Thursday morning, those who had paid $5 to download Louis C.K.'s new stand-up special, "Live at the Beacon Theatre," were treated with a surprise in their email inbox: A message from Louis himself, thanking fans for being a part of his sales experiment, and letting them know more information about the special. He wrote:
"Hi. This is LOuie. It seriously is me. Im even going to leave the O stuipdly capatalized because who would pay an intern to do that?? Okay so you bought the thing with my fat face on it and you clicked the button that said i could email you. And i know that now you are thinking "aw shit. Why'd i let this guy into my life this way?" [sic].
But nothing could be further from the truth. Few performers could have seen the public's trust translate to dollar signs in the way that C.K. has over the last week. In November, C.K. first announced on "Conan" that he would produce his next special using the ticket money from the show (he later revealed that it cost a bit more, but the $170,000 production cost was mostly from the ticket revenue from the Beacon performance). He then planned to release it exclusively through his website, louisck.com, for $5. No HBO, no Comedy Central, no Showtime.
He did just that on Saturday, December 10. By Wednesday the 14th, he revealed on his site that he made had made around $500,000 total, and $200,000 in pure profits by self-releasing his special. (He jokes in the statement, "after taxes $75.58.") Read the full statement here.
Additionally, C.K. released the special DRM-free, which means that the special includes no restrictive properties that would prevent it from being played and shared freely. C.K. said in a Reddit Q&A that this was his idea.
Louis C.K. may not be the first popular artist to use this self-distribution business model, but C.K.'s success with "Live at the Beacon Theatre" could indicate that comedians will be more likely in the future to release stand-up specials online, and that audiences who are accustomed to watching five minute YouTube clips may also be willing to watch hour-long specials of their favorite comedians. Yahoo! announced recently that they will soon launch an as-yet-unnamed comedy channel, where Bill Maher will exclusively debut his next special.
C.K. admitted on his site that he did not make as much money with this special as he would have working with a corporation, but he has indicated that what he lost financially is more than made up for in creative satisfaction. "I learned that money can be a lot of things," C.K. wrote to those who bought the special: "It can be something that is hoarded, fought over, protected, stolen and withheld. Or it can be like an energy, fueled by the desire, will, creative interest, need to laugh, of large groups of people. And it can be shuffled and pushed around and pooled together to fuel a common interest, jokes about garbage, penises and parenthood."