The Cost Per Hour of Entertainment

The entertainment world is full of options. With enough money, you can indulge in just about any form of leisure imaginable. But what if you don’t have an unlimited budget? Most of us don’t. What’s the best value for your hard-earned money?

I’ve taken a look at some of the more common ways people spend money to have a good time and compared the cost of each on an hourly basis. The list is hardly exhaustive (how could it be?). I focused mainly on media and event attendance. I did not consider the quality of the entertainment, assuming it to be a binary state (entertained versus bored). The result is the graphic above.

Broadway

No one ever claimed culture came cheaply. A Broadway musical is still a work of craftsmanship, each show a movie acted out on stage by trained singers and dancers. While most of them aren’t making the big money, it’s still more than the lone projectionist at your local multiplex, and that money comes from somewhere: your ticket prices.

Phantom of the Opera is still playing on Broadway. If you want a ticket, the low end price you’re going to find is $95 (including fees). The show lasts about 150 minutes, or two and a half hours.
Broadway Cost

Video Games

From freeware, to piracy, to Steam’s “Humble Bundle” promotions, there are plenty of ways to cut corners funding your video game habit. However, for this comparison let’s look at a major studio release, the sort of blockbuster that lots of people are expected to buy.

God of War: Ascension retails for $59.99. While replayability will vary from player to player, the general consensus seems to be that there is about 10 hours of gameplay.
Video Games

Pro Sports

While taking a kid out to his or her first ballgame is a staple of parental bonding, it might be cheaper to get them hooked on video games. If you live in a small market with poor attendance, you might be able to find some real deals. For most people who actually want to see a ballgame, it’s a different story.

For this example I’m using the Boston Red Sox. Tickets to one of their home games will run you $47 (including fees) for right-field grandstand seats (assume you don’t have to sit behind one of Fenway’s infamous view-obstructing poles). Since this is my hometown team, I’m going to cut them some much-needed slack, and assume that you aren’t spending another 20+ dollars on a couple hot dogs, a beer, and a bag of popcorn. Even without rolling in the cost of ballpark snacks, for a 3 1/2 hour game, that’s a lot of money.
Pro Sports

TV Series on Blu-Ray

Maybe you’re the sort of person who likes to binge on a show. Maybe you want to wait until a series ends (and be sure that it isn’t canceled along the way) before investing yourself in it emotionally. Maybe you don’t get cable. For whatever reason, TV shows on DVD and Blu-Ray are insanely popular these days. You get to buy them bundled, a season at a time, usually with little extras like cast interviews, bonus footage, and a cool box to store on a bookshelf to show people you’ve got taste in shows.

With Breaking Bad set to wrap up, let’s take that show as an example. Season 4 on Blue-Ray retails for $37.99 on Best Buy, and has a run-time of 610 minutes. The price tag looks a bit ominous when you’re considering it’s on regular cable, but the hourly rate as entertainment isn’t all that bad.
TV Series

Hardcover Novel

A book came out and you’ve got to have it now. It might not be out in paperback for months at the earliest, so you buy the hardcover. Oh sure, they look great all lined up on a shelf as trophies of past literary conquests, but they cost you. Thick cardboard and wrap-around printed dust jackets don’t grow on trees (though their raw materials technically do). Mostly you’re paying for the privilege of getting the book before the publisher lets the cheaper versions out of the barn.

One of this years hottest selling novels is Dan Brown’s “Inferno”. List price is $28.95 in hardcover. There’s a lot of variation in reading rate from person to person, but assuming about 150 words per minute (an average rate), it will take approximately 800 minutes (13.3 hours) to read.
Hardcover Novel

Movie

Movies are an entertainment staple, and despite HD TVs that shame the picture quality at your typical neighborhood movie theater, people still exit their homes in droves to go see the latest releases on the big screen. Seeing the movie as soon as it’s available is part of the appeal, but there is also an atmosphere: the cavernous theater, the silhouetted heads blocking the bottom of the screen, the smell of popcorn …

That whole popcorn and soda snack is almost as much a part of the movie-going experience as the movie itself. When you look at the pricing at the concession stand, two things strike you: that there is no way that popcorn can cost as much as they indicate, and that the largest sizes of everything are clearly the best value. Never mind that you might not finish you trashcan-sized tub of popcorn or your bucket of Diet Coke, they were only a bit more expensive than containers half the size.

There are people who put out studies on these prices, and in 2013 a movie like Iron Man 3 will run you just over $20 for a ticket, a popcorn, and a soda. IM3 clocked in at 130 minutes (just over 2 hours), and for the sake of argument, let’s not bother counting the previews as entertainment.
Movie

eBook

We now come a a subject dear to my heart: eBooks. As a writer, it’s easy to see eBooks as the future of publishing. Paper books aren’t going away, but an ever-growing percentage of book sales are electronic. Today the ratio is roughly 50/50. Where will it end: 80/20, 90/10, 99/1? Who can say, but at this point the trend is running in favor of eBooks as more people buy (or are given) eReaders and find the advantages of reading books on a screen instead of paper.

This isn’t a debate about the relative merits of paper versus electronic books, except where it comes to cost. While the difference isn’t as much as it probably ought to be, eBooks still tend to be cheaper than mass market paperbacks. If you’re looking to buy a book, the eBook is the cheapest option.

As an independent author, I have control over the price of my books. Firehurler (Book 1 of the Twinborn Trilogy) costs $4.99 on Amazon (see sidebar). At 250k words, it’s longer than the majority of novels, so let’s estimate 1680 minutes (28 hours) to read it.
eBook

Other Entertainment

The methodology used here isn’t rocket science. You can estimate the cost for most forms of entertainment this way, or redo any of the above comparisons using different examples. Books and video games have a high variability in cost and amount of entertainment provided. If your tastes run more toward Real-Time Strategy (RTS) or MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online) games, you may get more hours of entertainment from a single game. There will also be dud games that you never get much time with. For books, if you are reading through 2 or 3 romance novels a week, you’re probably reading at a much faster rate than I used in my estimates (150 wpm) and the cost per hours rises.

Of course, the sorts of people who like seeing complicated things reduced to charts and graphs also tend to be the ones to love finding loopholes and technicalities. There are numerous ways to amuse yourself that are either nominally free (radio, running, swimming, watching youth sports), or actually make money (arts and crafts, music, writing).

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