Who’s laughing now? The comic who took on The Man – and won
LOUIS CK FOUGHT the law and Louis CK won. The sardonic US comedian, one of the very best in the business, had previously taken on The Man when it came to selling his live DVD; now he’s taking on (and currently winning over) the live touring industry. It’s a salutary story for anybody involved in today’s fractured entertainment industry – especially musicians.
It began last year when Louis wrote, performed, recorded and produced his own live DVD, the very brilliant Louis CK Live at the Beacon Theater, and offered it as a streaming download at a flat cost of $5, with the added bonus that it was region-free.
Everyone in the industry thought he was mad: putting out a DRM-free work would allow the world to illegally access it; a comic of his stature could have gotten away with a $30-plus charge; by not going through established channels (distribution, marketing, promotion) he was doomed to failure; etc.
To buy it you logged on to PayPal, where a message from Louis said “this DVD has no regional restrictions, no crap. You can download this file, play it as much as you like, burn it to a DVD, whatever you want”.
It was a Radiohead-style “tip jar” experiment and a personal risk, given that Louis had borrowed $250,000 to produce the live show. But he appealed to people’s better natures. “Every new generation of material I create is my income. It’s like a farmer’s annual crop. The time and effort on my part was far more than if I’d done it with a big company.” He added that if he had used “normal” channels, the DVD would have been priced at $20-plus and have all sorts of regionrestricted crap on it.
Louis sold 200,000 copies of Live at the Beacon, which brought in (my calculator says) $1 million. Of this, he set aside $250,000 to cover the costs of the production; another $250,000 was given out in bonus payments to those who worked on the DVD (lighting, sound people, etc); and $280,000 went to five charities.
Of the remaining $220,000, Louis says, “I will do terrible, horrible things with that money and none of that is any of your business”. Furthermore: “If more money pools up around me (from continuing DVD sales), then it needs to be flushed back out into the system. If I make another million, I’ll give more of it away”.
Emboldened by his little experiment, Louis CK is now having another go at The Man by bypassing ticket agents. For his upcoming 39-city North American tour, he is offering tickets at a flat rate (no extras, no nothing) of $45. He certainly could have charged far more and still sold out.
The big deal here, apart from the lack of the usual “convenience fees” added on by ticket agents, is that these tickets can’t be sold on. If a ticket does enter the secondary ticketing market (via touts, for example) it is simply cancelled.
“Making my shows affordable has always been my goal,” he says, “but two things always work against that: high ticket charges and ticket re-sellers marking up prices.”
This is all quite unique: an entertainer offering something for a fixed price with no add-ons – and he doesn’t even want your email so he can sell that on to penile enhancement companies or whatever. In it’s own simple way it’s quite revolutionary.
Granted, Louis CK’s natural constituency is (in a sweeping generalisation) middle class and lefty/liberal. Ninety-nine per cent of them have Twitter accounts. (I made that up but I’m sure it’s true.) There’s also the fact the comic is extraordinarily talented and in huge demand. But these points aside, isn’t there something here for everyone involved in the business of show?
Screw The Man. Do it yourself.
Louis CK wracks his brain for more ways to foil the fatcats