What we can learn from Louis C.K.’s experiment

Louis C.K. is selling his recent concert directly from his website

If you hadn’t heard, Louis C.K. (comedian) has done something very unique as an entertainer. He’s taken the game of selling his product (in this case a comedy special) into his own hands.

Who is Louis C.K.? He’s personally my favorite comedian, though I have to warn you he’s fairly dirty. If I had to guess only about 25% of my friends would probably like him, so this is not an endorsement for all of you to go out and buy his special. About 75% of you probably won’t look at me the same way if you do ;)

Here’s a snippet of what he does:

So recently Louis decided rather than go the typical route of having a comedy special produced and then working with a network to air it and then using distribution services like iTunes and Amazon to sell it, he would produce it himself and sell it directly on his website for $5. This would allow him to skip all the fees associated with the typical distribution format, allowing him to make more profit and allowing his fans to get the special at a much cheaper price.

He’s been widely successful so far, selling over 200,000 copies and netting over $1 million. Admirably, he’s given a good chunk of it to charity and given his staff big bonuses. Here is Louis talking about how and why he did it:

I can’t wait for this to become more wide spread. We’ve seen musicians do this, selling their albums directly on their websites, though it never really gained much traction. Obviously one has to be pretty well known, as Louis C.K. is, otherwise it would take a massive advertising budget to get enough people to find it.

I was able to hear Mark Cuban talk about the idea of “internet TV” taking over our current cable-based structure at SxSW two years ago. It was a great debate between him and the founder of Boxee and one of Cuban’s main points was that it would be extremely expensive to fund your own content and then market your own content in order to gain people’s attention. What the current system provides is both the funding to produce (the networks) and the eyeballs (via cable subscribers). Louis was able to buck this because he’s fairly well off and fairly famous, and there aren’t a ton of other people doing the same thing so he stands out.

The day will come when “Internet TV” is the norm and the cable companies fall, or at least the current structure of them will be disrupted, but it will be a long time from now. Hopefully more artists like Louis go this route so the process of disruption will continue.


  1. Anonymous on December 27, 2011 at 10:41 am

    I think Louie’s experiment worked because he is perceived as authentic and honest and has lots of die-hard fans (like me and you).  It seems the big thing here is that it was not pirated and  therefore he made loads of money. I love the model, but I am curious to see if other stars in other mediums will succeed without getting their work stolen and made available on torrents, etc. 

  2. Seth Miller on December 27, 2011 at 10:55 am

    I think Michael nails it.

    I’m much more interested in seeing if traditional players at the cable/production company/network use similar or blended approaches to develop & test new ideas/shows.

    I think we’ll see more success like this but I also think sponsored web shows & distribution (like Microsoft & The Guild) is an interesting model.

  3. Joe Koufman on December 27, 2011 at 9:58 pm

  4. Jeff Hilimire on December 28, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Actually, I’m not certain it wasn’t pirated. When I searched a few of the torrent sites I saw a ton of action on it. While I think it was likely less than others, a) because of his fans and b) because it was cheap, if I had to guess I’d bet about 2/3 of the views are gonna come from the torrents.

    I guess the real question is, how much does a star really make on something like that if they go through the traditional routes? Louis seemed to say this was the most money he’s ever made on a special, which surprised me. 

  5. Jeff Hilimire on December 28, 2011 at 9:56 am

    So why do you think more people aren’t doing this? Seemed like they thought it was successful too and that was 4 years ago!

  6. Ricardo Diaz on December 28, 2011 at 11:02 am

    If a product is provided easily and at a reasonable price, like this is, piracy will not matter.

    To see the future, look at a gaming platform like Steam:https://store.steampowered.com/

    They offer big budget and indie games at a reasonable price. Most of the piracy doesn’t matter because it’s so easy and quick to get this game off Steam, and I get a good working copy, there’s no way I’d pirate it.

    This article talks about pricing from a software perspective, https://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2009/08/software-pricing-are-we-doing-it-wrong.html , but I think it will soon apply to all mediums.

    If you offered me for sale, new movies, 1080p 5.1 channel audio, easy download for rental for $2 and sale for $10, you’d get a hell of a lot more business from me.

    But when you rent for $5-8 and still charge $15-30 for digital download, I’m going to the torrents. They’re annoying as all get out, but the price differential makes up for it.

    My classic example for this is ringtones. You can buy a full song on iTunes for .99 cents, but people will then go out and pay $2.99 for the ringtone of it. People will pay for convenience, but not through the nose.

    That’s what Louis C.K. and Radiohead offered, convenience that happened to put more money in their pockets.

    I believe more don’t do it because they are probably being strong armed by the current distribution system into NOT doing it. Either through FUD tactics or straight up arrangements in contracts. And, they’re also making enough money, and don’t care about it as a cause to bother…

  7. Joe Koufman on December 28, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    I think more and more will.  Cuts out the middle man…

  8. An update to the Louis C.K. post on December 28, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    […] lot of people have been reading and commenting on the Louis C.K. post I put up yesterday. And Social Fresh also ran the post (great conferences btw, if you […]

  9. And the trend continues #azizansari on March 23, 2012 at 5:41 am

    […] for a crazy low price because they’re cutting out the old, arthritic middle men? Yep, I mentioned back in December when Louis C.K. (my favorite comedian) did this. Brilliant then, brilliant […]

  10. […] been finding new ways to circumvent “the system” to get their content to their fans. Louis C.K. was one of the first to do this when he put a special on his website and allowed people to download it for $5. […]

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