Blockbusters

Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment

Anita Elberse

Henry Holt and Co.

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Why the future of popular culture will revolve around ever bigger bets on entertainment products, by one of Harvard Business School’s most popular professors

What’s behind the phenomenal success of entertainment businesses such as Warner Bros., Marvel Entertainment, and the NFL—along with such stars as Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, and LeBron James? Which strategies give leaders in film, television, music, publishing, and sports an edge over their rivals?

Anita Elberse, Harvard Business School’s expert on the entertainment industry, has done pioneering research on the worlds of media and sports for more than a decade. Now, in this groundbreaking book, she explains a powerful truth about the fiercely competitive world of entertainment: building a business around blockbuster products—the movies, television shows, songs, and books that are hugely expensive to produce and market—is the surest path to long-term success. Along the way, she reveals why entertainment executives often spend outrageous amounts of money in search of the next blockbuster, why superstars are paid unimaginable sums, and how digital technologies are transforming the entertainment landscape.

Full of inside stories emerging from Elberse’s unprecedented access to some of the world’s most successful entertainment brands, Blockbusters is destined to become required reading for anyone seeking to understand how the entertainment industry really works—and how to navigate today’s high-stakes business world at large.

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Book Excerpts

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Prologue

Show Business—
a Business of Blockbusters

In 1999, Alan Horn, new in his role as president and chief operating officer of the film and television studio Warner Bros., embarked on a high-stakes strategy. Entrusted with the power to decide which movies the studio would make—the coveted “greenlighting” decision—he chose to single out four or five so-called tent-pole or event films—those thought to have the broadest appeal—among its annual output of around twenty-five movies, and support those picks with a disproportionately large

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Anita Elberse interviewed on After the Bell

Anita Elberse discusses 'Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment' on Fox Business's After the Bell.

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Anita Elberse interviewed on NPR's Morning Edition

Anita Elberse discusses 'Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment' on NPR's Morning Edition.

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Anita Elberse interviewed on Innovation Hub

Anita Elberse discusses 'Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment' on WGBH's Innovator's hub.

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Anita Elberse interviewed on Marketplace

Anita Elberse discusses 'Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment' on Marketplace.

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Reviews

Praise for Blockbusters

*** One of Amazon's Best Books of 2013 ***

*** One of The Globe and Mail's Best Business Books of 2013 ***

"How come so many movies are sequels, adaptations and reboots? Why do music studios spend so much on just a handful of superstar artists? And since when did TV shows become so lush and sophisticated? . . . [Elberse’s] great new book, Blockbusters, explains that the . . . questions share one answer. The blockbuster strategy—betting more and more money on fewer and fewer titles—has taken over the entertainment world."—TheAtlantic.com

"In her new book Blockbusters …[Elberse] argues quite convincingly that in the music industry (in addition to cinema, television, books, and more) record labels are most profitable when they focus their funds on a small number of big-shot, can’t-miss juggernauts."—Billboard

"Forceful . . . Elberse analyzes the realm of culture with a rigorous, numbers-driven approach."—The Boston Globe

"Persuasive… Elberse’s research has now culminated in the publication of her first book, Blockbusters, in which she makes a bold…case against fiscal timidity in the entertainment industry."—Bloomberg Businessweek

"Convincing… Elberse's Blockbusters builds on her already impressive academic résumé to create an accessible and entertaining book."—Financial Times

"Blockbusters demonstrates that [a blockbuster] strategy usually beats the more cautious approach of spreading around lower-amount investments in a larger number of projects, a recipe for mediocrity that seldom captures the public’s imagination."—Forbes

"A compelling answer for those who wonder why Hollywood seems obsessed with superheroes and all hit songs sound alike. The formula works. . . [In Blockbusters,] Elberse delivers an accessible, convincing accounting for the ways in which contemporary entertainment is produced, marketed and consumed."—Kirkus Reviews

"As Blockbusters reveals, pursuing projects with high risk and high reward is actually the best long-term business model."—Omnivoracious.com

"The book effectively explains the paradox of why more entertainment channels result in fewer choices, and offers a welcome respite from the usual business titles."—Publishers Weekly

"Fortunate readers of the book are claiming that Anita Elberse’s Blockbusters is a compelling answer to those wondering why Hollywood seems obsessed with superheroes. Her book merits, not one, two, but three readings."—SciFied.com

"In Blockbusters, Anita Elberse… argues that the blockbuster strategy—a broad formula that assumes investing in big potential winners will account for a disproportionate share of returns—now governs consumer markets, from restaurants and hotels to electronics." —The Wall Street Journal

"Good books merit a second reading—Blockbusters merits at least three. First, read it for fun. Anita Elberse describes the history of how blockbuster products and star entertainers were built. If you’ve ever read arguments about whether leaders are made or born, you’ll love this. Then read it again for Elberse’s model, which explains the process by which hits and stars are made. This will make you feel like Columbus discovering a world that has long existed but few have seen. Then read it a third time, using her model to understand how other stars – leaders in politics, business and academia, for starters – often can be built in the same way. There is hope – because the world truly is entertaining. Blockbusters is a delightful, thought-provoking book."—Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator's Dilemma


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About the Author

Anita Elberse

Anita Elberse, the Lincoln Filene Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, is one of the youngest female professors to be awarded tenure in the School’s history. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Variety, and Fortune. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Anita Elberse

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Available Formats and Book Details

Blockbusters
Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment
Anita Elberse

Hardcover

Hardcover
Henry Holt and Co.
October 2013
Hardcover
ISBN: 9780805094336
ISBN10: 0805094334
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches, 320 pages, Includes 21 black-and-white charts and graphs, notes, index
$30.00

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Henry Holt and Co.
October 2013
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781429945325
ISBN10: 142994532X
320 pages
$14.99
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From The Publisher

Henry Holt and Co.

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