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Harry Potter and the Opening Weekend Comparison

Film and media critic Dan Kimmel has a saying I often like to quote regarding movies and books:

"A book that sells a million copies is a bestseller; a movie that sells a million tickets is a flop."

In other words, because movies cost so much more to produce and distribute than books, a studio has to sell many more tickets than a publisher has to sell books to recoup their costs and make a profit. And usually, any given weekend, more people will buy tickets to a particular film than will buy copies of a particular book.

You can probably already see where this is going.

Back in 2003, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out the same weekend as the movie Hulk. As it so happened, Hulk was the #1 movie that weekend, but it made less money than Order of the Phoenix did in that same weekend. In other words, the Harry Potter book had a better opening weekend than the #1 movie that weekend.

Guess what? It's happened again.

According to the latest statistics I have found, the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory earned $55.4 million this weekend, securing the #1 spot. But Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has sold 6.9 million copies.

Admittedly, I don't have the proper stats to compare number of tickets versus number of books, or the amount of money earned by each. But if we assume that the average ticket price for a movie is $10 (which admittedly is a gross overestimate, because the average throughout the entire USA is about $6-$7), and if we assume that the average price paid for the new Harry Potter book was $15 (which is an underestimate, because the book costs $30 and most discounts don't go below 40%), then we get the following:

Harry Potter: sold 6.9 million copies; earned $103.5 millon
Charlie: sold 5.5 million tickets; earned $55.4 million

Harry Potter has done it again. Even if my estimate of the cost of the movie ticket is wrong, and Charlie sold more tickets, it still earned less money.

(I leave it others to discuss the irony that the #1 movie was, after all, based on a popular children's book...)
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Hm. So many of us decided to read this weekend, leaving us little time for cinema. I'll bet next weekend is boffo for Charlie. (I certainly intend to see it if at all possible. Though a weeknight is also eminently likely.)
Movies very rarely do better in later weekends than they do in the opening weekend. It will be interesting to see if Charile ends up being an exception.
My understanding is that those people who compile the statistics have already stated that Charlie's figures for this weekend should be ignored because they would be skewed by Pottermania.
See my comment above -- if Charlie does better in its second weekend than its first, ignoring its first-weekend figures might make sense. But if it doesn't do better...
$30? Really? I got a dollar and change back from a $20 at Barnes & Noble...
Ahh, but check the price near the ISBN vs. the stickered sale price. Both of the megabookcompanies sell their "just released" hardcovers at 30% off.


How often does this happen, though? I'd be curious to find out. However, in the end, the profit margin on books is far greater. After all, Charlie probably cost $60m to make, market, and distribute on opening weekend (that's a conservative estimate). Figure that in the end, it'll take two weeks just to break even. I'll bet that Potter has already earned all of Scholastic's money back.

And we're not even looking at Bloomsbury sales or publishers in other non-US markets.
Yay for books outselling movies!
Yay books!
One thing that doesn't appear to be factored in to your comparison is the fact that the book has had advance sales starting at least 6 months ago on amazon.com, and none of those orders will have been charged until this weekend. Charlie and the Chocolate factory has only had actual weekend sales, with maybe a tiny fraction of advance sales. So the book has actually been purchasable for six months, not one weekend.
How is this relevant? Nobody could see the movie before this weekend; nobody could read the book before this weekend.

The only tweak I can think of is how many people attempted and failed each transaction? How many people would have seen Charlie but it was sold out? How many tried to buy Half-Blood Prince but failed? My guess is more of the former, but who knows?
It is an interesting question, whether or not the fact that the book was available for pre-purchase for so long might affect these statistics. Nowadays, movie tickets tend to be available for pre-purchase too, although usually for no more than a week or two before the film.

My guess, however, is that Harry Potter is such a phenomenon that even if pre-sales of the book had been limited to the week before release, it still would have done better.
This is relevant in that for the past 6 months that the new Harry Potter book has been available for pre-sales, it has been the number one book on amazon.com, garnering an awful lot of presales. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had zero oportunity to garner advance sales, and thus the figures for the Potter book are artificially inflated in comparison because ultimately you're comparing unequal order availability windows. If the Potter book had only been orderable since midnight of Friday (or whenever), then I suspect that the numbers of books sold and delivered for its first weekend would have been down considerably.
IIRC, HBP actually outsold the top TWO movies this weekend, both Charlie AND the Wedding Crashers.
True, but what that means is that it outsold all movies this weekend. Saying it outsold #1 means it automatically outsold all the rest...
Ah right, I see I phrased it incorrectly. What I meant was that HBP outsold #1 and #2 COMBINED.
Ah! Yes, that is much more significant.

December 2016

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