nep-cul New Economics Papers
on Cultural Economics
Issue of 2008‒03‒15
four papers chosen by
Roberto Zanola
University of the Piemonte Orientale

  1. Language in Visual Art: The Twentieth Century By David Galenson
  2. Social Learning and Peer Effects in Consumption: Evidence from Movie Sales By Enrico Moretti
  3. Swapping Print The Impact of Immigration and the Internet on International Trade in Newspapers By Hisham Foad
  4. A Model for Pricing the Italian Contemporary Art Paintings at Auction By Giulio PALOMBA; Nicoletta MARINELLI

  1. By: David Galenson
    Abstract: Words have appeared in visual art since classical times, but until the modern era their use was generally restricted to a few specific functions. In the early twentieth century, the Cubists Braque and Picasso began using words in their paintings and collages in entirely new ways, and their innovation was quickly adopted by other artists. Words, phrases, and sentences were subsequently used by visual artists for a variety of purposes -- to refer to popular culture, to pose verbal puzzles, to engage with philosophy and semiotics, and for political and social commentary. Throughout the century, the use of language in visual art was dominated by conceptual artists, and the increasing role of language over time was symptomatic of the fact that visual art was progressively intended less as an aesthetic product, to be looked at, and increasingly as an intellectual activity, to be read. The prominence of language is yet another way in which the visual art of the twentieth century differs from all earlier periods, as a result of the increasingly extreme practices of conceptual artists after the development of a competitive market for advanced art in the late nineteenth century freed them from the constraints that had previously been imposed by governments and other powerful patrons.
    JEL: J01
    Date: 2008–03
  2. By: Enrico Moretti
    Abstract: Using box-office data for all movies released between 1982 and 2000, I test the implications of a simple model of social learning in which the consumption decisions of individuals depend on information they receive from their peers. The model predicts different box office sales dynamics depending on whether opening weekend demand is higher or lower than expected. I use a unique feature of the movie industry to identify ex-ante demand expectations: the number of screens dedicated to a movie in its opening weekend reflects the sales expectations held by profit-maximizing theater owners. Several pieces of evidence are consistent with social learning. First, sales of movies with positive surprise and negative surprise in opening weekend demand diverge over time. If a movie has better than expected appeal and therefore experiences larger than expected sales in week 1, consumers in week 2 update upward their expectations of quality, further increasing week 2 sales. Second, this divergence is small for movies for which consumers have strong priors and large for movies for which consumers have weak priors. Third, the effect of a surprise is stronger for audiences with large social networks. Finally, consumers do not respond to surprises in first week sales that are orthogonal to movie quality, like weather shocks. Overall, social learning appears to be an important determinant of sales in the movie industry, accounting for 38% of sales for the typical movie with positive surprise. This implies the existence of a large "social multiplier'' such that the elasticity of aggregate demand to movie quality is larger than the elasticity of individual demand to movie quality.
    JEL: J0 L15
    Date: 2008–03
  3. By: Hisham Foad (Department of Economics, San Diego State University)
    Abstract: Why is there international trade in newspapers? Why do even very small countries both import from and export to large nations? New trade models founded on transport costs and increasing returns fail to explain the high degree of bilateral trade in cultural goods like newspapers and periodicals. I argue that immigration is complementary to newspaper trade, with small cosmopolitan countries having the largest trade as a percentage of GDP. These predictions are empirically confirmed, with a 10% increase in bilateral immigration inducing a 4.4% increase in newspaper trade between nations. While increased immigration has lead to greater trade, this effect is decreasing in internet usage. The trade-immigration elasticity is 8.5% smaller for high-internet usage countries, reflecting the fact that immigrants increasingly get their foreign news fix online. These results suggest that cultural goods need not be protected from trade as a country’s economic presence on the global stage creates a market for its products.
    Date: 2007–03
  4. By: Giulio PALOMBA ([n.a.]); Nicoletta MARINELLI (Universita' Politecnica delle Marche, Dipartimento di Economia)
    Abstract: This paper aims to model the auction prices of Italian contemporary art paintings. The contribution to the existing literature is twofold concerning both the methodological and the conceptual aspects. From the former point of view, we use the two-stages Heckit model which allows us to take into account the sample selection bias deriving from the "buying" risk, that affects transactions at auction. From the latter point of view, we have found that some sale characteristics such as auction house prestige and year of sale, are more important than the physical aspects of the paintings. Moreover, some artistic characteristics, the artist's name and their living status are also relevant.;An estimation using pre-sale evaluation by experts has also been tried: this explanatory variable seems to be the main driver regarding both the probability of having an unsold painting and the auction price levels reached by sold works. Nevertheless, the hypothesis of its sufficiency is rejected and some problems related to the economic interpretation of the results arise.;The whole analysis is carried out after creating a new dataset of 2817 transactions which took place at the most important auction houses between 1990 and 2006.
    Keywords: Heckit model, auctions, painting prices, selection bias, statistical sufficiency
    JEL: C34 D44 Z11
    Date: 2008–03

This nep-cul issue is ©2008 by Roberto Zanola. It is provided as is without any express or implied warranty. It may be freely redistributed in whole or in part for any purpose. If distributed in part, please include this notice.
General information on the NEP project can be found at For comments please write to the director of NEP, Marco Novarese at <>. Put “NEP” in the subject, otherwise your mail may be rejected.
NEP’s infrastructure is sponsored by the School of Economics and Finance of Massey University in New Zealand.