Live at the Beacon Theatre

This feels like the future to me. Let me start from the beginning. I saw Louis C.K. for the first time back in April on the Talking Funny special on HBO. He was kind of funny so I started following him on Twitter. I didn’t really pay much attention until I started seeing internet chatter about his self-distributed comedy special.

That stuff gets me interested. I love the idea of indie artists making a go of it on their own just using consumer level technology and marketing things via the web. That’s cool. So I followed the link to his download site from a tweet or something and paid the $5 via Paypal. What the heck? Sure, I was almost completely unfamiliar with his comedy, but I figured it was worth a shot. Heck, this stuff usually retails for $14.99 to $29.99 so it felt like a good deal.

He’s actually not very indie. He’s a well-established comedian with HBO specials and his own TV show and probably a millionaire. He anted up $250,000 and paid some professionals to record his show at the historic Beacon Theatre in New York and a web firm to build a real simple website.

It’s very well done. It’s an hour long HD movie that measures about 1.2GB (it took about 30 minutes to download). I watched it on my computer while eating breakfast and reading the paper the morning after I bought it. It has no DRM so I can do whatever I want with it. In fact, I can download it two more times and stream it twice before they lock me out. The purchase transaction was a piece of cake. I clicked buy, entered my Paypal info, then hit download.

He gave a detailed accounting of all the money he made on this thing plus gave a ton of it to charity. It’s a great read and will give you a sample of his humor, but I’ll give you a synopsis. He’s already sold over 200,000 downloads. That’s over $1 million. So far, he’s paid for the production costs ($250,000), gave big bonuses to his crew ($250,000), donated a bunch to charities ($280,000), and pocketed the rest. And that’s only been in the first few weeks.

Pretty amazing, when you consider that big companies like Apple, Amazon, Best Buy, and Sony didn’t get a cent from this. Even if you don’t like the guy’s comedy, you have to commend his efforts. He’s on the front lines, trying to make digital world work for him rather than fighting like the music industry did for so long. Here’s his plea to not torrent the darn thing:

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.

Louis C.K.

About his comedy – it’s for mature audiences only. Here’s a take on his comedy from a blogger named Frank Chimero. I found it through Daring Fireball. I thought the special was pretty darn funny. But the humor kind of got lost in my infatuation with the distribution methodology. I’ll move it over to my iPhone and watch it again.

This little experiment has inspired me to look for other ways to get great entertainment, at a reasonable price, that I can consume anywhere, gift easily, and support the artist directly without paying big dollars to big companies. Here are some other ideas:

So there are ways to go it alone, but it’s still difficult to do it without any help from a publisher, label, or distributor. Louis C.K. came darn close, but he was only able to get famous by first getting distribution with big TV. He showed some real leadership on this though so maybe other artists will be inspired.

In my other examples above everyone has plans to have a “theatrical run” or “get a publisher” or “broaden distribution with iTunes/YouTube,” which are contrary to what Louis C.K. is doing. I don’t think he’s selling this video to a label and I don’t think he’s going to put it on iTunes or Amazon. His distribution method is simple, go here. That’s all, for the rest of eternity. If you want to re-download or refer a friend to the video, you’ll just have to remember these 15 characters –

Have we had a true indie star who stayed indie but still became a gazillionaire? I’d like to find one. Let me know if you know of any.