by Derek Long
University of Texas Press, 2024
eISBN: 978-1-4773-2896-5 | Cloth: 978-1-4773-2894-1
Library of Congress Classification PN1993.5.U6L+
Dewey Decimal Classification 384.809730904


A history of film distribution in the United States from the 1910s to the 1930s, concentrating on booking, circuiting, and packaging marketing practices.

Told not as a “golden age” narrative of films, stars, or individual studios but as an economic history of the industry’s film distribution practices, Playing the Percentages is the story of how Hollywood’s vertically integrated studio system came to be. Studying the history of distribution during the growth of Hollywood, Derek Long makes a case for the domination of the studio system as the result of struggles over distribution practices.

Through a combination of archival research, critical surveys of the film industry trade press, and economic analysis, Long uncovers a complex and ever-shifting system of wrangling between distributors and exhibitors. Challenging the overemphasis within scholarship on “block booking” as a monolithic distribution mode, and attending to distribution practices beyond simple circulation, Long highlights the crucial changes in film distribution brought about by live theater, the rise of features, and the transition to sound. Playing the Percentages is a comprehensive history of film distribution in the United States during the silent era that illustrates the importance of power struggles between distributors and exhibitors over booking, pricing, and playing time.