Monday, December 26, 2011

Sometimes, noble experiments pay off

Louis CK is one of my favorite comedians. Right now, he's more popular than ever, with a successful sitcom on FX ("Louie) and having just been named the headliner at the upcoming radio and TV congressional correspondents dinner. He also recently produced and directed a stand-up comedy special and distributed it himself, directly to consumers via the internet for the price of $5, just to see what would happen. What happened was success beyond what most people would consider their wildest dreams:

So it's been about 12 days since the thing started and yesterday we hit the crazy number. One million dollars. That's a lot of money. Really too much money." - Louis CK, December 21, 2011
Keep in mind that this is without the aid of a record/video company or a service like Amazon or iTunes, so that million goes directly back to Louis CK, the person who created the content.

I don't really know why, but I'm fascinated by stuff like this. Prince has tried similar things, some working better than others, but there seems to be a growing movement fronted by several performers who are testing the limits and boundaries of how artists can reap profits from their material without working within the confines of the established system. Feel free to ignore any of the words in that last sentence, like "boundaries", "artist", "established" and "system" if any of them strike you as effete; the point is people who make stuff are figuring out how to keep more of the profits generated by the stuff they make. You probably can't attribute any of this to social media like Facebook or Twitter, but it's difficult to imagine it taking place before these things came to be and removed several layers of insulation between artists and audiences.

If you think that point is overstated, here are more qoutes from Louis CK...

"It's been amazing to conduct this experiment with you. The experiment was: if I put out a brand new standup special at a drastically low price ($5) and make it as easy as possible to buy, download and enjoy, free of any restrictions, will everyone just go and steal it? Will they pay for it? And how much money can be made by an individual in this manner?"

"What I didn't expect when I started this was that people would not only take part in this experiment, they would be invested in it and it would be important to them."

"I really hope people keep buying it a lot, so I can have shitloads of money, but at this point I think we can safely say that the experiment really worked. If anybody stole it, it wasn't many of you. Pretty much everybody bought it. And so now we all get to know that about people and stuff. I'm really glad I put this out here this way and I'll certainly do it again. If the trend continues with sales on this video, my goal is that i can reach the point where when I sell anything, be it videos, CDs or tickets to my tours, I'll do it here and I'll continue to follow the model of keeping my price as far down as possible, not overmarketing to you, keeping as few people between you and me as possible in the transaction."
How fantastic would it be for you, me, all of us, if (insert the name of your favorite artist here) could make a living this way? The trade-off here here is that regardless of the price, if the artists isn't producing something of high quality, they have no right to expect anybody to pay them for it. But that's still a win for us as consumers. If it sucks, we don't have to buy it (but even if we do, we're only out a few bucks) and we don't have to worry about some big company's promotional department glossing things up and beating us over the head, trying to convince us it's wrong to think that way. Honestly, is there a better, more democratic system than that? I can't think of one. "Here, I made this. Please buy it. If you like it, come back and I'll make more." It works for the donut shop. Is there a reason it can't work here?

And how is the special itself? Well, admittedly, I'm a fan so I think it's pretty great. And he's made over $1 million at $5 a pop, so apparently I'm not alone. 

You can buy "Louis CK: Live at the Beacon Theater" for yourself by clicking this link right here. I think you should get it, although to be fair, I feel I should warn you that the language is strong and his material goes into areas that make many people uncomfortable. If you're not familiar with him or his style of comedy, I'd suggest you check out a couple of clips on YouTube first, rather than be mad at me because you wasted $5. If nothing else, at least check out the site and read about the process of how this all came about and where the money is going.

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