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Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies: And Other Pricing Puzzles Hardcover – May 19, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 326 pages
  • Publisher: Copernicus; 2008 edition (May 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0387769994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0387769998
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,255,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

With exhaustive research and a wry sense of humor, University of California, Irvine professor Richard McKenzie probes the pricing questions that consumers so often fail to ask in Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies. By distilling the effectiveness of commonly-held strategies, McKenzie illuminates the logic in the seemingly illogical and shakes the foundations of prevalent pricing myths. Are we really fooled by prices that end in 9? If holiday clearance sales are about excess inventory, wouldn't retailers hire better buyers the next year? And why do coffee shops offer free WiFi? Fans of Freakonomics will enjoy McKenzie's entertaining analysis, as you may never look at sales, coupons, rebates - or movie theater popcorn - the same way again. - Dave Callanan


From the reviews:

"The author, Richard McKenzie, does a popping-good job showing readers why they should buy his book. … since his book is about hidden truths in marketing and he demonstrates the popcorn truth so well, you definitely get a feel … to buy this book." (Beneath the Cover, June, 2008)

"Richard McKenzie takes the reader through the conundrums of pricing --why are there after-Christmas sales, why do new cars instantly lose so much value … and how does subsidized university housing burden the university in unforeseen ways. And, of course, why popcorn costs so much at the movies. Fun but also illuminating on the power of markets to value your time and the products and services you purchase. Why Popcorn Costs So Much At the Movies, And Other Pricing Puzzles makes pricing theory interesting!" (Hugh Hewitt, June, 2008)

"Richard McKenzie’s book, Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies, and other pricing puzzles, is out. … It looks like a good microeconomics primer to me – a nice mix of thoughtful price theory and contemporary examples." (The Undercover Economist, June, 2008)

"In this book, McKenzie covers an eclectic range of topics, looking at strange pricing phenomena and their consequences. … this will be an interesting read." (Andy Ridgway, BBC Focus, Summer, 2008)

"The first place/time I heard of this book was on the EconTalk podcast … . Dr. Tyler Cowen recommends the book as well. … provides a solid grounding on the ‘why’ of prices. Why are they so important, why must we get them ‘right?’ … The treatment of ‘free’ items such as ink-jet printers was excellent, and possibly worth the price of the book itself. … In short, a solid book that I enjoyed more than I expected to." (Amateur Economist, August, 2008)

"This is an interesting book and a good read. The level is not technical and is similar to some of the recent crop of popular economics writings … . What differentiates this book is its ideology: markets and people are rational." (Huw Dixon, Times Higher Education, July, 2008)

"McKenzie uses clear economic reasoning to explain many aspects of pricing that are otherwise puzzling. He even uses reasoning about prices to show that the federal government’s rules for getting on airplanes have caused more deaths than the terrorists … . … He uses economics to analyze the issues deeply and presents a more balanced view of the incentives and motivations of sellers. … McKenzie’s Popcorn is a welcome antidote to Freakonomics." (David R. Henderson, Regulation, Vol. 31 (3), Fall, 2008)

"In his most recent book, entitled `Why Popcorn Cost So Much at the Movies, and Other Pricing Puzzles,' ... Richard McKenzie explains this conundrum as well as other pricing mysteries. ... Overall I enjoyed this book ... . Mckenzie's writing style graciously makes this book effortless to read and comprehend. ... I would recommend this book to anyone seeking to gain a greater understanding of how basic economics principals can accurately explain pricing enigmas in our everyday lives." (Keegan Hall's Infamous Blog, December, 2008)

"The book Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies is an academic book wrapped in a populist title. It provides insight into a variety of pricing mysteries … . it is useful for anyone involved in pricing a product. … The book touches upon social issues and the unintended consequences of pricing. … With a variety of topics, it has something for students and professionals … . " (The Viodi View, January, 2009)

"Written by an economist for smart people, Popcorns unpacks pricing puzzles taken from real life, from the age-old debate over ending a price in a 9 to charging $10 for a bucket of movie theater popcorn. … To an entrepreneur facing the mystery of setting prices, this book contains a wealth of important ideas." (Inc, January, 2009)

"Pricing makes the economic go’ round. … Professor McKenzie does a good job of tackling this complexity head on, and anyone whose job is remotely connected to pricing will benefit from reading this book. Consumers who are curious about the prices they pay … and how they got that way are likely to enjoy this book as well. … McKenzie’s writing is engaging and readable. … this is a must read book for anyone who deals with pricing." (The Customer Knowledge Advantage, May, 2009)

"Of all the good books I’ve read recently, the best so far is probably Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies and Other Pricing Puzzles by Richard McKenzie. … The book looks at a large number of pricing puzzles and … provide rational explanations for why they might be the case. … McKenzie … illustrate the possible ways to resolve these puzzles. … I recommend this book to anyone and everyone who is … interested in understanding economics as the science of making decisions." (Diversified Interests, July, 2009)

