Despite going a bit over the top, I think Darryl makes a good point. It is fiendishly difficult to write a book. This is something that almost no one in the general public realizes. While there are a few authors who are able to crank out several books a year, most manage to create far fewer than that. (Arguably, those who crank out several books a year are more likely to be resorting to a tried-and-true formula, but even so, producing something at such a blistering rate requires daily effort and discipline.) If in addition to the effort of creating a book they must also create some sort of entertainment conglomerate to keep their fans on board, I would think this would necessarily dilute their primary product.
Anyone who's spent some amount of time on fan bulletin boards will know that among the crowd lurk trolls, or at least, troll-ish types, who go beyond the bounds of decency, and start demanding exactly the sort of attention and catering that Darryl describes. I can easily imagine that the effort of simply dealing with any amount of this type of behavior could be draining to the owner of the board, which in this scenario, would be the author. Even if the board's other members and its owner do their best to ignore these types, merely observing their words or actions is disturbing. Not every author is capable of dealing with the hurly-burly of fan interaction while maintaining the inner tranquility necessary for the creative process.
I agree that it is wonderful to be able to discuss the works that you love with others who share your passion. But that is hardly an experience that requires the author to create. Patrick O'Brian died in 2000, but discussion boards and websites dedicated to his creations continues unabated. In fact, the primary POB discussion board is maintained by his publisher, who presumably has the resources to hire moderators and other professionals to do site maintenance work. Similarly, JRR Tolkein, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Angela Thirkell still have fan websites, despite being deceased.
Having tried to read one of Konrath's books, I can fully understand the level of effort he must have to maintain in order to keep selling his books. I'm not sure that the same is required of every author.
The difference between a movie that is interesting and one isn't has a lot to do with how good the story is, but it also has a little bit to do with how well it is told. If all it took was a great story in order to get a large audience, then the 60's and 70's Doctor Who episodes would have more than just a cult fandom. The production values in a film still count for something, and there's a cost for a certain level of professionalism.
I just happened to re-watch the recent Sherlock Holmes movie last night (the one directed by Guy Ritchie), and while watching the end credits roll by, I noticed that there was a veritable phalanx of crew members (over and above the large number of faces appearing on the screen as cast and extras).
In fact, if you took just the raw number of crew names from the credit list, which had to average on the order of 100 people, and just did a rough $25/hour cost and a sixty hour work week (which is 40 hours straight time, and 10 hours of overtime at double rates - so just make it 20 hours) for let's say half a year, then on wages alone the makers spent close to $15,000,000. And what do you want to bet that each of the two leads got on the order of $10,000,000 (and very probably more)? So, you could safely say that a quarter of the $200MM was spent on wages for cast and crew.
Then there's location shooting costs. The credits say that movie was shot in London, New York (huh?), Manchester, and Liverpool. You don't shoot in those cities for free. There's licensing, fees, and inspection costs. Other miscellaneous costs, such as the cost for the city to manage traffic also need to be paid. And of course, each specific location will charge you rental for use of their buildings, and it's part of your contract with them that whatever mess you make in their rooms, you have to put back the way you found it. Was the production overcharged for these things? Maybe or maybe not. (If someone came to you and said they wanted to shoot a scene in your house, what would you charge them? Exactly my point.)
What do you suppose all those period costumes for the leads and the extras all cost? Or all those props? What do you think renting horses and carriages costs, especially nowadays when they're pretty rare. Lights, portable generators for power (and these are honking big ones, the size of semi trailers, not the little ones you might have in your garage for when you lose power in your house), fuel to run those generators, cables (hey, copper costs beaucoup bucks nowadays and it takes a LOT of copper to supply the power to juice those lights), sound equipment, cameras, lenses, dollies, rails for dollies (don't want the camera to go bump as you're filming a rolling shot), and of course raw film, which itself costs a LOT. (Let's not get into the argument of the merits of film vs. digital, eh? Each has its place.)
All this just gets raw footage on film and "in the can", as they say. Then you start the post production work, which involves a second phalanx of visual effects people, editors, and sound mixers. For a movie with a hefty amount of special visual effects, this work can go on for another half a year. So, just for discussion purposes, add another $15MM to the wages tab. (Again, an average of 100 people working on various aspects of post production, for about half a year.)
You can certainly tell a Sherlock Holmes story without all these huge costs. Consider that the BBC churns out 1 hour episodes (which air in the US on PBS) for much less money. There are no "name" stars, most of the filming takes place in a studio, not on location, and there's virtually no "action" per se, only a lot of people standing around and saying things like "I say, Lord Percy." I would argue, however, that far fewer people in this country are entertained by this version of Sherlock Holmes, than were by the Guy Ritchie, big studio version. (I happen to find each version entertaining in its own way.) Even so, I would bet that both versions made their respective production houses money.
The point of this long diatribe is to show that most of the cost of a movie are there to be seen on the screen. Are some of those costs padded? Undoubtedly, although the extent of that depends a lot on how carefully the production accountants kept an eye on spending. I work on large construction projects, and the larger the budget it, the more there is a tendency to let the small stuff fly. But in this respect, Hollywood productions are no different than large projects in any other industry.
If you were to actually read the FACTS of the McDonalds case, you would know that the lady only wanted compensation for her hospitization costs. She was a passenger in a car, and they had parked so she could remove the lid of her coffee. That's when it spilled on her, and she suffered 3rd degree burns in her groin area, which as you can imagine, is a significantly more painful area than if it had been only her thighs. It was shown that this MacDonalds had kept their coffee at near boiling temperature, and had received many complaints about how hot their coffee was. They kept it that hot as an energy savings measure, and ignored the many complaints they received.
Look at it this way: when you spill coffee on yourself from a restaurant or fast food joint, all it does is smart for a while, you don't actually expect that it will scald the skin off. Any fluid at 200 degrees or more will cause serious burn damage. (Indeed, we imprison parents who deliberately scald their kids with hot water as child abusers.)
MacDonalds decided to stonewall and delay the trial, and in the end the JURY made the award for a sum that was vastly more than what the plaintiff had been seeking. (Moral: don't play games with a jury; they're not as stupid as you think.) Had MacDonalds simply DONE THE RIGHT THING at any time, none of us would be talking about this lawsuit.
Finally, remember that our jury system, where plaintiff and defendant argue their case in front of a group of 12 of their peers, is considered one the best systems the world has come up with for meting out justice. (If you can think of a better system, please don't keep it to yourself and let the rest of us know about it.) Sure, it isn't, perfect, but all in all, it works pretty well most of the time. I am always astonished at the readiness of some people to assume that any 12 random people in a jury will be all too easily bamboozled. Because, you know, we just have to protect large corporation from those predatory little old ladies.
Actually, I thought the UK version was only mildly amusing and without any real point. Some embarrassing but funny things happen to a bunch of uninteresting people at a funeral, with a Big Reveal (that you can see coming a mile away) regarding the loved one who died. I can't recommend it, but obviously, Your Mileage May Vary. I agree however that the American version, based on the previews I've seen, looks even worse.