Louis CK makes really funny jokes and he wants you–even if you are broke, especially if you are broke—to be able to laugh at him. His newest venture, Louis CK: Live at the Beacon Theatre is a full-length show available to download for $5. I just paid $19.99 for Chris Rock’s “Kill the Messenger” on iTunes, where full-length stand-up routines range in price from $4.99 to over $20. But here’s the thing—at this point we know that artists and comedians are making a pittance selling product through venues like iTunes and getting even less though streaming websites like Spotify and Last.fm. So Louis CK, ever the innovator, decided to take matters into his own hands and start selling his work independently.
Louis CK is a hard working guy who understands his fans are hardworking (or unemployed) people. So to maximize profit on his side and minimize cost on ours, he figured out a way to sell us Live at the Beacon at a fraction of what it would cost had he used a production company. The actual show cost $170,000, but was covered almost entirely by ticket sales at the actual live performances. He paid for filming out of pocket and did his own video editing and embedded virtually no DRM protections on the finished video. Marketing was mainly word of mouth, and 12 hours after it was released, Louis CK had made back his money.
Predictably, the show is “all over torrent sites” but it doesn’t matter. Four days after the release, he had sold over $500,000 worth of downloads, with a net profit of about $200,000. Granted, in his own words, this is less than Louis CK would have been paid by a production company to release a similar product—but that product would have cost more and been distributed less, both in the US and internationally. This way, anyone with an Internet connection and beer money can spend an hour laughing at Louis CK—and a few moments thanking him.
Musicians (Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails) have been experimenting with alternative distribution methods since Napster and similar file sharing programs rocked the industry a decade ago. Contemporary authors (including MCDM Director Hanson Hosein) have utilized online publishing methods in lieu of the traditional publishing company in order to keep production costs low, release schedules short and profits in pocket. Customers can potentially benefit from these lower upfront costs in the marketplace.
Actually, this type of experiment is not exactly a departure for CK, who has been granted almost complete creative freedom for his FX comedy “Louis.” According to online news source Minnpost, The show costs under $300,000 to make, is shot on a digital camera and edited on Louis’ Mac. How Louis works is certainly risky, but could inspire other artists and comedians to cut out the layers of production and legal issues utilizing new media tools and new models of production.