Whiny as it might be, that generation came up big late last year
for the comedian born as Louis Szekely. Well over 200,000 of them
parted with a fiver to stream or download his self-financed,
self-edited, self-distributed, DRM-free stand-up special "Live at
the Beacon." It was probably the most audacious artist-led media
disruption since Radiohead's spend-what-you-will gambit for the
album "In Rainbows" in 2007.
Like the Brit mope rockers, Louis C.K. demonstrated that if
you've already got a following you don't necessarily need the
distributor middlemen who bloat the price for fans. As revealed on
C.K's website and echoed around the internet, "Live at the Beacon"
did more than $1 million in sales, which after costs and a sizable
donation to charity, left C.K. with a take of about $220,000. No
one's getting ultrarich here, and C.K. took a huge chance (and left
some money on the table) in forgoing the guaranteed fee that would
have come with a traditional production deal.
It was even riskier when you consider that followers could have
just taken to the torrents to download a free version of the show.
Piracy must have been reduced, however, by C.K.'s deft marketing of
the special. To get the word out, he turned to Reddit for an "Ask
Me Anything" session to answer questions directly from his fans.
And he nailed it. Spending over two hours and answering more than
50 questions before he had to run to pick up his daughters, he came
off less like a soulless, money-grabbing celebrity than the raw
creative force his fans want him to be.
Besides the honesty, there were little things that made
supporting C.K. feel good. Those who bought the special through his
website had to share their email -- an easy way for C.K. to grow
his list except that he made opt-out the default setting, a nice
touch. "I checked opt-in," wrote one on Reddit, "just because I
appreciated that it was defaulted at opt-out."
The strategy has already yielded one copycat that 's had the
unintended effect of showing how deft C.K.'s touch was. This month,
comedian Jim Gaffigan announced his own $5-a-pop comedy special,
with a dollar from each sale going to a charity for wounded
veterans. You've gotta love the thought, but announcing it on "a
personal media-management platform" called Whosay? That's not
Did submitting himself to the unmediated scrum of Reddit and,
quite simply, acting like a human being, help Louis C.K.'s "Live at
the Beacon" get pirated a little less and sold a little more?
Probably. There are definitely some pirated versions of the show
kicking around, but that was inevitable. What matters is that C.K.,
now writing the third season of his FX show "Louie," demonstrated
just how far a talent can make it with the help of a smart digital
presence -- and a few hundred thousand spoiled idiots.