July 26, 2009

Theatre snacks have long been known as one of those extreme markups charged to a captive audience. Even though no outside food is allowed at theatres, budget tips often include secretly sneaking in the same or similar candy snacks that have been purchased elsewhere: which obviously only occurs among those who could afford snacks as well as the film ticket in the first place. Others simply went without.

Yet the showing of films is subsidised by snack sales. Most theatres operate on a very slim overhead, especially now that DVD sales, Internet downloads, and home theatres cut deeply into the profit margin. Without the sales of snacks, they would not break even.

At the same time, outside a few isolated festivals and a few reviewers' screenings to spread the buzz, film producers have no particular reason to show their products on the big screen anymore. If the theatres stop being able to afford them, other distribution methods are available.

So: we have arrived at a crossroads. We have already discovered that with all the options available, the consuming public will not tolerate ticket prices above certain plateaus. I take it as a given that absolutely no one reading this would be willing for the government to subsidise individual theatres, which places the entire choice upon us, the consumers. Do we personally choose the path of continuing snack subsidisation of theatres? Or do we personally choose the cheapest path, knowing that on the soon side of sooner or later it will destroy this particular institution?

It is an irony of the locovore movement that a similar structure has become established in food production. Locovore food production and consumption moves the origin of foods from far away to nearby, usually within a 100 km radius. Fewer nutrients are lost in transit, fewer chemicals are needed to maintain food freshness, there are fewer middlemen, so the farmer earns more. In isolation, it seems entirely like a good thing.

Yet the sudden removal of all the in-between steps from an established economic structure also results in an equally sudden deflation of the monetary value of the end product of that structure, simply because we had increasingly been using all those steps to artificially inflate the monetary value ... and also to artificially create jobs. When the middle steps are gone, the middle jobs are no longer necessary.

Whatever might be the shape of an ideal societal structure, no new system can be introduced into a vacuum. When widespread established structures are overturned, no one will escape the hurt.

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