Recently, I wanted some reassurance that I’m not the only gung-ho movie-watcher (I went to Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness opening weekend) and lazy reader (still haven’t read new books by Nate Silver or Junot Diaz, despite lusting after them in bookstores – the books, that is, not the authors, cuties though they are).
Anyway, I craved a good statistic, and I found it: On May 3rd (the day I saw Iron Man), more Americans bought tickets to Iron Man 3 than bought books. I mean all books. Combined.
That day, Iron Man 3 grossed $69 million. Let’s assume an average price of $10 per ticket. (That’s much higher than the 2012 average of $7.96, but then again, some of those Iron Man tickets were 3D, which is more expensive.) That works out to 6.9 million tickets, so nearly 7 million people saw Iron Man 3 that day.
Nationwide book sales are tougher to pinpoint. One site suggests $16 billion in sales in the US per year. That’s roughly $45 million per day – or just under 6 million books, if we assume the average book costs $8. That’s fewer than the Iron Man 3 tickets.
Another site says roughly 2 billion books are sold per year (or 5 million books per day). That still falls short of Iron Man 3.
My own totally rough, back-of-the-envelope estimate would be that the average American buys 5 books per year, making for 4 million books sold per day. Again: that’s below Iron Man 3.
In addition, we’re probably overestimating the number of people buying books, for two reasons. First, book sales are concentrated around back-to-school time (August-September) and the winter holidays (December-January), not in early May. So dividing the annual total by 365 gives us too high a number. Second, whereas very few people go to see the same movie twice on the same day, plenty of people buy multiple books on the same day. That fact further drives down the number of book-buyers.
The one big caveat: I don’t know how book sales are distributed within a given week. If Friday is an especially popular day for book-buying, then I may be wrong.
Until then, I’ll keep saying it: in a head-to-head match-up, Robert Downey, Jr. is more popular than reading.