EDITORIAL: “Part of Me: Behind the Scenes of Katy Perry’s Box Office Flop”

Wrapped up in The Amazing Spider-Man’s web this weekend, few noticed the other new releases that snuck into national theaters underneath the radar. Although all debuted to unimpressive numbers, the most surprising result came from Katy Perry’s tour documentary Part of Me which collected a paltry $7.1 million to land in 8th place. The film’s $12 million dollar production budget shouldn’t be difficult to recoup for distributor Paramount Pictures so it’s premature to call the concert flick a financial disaster, but the result is still disappointing. The studio had hoped to replicate the success of similar small-budget artist-based properties like 2011’s Justin Bieber: Never Say Never ($29.5 million in its first weekend) and 2009’s Michael Jackson biopic This Is It, ($23.2 million). Perry’s poor performance presents an interesting case study on the crossover appeal of musical artists. How can a pop star with numerous #1 hits, millions of digital tracks sold, and the 11th highest grossing tour of 2011 bring such a weak audience to theaters? Spider-Man and the competitive summer movie season are both good reasons but they don’t explain a result this low. Here’s why Part of Me was a miss at the box office:

1. Hardcore Katy fans came out, the rest of America didn’t

Part of Me failed to attract a diverse audience thanks to a weak trailer and a marketing campaign that focused too much on the star and less on a universally appealing story. The loyal Perry fans – the “KatyCats” – came out in full force: Part of Me’s audience was 81% female and 72% were younger than 25 years. These are similar demographics to Bieber but the grosses of the two films are anything but. Why the discrepancy? Compare the two trailers for Part of Me and Never Say Never:

Part of Me’s pitch starts off well with a dramatic history of Katy’s roots but loses its footing quickly and turns into an empty celebration of the pop star. The film’s conflicts – the singer’s crumbling relationship with comedian Russell Brand and her journey to the top of the charts – are ignored in favor of shots of screaming fans and skimpy outfits.

Never Say Never takes the opposite route. Granted, there are plenty of breathless Beliebers featured but the majority of the two minutes is dedicated to presenting a compelling story about overcoming adversity. Compared to Katy, there are more shots of the young Bieber, more drama presented throughout (“He almost passed me by”, “He’s 16 and he’s doing it all on his own”), and more story in general. The tween star appears as a humble and likeable kid rather than as a larger-than-life persona.

The swarm of crowds for both artists at public events should have told Paramount that the loyal fans would be present no matter what. Marketing recognized this aspect with the Bieber promotion but, for some reason, lost direction with Part of Me. The trailer failed to sell anything but Katy Perry. Dollars were wasted targeting loyal fans instead of average moviegoers. As expected, the KatyCats rushed out and the rest of America stayed in.

2. Perry isn’t as appealing as the industry would like to believe

There are some interesting statistics underneath Perry’s “stellar” sales numbers that suggest the star isn’t shining as bright as the media would think.

Take touring, for example. Perry’s California Dreams trek was the 11th highest grossing tour of 2011, reeling in $59.5 million in sales and 1.2 million attendees. At first glance, not a bad place to be but consider this – the average ticket price ($49.28) was the lowest of any of the top 25 grossing tours and Perry also played the most shows of any musician on the list. To a cynical music industry observer, these appear to be signs of decreased consumer demand. It’s a strategy of catering to as many markets as possible and selling based on price bargaining rather than the appeal of the performer.

There was a largely forgotten controversy last summer when Katy Perry’s tour rider (the list of artist demands for a performance in venue) leaked prior to the start of the California Dreams dates. The 45-page document included a clause that demanded that Perry and her management be given access to a certain amount of tickets for each show in order to sell them on the secondary market at a higher price. If the goal was just to maximize money, the tickets would have been priced higher in their first round. The newly emerging industry strategy of placing a high number of tickets on sites like StubHub is an easy way to artificially inflate demand by giving the appearance of a sold-out show. Customers panic that there are no tickets available closer to show date, and the amount they’re willing to pay increases.

Consider the actual music sales as well. In August 2010, Perry’s record Teenage Dream debuted to 192,000 copies sold, good enough for the top slot on the Billboard chart but only about half of what the industry expected. At the time, she had the biggest hit of the summer – “California Girls” – with second single “Teenage Dream” also beginning to climb up the charts. The sales were so surprising that some executives thought “the sky was falling”.

So where did the idea that Perry is an industry superstar come from? Her greatest strength comes from the sale of her singles. Since its release, Teenage Dream may have only moved 2 million units but the record’s #1 hits have sold a whopping 24 million digital singles.

The “singles artist” description seems appropriate here and it explains part of the result. The truth is: Katy’s persona and media appearances and even her singles did nothing to boost Part of Me amongst the general public. People just don’t care. Consumers are willing to spend $1 on a top 40 hit every couple months but don’t expect them to plop down $8 to $13 for one viewing of a concert documentary. If an artist peddles forgettable three-minute doses of sugary goodness every couple of months, don’t expect longevity.

The lessons to be learned are these: Success in one industry is no guarantee of success in another. Don’t rely on the popularity of a persona to get people interested in a product. A ticket for any event is harder to sell than a digital download. Finally, just because it worked for Justin Bieber doesn’t mean it’ll work for everyone else.

Written by Boris Paskhaver

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One Response to “EDITORIAL: “Part of Me: Behind the Scenes of Katy Perry’s Box Office Flop””

  1. drewtrolley says:

    Also, she doesn’t deserve to have a movie about her (same with Beiber). What has she done? Spawned a few singles, but nothing ground-breaking.
    I bet the movie forgot to include that she was an artist on a christian record label and dropped it all to appeal to the masses so she’d make money. No respect for Katy Perry.