on how to improve Spotify’s royalty system. The author suggests that profits from users with paid subscriptions should be divided between only the artists that those users listened to. For example, if a user with a paid subscription listens to an obscure death metal band one time and then never uses the service again, that band should get all of the money from that user, instead of it being divided among all of the artists on Spotify, including ones that the user never played. Another blogger, Brendan Moore, made a post explaining what the new payout to artists would be from his subscription to Rdio, a streaming service similar to Spotify, if the company adopted the proposed royalty model.

If you’re interested in this subject and have a lot of time on your hands, you can read some of The Guardian‘s ten recommended articles about Spotify. If you really have a lot of time on your hands, you can read a 25-page essay by Aram Sinnreich, an assistant professor at Rutgers University, called “Slicing the Pie: The Search for an Equitable Recorded Music Economy.”

If you liked this post, you may want to check out my post on how movie theaters make money and if they should change their pricing system.

movieconomics: should movie theaters change their pricing system?

Have you ever wondered how movie theaters make money? Sure, they make it off ticket sales, but how do they split the profits with the movie studio? And why do all movie tickets cost the same, regardless of the quality of the movie or the time of the year? These questions led me to do some research and make a blog post on movie theater economics. My findings were more complicated than expected, but I have tried to simplify the facts by writing a paragraph or two about many of the possible questions one could have about how movie theaters make money and what they could do to make even more.

how do theaters and studios split profits?

This question is more complicated than it seems, since the method of splitting profits depends on the movie and theater. In At the Movies: The Economics of Exhibition Contracts, Filson, Switzer, and Besocke write (emphasis added):

While some contracts are “aggregate” deals, in which each side’s percentage share remains fixed throughout the run, most are ‘sliding scale’ deals. In a sliding scale deal, each week, the distributor gets the maximum of two possible payments: 1) 90% of the movie’s weekly ticket revenue over the ‘house nut,’ which is a flat payment to the exhibitor; 2) a ‘floor payment,’ some percentage of the weekly ticket revenue that typically declines according to a ‘sliding scale’ as the weeks go by – perhaps 70% in the first week, 60% by the third week, and as low as 30% at the end of the run. If the parties anticipate that revenue might peak in the second or later weeks (which can occur when the movie opens before a holiday weekend, for example) the contract includes a ‘best weeks’ clause that ensures that the high floor payments are associated with the high demand weeks.

The difference in profit splitting between different theaters and movies is demonstrated by a study of a theater chain in St. Louis, Missouri from the same article:

The sharing rules vary substantially by movie and theater. For example, in sliding scale deals the exhibitor’s share ranges from 23-70% in week 1, 30-70% in week 4, and 40-70% in week 8. Run lengths depend on performance and vary from 1 to 28 weeks in our data; the average run length is 5 weeks.

According to Forbes, theaters on average keep 45-55% of ticket sales throughout an entire theatrical run.

are concession profits split?

No, the theater takes all of it. Theaters make lots of money at concession stands; around half of their profits. According to Time, around 85 cents of every dollar spent at concession stands is profit for the theater. People often complain about the ridiculous price of items like soft drinks, but high concession prices keep ticket prices lower. The Stanford Graduate School of Business article “Why Does Movie Popcorn Cost So Much?” (the full article is actually worth reading if you’re interested in learning more on the subject) explains (emphasis added):

By charging high prices on concessions, exhibition houses are able to keep ticket prices lower, which allows more people to enjoy the silver-screen experience. The findings empirically answer the age-old question of whether it’s better to charge more for a primary product (in this case, the movie ticket) or a secondary product (the popcorn). Putting the premium on the ‘frill’ items, it turns out, indeed opens up the possibility for price-sensitive people to see films. That means more customers coming to theaters in general, and a nice profit from those who are willing to fork it over for the Gummy Bears.

why don’t theaters just lower ticket prices so they can sell more concessions?

Since theaters get all the money from concessions, but have to share profits from ticket sales, they have an incentive to lower ticket prices so more people will go to the theater and buy concessions. The previously mentioned article At the Movies: The Economics of Exhibition Contracts, discusses this issue:

The exhibitor gains from adjusting p only if the adjustment occurs after the contract is signed. If the exhibitor adjusts p before the contract is signed then the distributor will simply argue to change the sharing rule to ensure that the exhibitor still gets its reservation utility. Given that exhibitors include their proposed p in their initial bid, a subsequent adjustment would violate an implicit contract. Such behavior could cause the distributor (and perhaps others as well) to punish the exhibitor in the future. This encourages exhibitors to keep p up (15).

