Comedian Louis C.K.'s bold "experiment" to produce a concert video and only make it available for sale on his website had paid off handsomely, as he announced that he turned a profit on the special in just 12 hours. In a statement posted on his website, Louis says the special — which has only been on sale since Saturday and for just $5 — already covered all his expenses and earned him an additional $200,000 to boot.
As he explains in the statement, by producing and then selling the entire comedy special by himself, Louis took on all the financial risk of the venture, but now enjoys all the rewards. It also allowed him to keep the price especially low, which was apparently enough to combat the risk of piracy. He sold 50,000 copies of the video in just 12 hours and sales have continued to be brisk, even though it's probably available for free on torrent and other file sharing sites.
Louis says he could have made more money partnering with a company like Comedy Central or HBO, but the benefits to him and his fans outweighed the extra cash:
This [$200,000 profit] 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.
He says he tried this approach as an experiment and now that the experiment was apparently a huge success, it's one that he plans to continue. It will be interesting to see if other music and comedy artists choose to follow. The truth is that there aren't a lot of artists with the clout and loyal following to cut off all corporate support and still make such a killing. More importantly, there are probably even fewer that are willing to do all the work themselves. Louis C.K. produces his own TV show (so he has behind-the-camera experience that others lack) and he was able to pay for the production of the concert by selling out the Beacon Theater by himself, something less established comedians might not be able to do.
Still, there may be a lesson in this story even for the big corporations who produce and sell entertainment. All their effort to protect exclusivity and prevent piracy actually limits access for consumers and drives up costs, which undercuts sales. When purchasing a product is as easy as torrenting and only marginally more expensive — and when fans know that the artist is personally benefiting — most will be willing to pay up. If also helps if what you're selling is actually worth buying.