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Louis CK inspires Jim Gaffigan to sell comedy special for $5 online (whosay.com)
174 points by rkudeshi on Feb 15, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

His post seemed a bit off to me. I got the feeling that he's doing this because "Oh look, Louis CK made metric ton of money this way, lets see if I can emulate his success" rather than actually understanding the motivations for why consumers want a 5 dollar, drm free comedy special.

It also seemed strange that he is pre-announcing this release. I think this initial post will be his biggest shot at publicity, and it is peculiar to have no call-to-action (i.e. check out my related comedy if you've never heard of me, go ahead and pre-order it now, etc.). Right now there is nowhere for the reader to go after finishing the post (his "videos" tab isn't representative of his standup comedy) and there is very little for a reader to share about this story besides "Somebody is planning on doing something like Louis CK did."

I'll be impressed if I remember or hear about this again in April, when the special is actually released.

That's exactly the reason you want people to be doing it for. It's all very well understanding why consumers want better options, but it has to make sense for both sides, the artists need it to be a viable way to make money.

His point is that if he was doing it right, he would have announced it and launched it at the same time. He blew his biggest moment to capitalize on this idea. \

No, he made two points, in different paragraphs - I was replying to one of them, not the one you noticed.

As a consumer and Jim Gaffigan fan, all I'm thinking is this is great. $5 and I get his next album and he gets all the loot - except for the small amount he's donating.

I'm not sure what you are saying my hidden reason as a consumer is for wanting $5 drm free stuff. Is it something more?

I think a better approach would have been him coming out and saying he's going to subscribe to Louis C.K.'s new business model because it just makes sense to consumers, and it makes sense financially to him, and he's ALL IN.

But even if he is riding the coat-tails of Louis CK, isn't it still a good thing that more people are starting to provide direct content for very reasonable prices?

It is, but if Gaffigan squanders the marketing potential of this, then it will have a serious impact on how much money his special brings in.

Since this is only the second time a (well known, mainstream) comedian has tried this, a failure or even just a poorer-than-expected showing could make a lot of other entertainers write Louis CK off as being a one-time thing. They'll assume he succeeded as a novelty and will be more wary of trying it in the future.

We need Gaffigan to succeed to show that the model is repeatable in order to convince others to try it. If he fails, it will be that much harder to convince others that they're not better off just following the status quo.

Then let us help him.

But if nobody finds out about the special and he doesn't make money, wouldn't that also mean people don't know about the failure?

No, because we're talking about two different groups.

Just because the general public doesn't know of the special, and therefore doesn't know of it's failure, other entertainers will. It's their job - the business side of their job - to keep up to date with these sorts of things.

A common strategy is to pre-announce when you know a competitor is ready to release a product but yours is in the pipeline.

I'm not claiming that this is the case, but if some other comedian is ready to release on Friday (and therefore become the second significant person to do it), Gaffigan's pre-announcement may actually be part of a well planned strategy.

It is a good trend, but when people do it incorrectly, and then fail, the entire industry can just say "Ha, look, that direct-to-consumer model doesn't work."

I want him to succeed. I want to be able to watch a trailer of his video, think it is hilarious, go through a one minute payment process, and have the video to watch instantly right after that in whatever format I want. If that is Gaffigan's plan, why bother pre-announcing it? Why not just wait till he has something to sell?

I think the thing that you are missing here is that if a comedian of his success was to go through the normal channels, he would be able to negotiate a large upfront payout (a la HBO or comedy central). So the $0 amount Jim Gaffigan is concerned about here is releasing something that he has worked hard on and making significantly less than he would otherwise. The less well known artist would likely be overjoyed at the 1 000 000 x $0 model of exposure since that artist would not likely be able to negotiated much upfront or have much say in the editing of his act anyhow.

Still, I agree that Jim Gaffigan is presenting the copyright argument in a very un-savvy way. Louis C.K. seemed to get it.

