Louis C.K. is the latest artist to take his work into his own hands by distributing his latest project directly. In an effort to make his recent stand-up special both accessible and reasonably priced, and as an experiment to see if people would still try to steal it, the comedian made his recent Live at the Beacon Theater special available streaming and for download for the extremely affordable price of $5. How’s it working out for him? From the update he posted on his website yesterday, not so bad.

Louis C.K. checked in with his fans on the status of his experiment yesterday, four days after releasing the special online. In his statement, he talks about the cost of production as well as the cost of developing the website on which the special would be sold. “We worked for a number of weeks poring over the site to make sure every detail would give buyers a simple, optimal and humane experience for buying the video.” They have the payment method set up through Paypal, which purchasers aren’t required to join in order to buy the special. After purchasing the video, the user has the option to stream it (up to two times) or download it (up to three times), with a choice between high def and standard def. Having just gone through the process of purchasing the video, it seems the efforts and money that went into the set-up for the site weren’t wasted. I haven’t tried streaming yet, but purchasing and downloading the video was simple. (The download time for the high-def version took about twenty minutes for me.)

The cost of producing the video was about $170k, which C.K. says was “largely paid for by the tickets bought by the audience at both shows.” As he points out, the material in the video has been developed on the road but has never been featured in his FX series Louie, so excluding the people who’ve been to one of his shows recently, it sounds like all of what’s in the special will be new to fans.

In terms of profits, the special brought in $250k over the course of the first twelve hours of its availability. And as of yesterday’s update, he’s sold over 110,000 copies, which pushes the the total to over half a million dollars.
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.

The comedian not only sounds pleased with the results, despite seeing a smaller payday than he might have, had the special been distributed through a DVD, but it also sounds like this is something he’d consider doing again. As Katey pointed out the other day, Louis C.K.’s efforts aren’t all that different than what Radiohead did in releasing their album In Rainbows online and letting people pay whatever they wanted.

This is looking like a win, not only for Louis C.K., but also for the fans. $5 is a small price to pay for a comedy special, plus there’s no pre-ordering or waiting for the DVD to release, and it’s its own digital copy, which means you can play it on your computer or portable device. The downloading process is easy and as a major bonus, from what I’ve seen of the special so far, it’s really funny.

If you haven’t purchased the video yet, you can do so by clicking here. The purchase page includes a few funny lines, as well as a message from Louis C.K. to the people who are still considering torrenting the special, politely asking them to pay the $5 he can most more material to fans this way. Hopefully people will continue to do just that so this won’t turn out to be a one-shot deal.
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