The letter p represents the price of the ticket.

why do tickets cost the same for all movies?

There is good reason to believe that theaters are making a mistake by charging equal prices for all movies. There is a detailed 22-page article on this subject called “Uniform Prices for Differentiated Goods: The Case for the Movie-Theater Industry,” which was published in the International Review of Law and Economics. I have provided a brief summary of the responses of the article’s authors, Orbach and Einav, to five main perceived problems with nonuniform ticket pricing.

1. Consumers would perceive theaters as being unfair if prices were not uniform.

This isn’t necessarily true. First, theaters started using uniform pricing in the early 70s, so because people used to deal with nonuniform pricing, it is not unrealistic to think that they would be willing to accept it again. Secondly, not all movies are the same and charging different prices for different products is not really unfair. Orbach and Einav explain (emphasis added):

Despite the difficulties that fairness perceptions may present, they cannot justify uniform admission prices. Uniform prices seem fair because of the system’s regularity, not because of any intrinsic justice. No sophisticated schemes and ploys are needed to change the present reference transaction; in fact, simple marketing mechanisms could do the trick. The starting point is the distinction between the movie and the show-time puzzles. All consumers are familiar with the concept of different prices for different products, although for some consumers charging different prices for products they consume at different points of time may appear unfair at first. Thus, charging premiums or giving discounts for unique categories of movies is unlikely to be perceived as unfair. For example, given the unique characteristics and highly publicized production budgets of event movies, charging premiums for such movies probably would not violate fairness perceptions. Indeed, past experience and international markets provide good reasons to believe that patrons would not perceive such a practice as unfair. It also seems unlikely that discounts for films whose demand is relatively elastic, such as documentaries, would be perceived as unfair (145-46).

2. Consumers would be less likely to go to movies with lower prices because they would believe that they are worse movies.

The Avengers is an example of an event movie.

Orbach and Einav believe that this argument is only valid for movies that are similar. If a theater charged more for an “event” movie, which is a movie whose arrival is a big deal and often has a huge budget or is a sequel to a popular film, consumers would probably not believe this action signifies that the other films are worse. Also, if prices were lowered on different types of movies, such as documentaries, demand may actually increase, and consumers would be able to tell that the lowered price does not mean the movie isn’t good (146).

3. Theaters would not be able to know which movies should be priced higher.

This film was so unpopular that the Lone Ranger probably wasn’t the only lone person at many showings.

Frankly, this just seems like a dumb argument. Sure, sometimes movies perform a lot worse than expected, like the Lone Ranger, but in general I’m pretty sure companies can tell that the sequel to The Avengers is going to make a lot more than, say, Ant-Man, which is an actual superhero film scheduled for a 2015 release. In fact, there is an entire website dedicated to predicting how well films will perform at the box office called the Hollywood Stock Exchange. HSX, which may be the subject of a future blog post, is a virtual stock exchange where players buy and sell fake stocks of movies and actors. Orbach and Einav’s response to the demand uncertainty criticism is as follows (emphasis added):

…empirical evidence shows that demand uncertainty is not as great as popularly argued and that the determinants of success in the industry are not totally random (see Section 2.2.1 and Moul, 2004). Producers may be unable to predict the demand for specific movies, but can identify with some level of confidence certain categories of movies with unique demand characteristics, such as event movies and documentaries. In fact, studios make significant investments in studying consumers’ preferences to improve their ability to forecast box-office revenues (Bakker, 2003). Empirical evidence suggests that production budgets, sequels, participation of stars and top directors, ratings, competition from other movies, and advertising are all significantly related to revenues and thus can be incorporated into pricing decisions  (147).

