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Movie Theaters and Demand Pricing

A few days ago, NPR’s Planet Money ran a story asking why there isn’t demand pricing for movies where you pay more for blockbusters and less for the stinkers. Among the suggestions the correspondents made were having some movies free with a two popcorn cover.

They spoke to a movie theater owner who expressed concerns about low prices signaling that a movie was bad. Not to mention he worried that people would pay for the stinker and sneak into the blockbuster.

The biggest impediment to demand based pricing, however, is the movie studios. As the reporters mention, no studio wants to invest tons of money into making and advertising a show only to have a movie theater price it at $1.

If you are not aware, something similar occurs with many of the big Broadway touring shows, especially those that are getting a percentage of the gate. Theaters have to submit proposed ticket pricing and a marketing budget for the production company’s approval.

One interesting fact that came to light was that the term “B-movie” actually refers to an early practice where movies were graded A, B, C, etc and had corresponding pricing. The practice has fallen by the wayside, but the B movie term stuck around in common parlance.

One of the problems live performances face is the ability to provide such transparency in its pricing for audiences. The price for single perform doing a solo acoustic set might be low because the cost to the theater for one person is low. On the other hand, if that single performer is Eric Clapton, the ticket price is going to be commensurately high.

But a ticket price may be low because the theater has good funding, or will take a loss to encourage people to attend or because the quality stinks. The audience member doesn’t know why prices are the way they are and there isn’t really an elegant way to communicate it, should the arts organization so desire.

As I listened to the reporters asking if movie theaters weren’t foolish not to institute demand based pricing, I wondered if we might be approaching a place where audiences would be psychologically ready for arts organizations to implement similar pricing strategies for their own events. The whole question of demand pricing has been hotly debated by arts organizations and the fact that the subject is popping up in various forms indicates the topic isn’t going away any time soon.

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Will Zoning Laws Make Us Love The Arts More

I am back from my trip to Germany. Part of my trip was devoted to helping my mother do some genealogy research. In the process, I came to a realization I think we have all have suspected- The relationship Europeans have with the arts can never be replicated in the United States. There are just too many fundamental differences in the lives we lead and the the way we interact with the arts as we develop from children to adults.

I have traveled fairly extensively in China, Japan, Mongolia, Ireland and Germany and in my view, the arts seem most present in the lives of Japanese and Germans. Though in Japan it manifests more as a pursuit of general excellence while in Germany it seems to manifest as the intentional creation of artistic work.

No matter where I went in Germany from large cities like Frankfurt and Munich, to smaller towns like Obernburg and Volkach and the university town of Heidelberg, there were dozens of notices of concerts, recitals and plays everywhere we went.

Now granted, Germany has the benefit of churches and castles as well as theaters in which these performances can take place.

Stage in Heidelberg Castle Courtyard

Stage in Heidelberg Castle Courtyard

stage outside Heidelberg Castle

stage outside Heidelberg Castle

stage in courtyard of Aschaffenburg Castle

stage in courtyard of Aschaffenburg Castle

Germany also has a “percent for art” program where a percentage of the construction project cost is set aside for a work of public art. The wife and daughter of our host in Obernburg had both had works selected for public buildings. (I apologize, I neglected to make note of the names of Marianne’s works.)

by Marianne Knebel

by Marianne Knebel

by Marianne Knebel

by Marianne Knebel

Die Tore Sind Geoffnet (The Gates Are Open)by Petia Knebel

Die Tore Sind Geoffnet (The Gates Are Open)by Petia Knebel

I did some research to see whether the German percent for art program pre-dated the United States. It does by a decade, though it is a policy rather than a matter of law. According to my research, this has produced some inconsistent results in terms of quality.  I have to admit that my first impression was that Petia had obviously copied ideas from her mother.

Questions of quality aside, what impressed me was that an effort was made to use the work of local artists. Marianne’s work is a half hour drive from her house. Petia’s is about 2-3 miles from the house as the crow flies.

And from what I understood, there is something of a infrastructure to support artists with foundries and factories setting aside space for the artists to work on these pieces.  It sounded similar to what the Kohler Company does in the U.S. Even if the quality of work and the selection process is uneven, this seems to be an environment which encourages and enables artistic expression.