“This book illustrates pricing puzzles … and provides alternative reasoning based on sources in either rational (e. g. opportunity cost, experience/network goods, market/information uniformity, sales prediction) or non-rational (e. g. regulation, politics, psychology) economics. Presented as a sequence of puzzles and discussions/answers, this is a thought provoking book. I highly recommend.” (Raresaint, March, 2010)

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Customer Reviews

The author does a great job making these complex issues easy for everyone to understand.
D. Gordon
If you're already read both of those, and you're desperate for something fresh to read, you might try Why Popcorn Costs So Much At The Movies.
Ashley R. Smith
"Why Popcorn Costs So Much...," valuable as it may be, is just not for a light afternoon's read at the beach.
Ink & Penner

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Ink & Penner on July 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
--This book tells us more than we ever wanted to know about prices.
--Indeed, here's probably more about prices than we ever thought there was to know!

If you're a casual reader who's just trying to catch up on what's going on around us, the going could be slow and tedious. However, if you're a university prof, serious economics student, or a marketing or merchandising strategist ready to dive below the surface of pricetag information, you'll probably find this book information-stuffed, no doubt interesting...perhaps fascinating, even fun and easy to read.

"Why Popcorn Costs So Much...," valuable as it may be, is just not for a light afternoon's read at the beach. Consider one of McKenzie's opening paragraphs on price adjustment: "One of the unheralded advantages of prices is that through market forces, they capture the advantages and disadvantages of property, in the process giving a market value to the advantages or disadvantages. Prices adjust until buyers are more or less indifferent between properties." [Page 33] --Or an explanation of standard pricing with 9s [as in $4.99]: "From a strictly economic perspective, if there were no cost to buyers considering rightward digits, and there were only gains from allaying the unexpected expense of paying the rightward digits, then there would be no reason for buyers not to consider all digits equally, no matter how high the price. There would be no reason then for the just-below prices...." [Page 183] --Oh, come on, Mr. McKenzie! Isn't there an easier way to say all this!? Re-reading has been SOP for this reader throughout the book.

Occasionally, though, pages do make some sense (topics on coupons, on rebates especially), but this still is not a consumer primer for smart buying.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Ashley R. Smith on January 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Economists are often criticized for being out of touch with the real world. Although economists might be great at inventing theories, those theories fail to predict real-world outcomes, because the theories overstate how rationally and logically consumers behave.

This book will do nothing to rebuff such criticisms.

In certain sections of this book, McKenzie demonstrates that he has little grasp of how adults and children behave in the real world. For example, in the title chapter of the book, McKenzie attempts to explain why kids' tickets cost less that adults' tickets at the movies. He says:

"One plausible (albeit partial) explanation may be that adults' time is more valuable (given their paying work opportunities)... adults incur greater (opportunity or time) costs than children to search out alternative prices for different movies at different theater."

In other words, McKenzie believes that adults are busy people--too busy, in fact, to comb the newspaper and the Web for the best possible movie ticket prices. However, McKenzie suggests that little kids, having plenty of free time, are avid bargain hunters who can diddle around reading the newspaper and scouring the Web, looking for good deals on movie ticket prices.

Where does McKenzie get that idea? I don't know--does McKenzie know a particularly price-conscious group of six-year-olds? Does he think that, after they finish watching Sesame Street, little children hop online and start comparison shopping on the Web?

He goes on to talk more about kid vs adult movie ticket prices, saying:

"A $3-increase in the child's ticket price represents a 26% increase in the total cost of the child going to the
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Caraculiambro on July 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't think this book is anywhere near as entertaining as the author, an economics teacher at UC Irvine, thinks. It's meant to be a popular and light-hearted look at a variety of pricing puzzles: those situations where common sense suggests the price either needs to rise or fall for business to pick up. McKenzie tries his hand at explaining a slew of them, such as the pricing of used cars or of campus housing.

It's basically like "Freakonomics," except nowhere near as well-written or mind-blowing. In the preface, the author acknowledges that his book "might appear to emerge only because of the success of other economists who have sought to apply economic reasoning broadly, as Steven Levitt, an economist, with wordsmithing help of journalist Stephen Dubner, has done in the wildly successful book, Freakonomics." (p. XI) He then goes on to insist that no, he was going to write this book anyhow. In fact, he had the idea first, he says, claiming that his 1975 book, "The New World of Economics" accomplished everything that Freakonomics later did - except the sales, I would add.

Anyhow, I would suggest you read "Freakonomics" instead, as that book is much more clearly written and more startling. This book can't even boast an intriguing solution to the titular problem. As if that weren't unforgivable enough, once you finish his section on the pricing of theater popcorn, you still remain to be convinced that he in fact has uttered the last word on the matter.

If you're using this as a supplementary reader to an econ course, it'd better be a micro course, since many of the concepts McKenzie discusses require conversance with basic microeconomics: elasticity, consumer surplus, marginality, etc.
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