Yesterday’s headlines were abuzz with the news that the new film in the “Twilight Saga” had defied industry expectations by earning not just a lot of money in its opening weekend, but, like, a lot. Insiders had projected the film to take about $100 million; it took $140 million instead.
As such, it entered the record books as the third highest North American opening weekend of all time, behind The Dark Knight and Spider Man 3. It displaced Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Except it didn’t—not really.
Not that these sorts of records matter. But if the media are going to cover them, they may as well do it right. The coverage highlights a common problem in journalism: the failure to adjust for inflation. To measure money in sheer numbers is meaningless; it’s the actual value that counts.
Adjusting for inflation doesn’t require slide rules or a phone call to a NASA: the Department of Labor Statistics has created a calculator so easy to use even an entertainment blogger could do it.
And when we adjust Pirates 2‘s take for inflation, we find that $135.6 million in 2006 dollars is the equivalent of $145.4 million in today’s, just about $5 million more than the new Twilight film made. Which means that no records, at least those that might mean something, were actually broken.
Shouldn’t the New York Times know better, though? It’s possible that news organizations are simply desperate for Twilight news: the franchise is a guaranteed hits generator. I reviewed the original film on my blog last year, and it quickly became one of my most-visited pages of all time, beating out reviews that had a few year’s headstart to accumulate hits. (Most of the visitors came through Google Images, presumably girls perusing for printable Pattinson pin-ups.) As news organizations fret over the future of their collapsing business models, a little web traffic couldn’t hurt.