It isn’t just concert notices and public art by local artists that a German sees as they go about their day. There are other reminders that aesthetics are valued. The old part of every town we visited had stone streets. In both Obernburg and Volkach, the streets had been dug up for construction and then the stones were cut and laid back down. This wasn’t just a narrow strip for a sewer pipe, it was the whole width of the street.

Obernberg street

The street only looks narrow until you have to put all the stones back


Germans also apparently devote a fair bit of time bringing beauty to death. We went to three cemeteries in the course of our genealogy research and they all looked like this:


I don’t think it is a matter of Germans being better artistic human beings as it is a reflection of the fundamental differences in the activities of our daily lives. I had a bit of insight during my travels that lead to this hypothesis.

My mother’s side of the family came from Obernburg Germany and founded the town of Obernburg, NY. While in the German town, I learned that until around the 1800, it wasn’t permitted to build outside the walls. From the way other towns we visited were structured, I am guessing this was the case in many places. Even now that people are building outside old parts of town, most of the infrastructure for daily life from grocery stores, banks, churches, government buildings, restaurants, are all located in the old town centers.

These areas still have very narrow streets where the speed limit hovers around 15 mph and is better suited to walking and biking than driving. Whereas in the U.S. old buildings might be demolished to make way for a modern building, if any building has been replaced in these German towns, the new construction has conformed to the general dimensions and style of the surrounding buildings.

As a result, people’s lives are centered in these very communal places where they walk past notices about performances and speak to their neighbors about events around town. (Not to mention walking by the venues multiples times a day.)

Remember, I don’t speak German so I didn’t read any newspapers, watch television or go online to learn about local events. Every performance I became aware of was due to walking past a poster, banner or marquee. In this particular environment it was an effective method of communication.

One thing that we know about my ancestors in Obernburg, NY from letters and diary entries was that they didn’t have the opportunity to replicate these community towns that they had left. This was a little disorienting for them. Because land was parceled off in patents that had to be occupied in order to hold it, people were forced to live on their land miles from each other rather than next door.

In a moment of insight, I wondered if this basic difference between being forced to live together in Germany versus being forced to live apart in the U.S. may have been a major factor in the differences that developed in the way each country experiences and views their relationship with the arts. Can land use policy be as, if not more, important than education and direct funding when it comes to participation in the arts?

If nothing else, as far as I was concerned, walking around these picturesque towns were a great argument for the benefits of mixed used neighborhoods.

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Paint Your Way To A Better You!

Some time back I was involved in a project that put me a table with folks from the local YMCA.

I was interested to learn that at the time, the YMCA as well as other athletic facilities were trying to develop memberships by offering starter rooms,

“where people can work out under specific direction with a small group of others with whom they share some connection (gender, age, ethnicity, weight).

These rooms and others like it (i.e. aerobics studios) no longer have mirrors in them. There used to be a focus on monitoring ones form and thus the mirrors. Many people didn’t want to see how bad they looked in the mirror so out the went. There has also been a shift in focus from fitness to well-being.

Once people have been working out for awhile and refined their physique and technique, they move out under their own motivation into the familiar bigger room with the mirrors where they can monitor their form and progress.”

Back when I first wrote this entry, I was trying to think of some small group programs that might replicate the same general dynamics for the arts. Since then, I have had some fun ideas, but have been faced with the problem of finding a compelling argument for people to participate in them.

Even with a lot of public messages about exercise being good for you, gyms see interest taper off after 3 months. There aren’t similar general messages about the value of the arts (2 hours a week -just 30 minutes every other day!) that motivate people to even aspire to make a resolution to participate or create.

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One Person’s Passion Is Another’s Indifference

If things are quiet for you over the summer, it might be a good time to evaluate your interactions with donors and customers. A few years back, I brought attention to a number of interesting findings about customer interactions.

One was that

“perceived indifference by a company causes far more people to sever their relationship with a company than cost and quality issues.” and “It’s important to note here that indifference only be perceived. People cannot know other people’s motives; they can only deduce them from the actions they see. So you can care passionately and still be perceived as indifferent.”

I linked to another entry on Donor Power blog that asked the provocative question -“What are you doing to persuade your donors that you aren’t human?”

The third dealt with using industry standard language in materials for customer/donors that not only have no relevance to these groups, but can ultimately be alienating.

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