Louis C.K. Finds Success Distributing Comedy Special Sans-DRM
It used to be when you bought a product, it was yours to keep. There was a time you could buy a video game or movie and you could do whatever you wanted with it. You could let a friend borrow it, watch or play without having to input codes or install intrusive security programs. Ownership equaled ownership. These days, with various restrictions and DRM, ownership of a product has turned into a murky grey area. Louis C.K., a popular stand-up comedian and actor has tackled this grey area in a unique way. By selling his own product, Live at the Beacon Theater, online with zero DRM additions, and no regional restrictions.
This is an outtake from the special:
So, was Louis C.K. able to make his experiment a success or did the dreaded online pirates swoop in and steal the day?
Judging by Louis C.K’s statement to his fans concerning the sales of the special, the experiment was mostly successful.
“The show went on sale at noon on Saturday, December 10th. 12 hours later, we had over 50,000 purchases and had earned $250,000, breaking even on the cost of production and website. As of Today, we’ve sold over 110,000 copies for a total of over $500,000. 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.”
Judging by the statement, it sounds like he’s pleased with the results up to this point. It is interesting to note he would have made more money simply releasing his special the traditional way. Making his special DRM-free does leave his product more susceptible to pirating, so does Louis C.K. have any worries from that aspect? On the purchase page, he makes a statement to those who plan to torrent the video:
To those who might wish to “torrent” this video: look, I don’t really get the whole “torrent” thing. I don’t know enough about it to judge either way. 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. I can’t stop you from torrenting; all I can do is politely ask you to pay your five little dollars, enjoy the video, and let other people find it in the same way.
I’ve been venturing to various torrent sites to see how the response has been, or if there is an actual torrent up for the special. I have found a couple, and there was interesting conversation unfolding on one of them. Users were arguing to have the torrent taken down from the site to support Louis C.K, while others dropped in to say they paid their $5 and were trying to get others to do the same.
“dude… read this (referencing Louis C.K.’s note to torrenters).. and take this torrent down.. you didnt put this up to make people buy it… seriously, lets not fool ourselves.. take it down.. someones trying to do the right thing, and you are stabbing them in the back”
“seriously though people; buy this thing, even if you can get it for free — if Louis can actually generate a profit from this it will encourage other comedians to do the same and it means they won’t have to go through HBO or Comedy Central to do their specials and in the end we will end up getting more frequent releases at cheaper prices…c’mon folks, it’s only $5!”
“If this torrent was not here , i would have (no) idea that he was doing this deal. We all love our torrents and he knew that it would end up here. Thanks for this torrent am 200% behind you posting it here. I paid my money because of this torrent and for all those who moan its slow , cant you wait an extra 20mins? stop being greedy.”
The support for Louis C.K’s distribution model and the back-and-forth argument over the torrent being available is unlike anything I’ve seen on a torrent site. It goes to show that while people who do pirate material are stealing, they are willing to pay if they aren’t feeling ripped off.
To help make a push for the video, Louis C.K. conducted a reddit interview which yielded some interesting comments from the comedian. In particular, he talks about how this experiment has been all about learning.
Professionally, I’m learning right this minute, a HUGE amount with this web experiment. this live at the beacon thing (available at httlp://www.louisck.com for 5 bucks) is like that thing in the movie “Twisiter” where they send a bunch of little data collecting balls up into a tornado and just download the lovely results. The whole things has been like that. From the moment it went online and i saw the result of every decision i made.
It’s interesting to discover he has so little knowledge of torrenting, online distribution, when this is one of the most genius ideas I’ve seen in quite awhile. It goes to show if you treat people with respect, offer them a quality product at a reasonable price, and don’t handcuff them with restrictions, they’ll respond positively. I’ve bought the special, and if you want to laugh and be amazed for a hour or so then it’s definitely worth the $5.