4. Nonuniform pricing could result in people taking advantage of the system by sneaking into higher priced movies.

The Atlantic article “Why Do All Movie Tickets Cost The Same” explains, “[Nonuniform pricing] would create a fascinating incentive for art-house studios to release smaller, cheaper films the same weekend as blockbusters, knowing that thousands of canny consumers might buy fake tickets to their show to sneak into the more expensive blockbuster.” However, Orbach and Einav essentially debunk the claim that this problem is serious enough to justify uniform pricing (emphasis added):

In practice, exhibitors already employ mechanisms that could mitigate much of the arbitrage opportunities. Today, some screens are sold out while others are not, and, therefore, exhibitors must monitor the patrons entering sold-out movies. Otherwise, patrons who could not purchase a ticket to a sold-out movie could use a ticket to another movie. Similarly, exhibitors must prevent moviegoers who buy matinee tickets from watching evening shows and, at the multiplex, they must prevent moviegoers from watching two movies in a row for the price of one movie. One indication of the possibility to administer variable pricing with reasonable monitoring costs is the prevalence of price discrimination across seats in some countries (Cheung, 1977) and at some theaters in the United States, as well as the prevalence of reserved seating in many international markets. Put simply, the arbitrage opportunities under a variable-pricing regime are similar to those that already exist today and, therefore, cannot explain a firm uniform pricing regime (148).

5. Theaters could take advantage of nonuniform pricing and the studios would make less money.

I’ve already addressed the idea that theaters could just lower prices and make more money because more concessions would be bought. Another concern involving theaters taking advantage of varying prices is the fact that they could report that sales for higher-priced movies were actually for lower-priced movies and take the difference for themselves. As Orbach and Einav point out, though, this complaint makes little sense, since theaters could already report more sales for movies which they get a higher percentage of the price from. In addition, they could just under report how many people bought tickets and keep more money (148). The previously mentioned Atlantic article makes a couple of additional criticisms. The first is that theaters already  favor certain movies by giving them more and larger screens. I honestly don’t understand why that is an argument against  varied prices. Secondly, the article says that another reason to not adopt nonuniform pricing is that if one theater raises prices for certain moves, and another doesn’t, some people would go to the lower-priced theater even if they live closer to the one with higher prices. This concern seems legitimate, but it only applies to people who are willing to travel a potentially much longer distance to save what is probably not much money. Therefore, I doubt it is a sufficient reason to use uniform pricing. Also, if all theaters raised the price of a certain movie by the same amount, there would be no stealing of customers.

why do tickets cost the same throughout the year?

Although matinees cost less, movies are otherwise priced the same year-round. However, if demand is greater on certain days or seasons than on others, it makes sense for theaters to raise ticket prices.

Photo from The Atlantic.

On the subject of varied prices based on the time of year or day of the week, Orbach and Einav write (emphasis added):

Much of the reluctance to adopt variable pricing stems from formidable concerns about the costs of administering and policing price differentiation across movies. Such differentiation may present a challenge to the industry, but it should neither be confused with, nor should it supersede, price differentiation across show times. Practical obstacles to variable pricing across movies, if such exist, cannot explain why movies are priced uniformly on weekdays and weekends and throughout the year. Thus, those who remain skeptic of the viability of price differentiation across movies, should still accept the view regarding the likely profitability and viability of non-uniform prices along the show-time dimension (150).

Another idea for how to vary ticket prices is by reducing the price every week or so. A criticism of this idea raised in the Atlantic is that “[y]ou can’t consistently cut prices after a successful opening weekend. If people knew that ticket prices would fall after a big opening, many more would wait until the second or third weekend to see it, which would, ironically, destroy the meaning of opening weekends.” I think this claim is mostly true, but it may not be the case for event movies. I remember a few years ago my math teacher was talking about if movie prices should be nonuniform and asked the class how many of us would be willing to pay $25 to see the latest Harry Potter film on opening day. Around a quarter of the class raised their hands. Therefore, theaters could potentially raise prices to very high amounts early on for event movies, and later the price could become the same as other movies. This way everyone who doesn’t want to pay extra would pay the same price as they would if all prices were equal, and the theater would make more money.

will we continue to see uniform ticket prices in the future?

We may not. According to ABC News, Steven Spielberg recently said, “You’re going to have to pay $25 to see the next ‘Ironman.’  And you’re probably only going to have to pay $7 to see ‘Lincoln,'” suggesting future high-budget films will cost more to see than lower-budget ones.

have movie tickets become more expensive over the years?

Photo from The New York Times.

Yes and no. As the graph to the side from a New York Times article shows, movie prices have indeed increased in recent years. However, the article also states that “Patrick Corcoran, the director of media and research for the National Association of Theatre Owners, points out that a ticket purchased for the average price of $1.65 in 1971 would cost $9.20 today — higher than the actual industry average, if adjusted according to the general inflation rate.”