Comedian Louis CK conducted an experiment this past week that could change the InterWebs forever. At least, it may change how people promote and consume content online, as well as how they feel about file swapping.
Rather than go the traditional route of signing up with a major production company to film his standup routine and sell it to HBO or some other pay cable outlet, Louis CK decided he would produce the show himself and sell it himself, via the Web.
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On Dec. 10, "Louis CK Live at the Beacon Theater" went on sale. For $5 a pop you could stream the film (twice) or download it (three times). And that's it. DRM restrictions? Distribution monopolies? Information hoarding? Fahgeddaboutit.
On the site, he placed the following message:
To those who might wish to "torrent" this video: look, I don't really get the whole "torrent" thing....But I'd just like you to consider this: I made this video extremely easy to use against well-informed advice. I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without "corporate" restrictions.
Please bear in mind that I am not a company or a corporation. I'm just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea.
The experiment in a nutshell: If you give people a good product at a reasonable price without getting too much in their face, will they pay for it -- even if they could finagle a free copy in other, less legal ways?
The answer? Yes, they will. Four days after posting the file, the comic posted a statement detailing what has happened so far: 110,000 legal downloads, over $500K in revenue. Minus production expenses, a tidy profit -- though not what he would have made if he'd gone the traditional route.
Minus some money for PayPal charges etc, I have a profit around $200,000 (after taxes $75.58). This is less than I would have been paid by a large company to simply perform the show and let them sell it to you, but they would have charged you about $20 for the video. They would have given you an encrypted and regionally restricted video of limited value, and they would have owned your private information for their own use. They would have withheld international availability indefinitely. This way, you only paid $5, you can use the video any way you want, and you can watch it in Dublin, whatever the city is in Belgium, or Dubai. I got paid nice, and I still own the video (as do you). You never have to join anything, and you never have to hear from us again.