Book review: Hollywood Economics: How extreme uncertainty shapes the film industry, by Arthur De Vany.
This rather dense and scholarly book that contains some good insights into how markets for information differ from markets for physical goods. But few people will want to read the whole book. Much of the book was originally published as papers in economics journals. It’s better organized than that suggests, but the style is mostly oriented toward professional economists.
Much of the book can be summed up by the conclusion that nobody knows anything about how successful a movie will be. The typical film loses money, and the expected returns are heavily dominated by rare films that are huge successes.
He says through much of the book that returns on investment in movies have infinite variance, and only at the very end admits that that’s not literaly true, and then provides a more credible description of the variance as unstable and generally increasing over time.
His argument that Hollywood makes too many R-rated films takes a good deal of effort to follow. Table 5.3 is confusing, because it shows a mean return on R-rated films as much higher for the returns on PG13 films. This sounds like the opposite of his conclusion. It took 13 more pages before I figured out that that was due to some high rates of return on low budget R-rated films that had little effect on aggregate profits. It appears that his conclusion ought to have been that Hollywood makes too many high-budget R-rated films, and too few low-budget R-rated films.
His description of the antitrust cases that transformed the movie industry provides convincing evidence that the courts were confused and didn’t help the independent exhibitors that the lawsuits were allegedly designed to help. The arguments about how they affected consumers are less clear.