Louis CK paid like $30k to setup his site for streaming his special. Gaffigan will probably pay some similarly absurd amount.

What HNer is going to setup the simple solution for all the comedians that want to copy Louis CK but don't want to figure it out and spend $30k?

Transcoding + S3 + Stripe + Reporting dashboard + handholding with a flat 5%-20% fee or something.

It could even be an iTunes-like competitor. Web-based, video content, DRM-free. Enter your credit card once and you can easily buy all the different specials. Maybe the price tag would be a good angle: justfive.com, afiver.com, etc. Then again maybe they'd want it to be purely white label.

Would be cool if the next guy said: "Alright, I saw what Louis CK and Gaffigan did. I'm going to put my new special up on justfive.com"

Someone do it!

Okay, I can't just let people keep repeating this. $30k for a promo of this magnitude is not absurd in the least. This thing blew up huge, and it went off huge without a hiccup. If you just hire some low-ball bidder who knows how to slap together some APIs what guarantee do you have that it won't crash and burn under load? If that happens in seed-stage startup, oh boohoo, you disappointed your 100 early adopter friends, you learn from the mistake and you iterate, no experience necessary. If you do it with a viral promo that cost you hundreds of thousands to produce you just threw 90% of your potential millions right down the toilet and you probably end up crawling back to your bitter paymasters who are not feeling particularly generous after being cut out of the last big deal.

You hire people who know what the fuck their doing. No one here knows all the edge cases and planning that went into it. It looks super simple, but that is the brilliance of it. It looks effortless because it so well achieved. It's disappointing to me that HN members would dismiss this as just combining a bunch of commodity components and calling it a day. Just because you fancy that you could churn this out in a week of working 14 hour days with your buddy like you do for your startup doesn't mean that people doing this professionally shouldn't charge $250/hr to do it. Remember, they have no upside, and should charge a proper fee for their expertise.

I'm not really arguing about whether $30k was too much or too little. That's beside the point.

The point is that it shouldn't cost every comedian who wants to follow Louis CK's lead $30k to setup their own site. It would be a total waste of time and money, not to mention limit the number of people capable of emulating him.

Think about why Shopify, Weebly, Blogger, Wordpress exist. Every person who wanted an online store or web site of any kind used to have to pay people thousands of dollars to get a custom one made.

Alright then, my UX-nerd-rage having subsided, I agree with that. However I think there still is room for a custom crafted experience. Just reading both Gaffigan's and CK's pitches you can feel the difference in polish. Gaffigan is funny, but his message just isn't as on-point.

Design: $2k, coding: $5k, convincing Louis CK to use you over everyone else in the world for the most important moment of his career to date: $23k.

And honestly, given the results, they undercharged.

Just because it snags my overliteral nerd brain: this wasn't the most important moment of Louis CK's career. Louis CK is a giant of modern standup comedy.

Perhaps more accurate to say "if the site had fallen over, he would have looked like a total asshole, lost a ton of money, and no mainstream entertainer would even dream of trying something similar for a decade."

Why is it not the most important moment of his career? Are you saying there was one break he had that really was the difference between his being a mega-successful A-list standup comedian and being a struggling pauper? Because his little stunt seems to be one of the biggest success stories of indie distribution to date. He would be rich either way, but maybe what is important to him is changing the world in which case I could easily see how this was the most important thing.

We're talking about someone with multiple seasons of an eponymous show on FX, a full season of an eponymous show on HBO, and numerous HBO standup specials, along with a studio film director credit, all this following a long career as a TV writer, and we think this Internet special was somehow his break?

I don't know, maybe you'll be right in the long run, but I'd bet against you being right.

I'll put it differently: Louis CK will end up being more important to the Internet than the Internet will be important to Louis CK.

Who said anything about "his break"? What he did on the Internet was certainly more novel than his previous stuff which has been by countless other people. Again, the "importance" of that is up to Louis to decide, but it's not as obviously ridiculous an assertion as you seem to think.

I'm saddened by the downvotes without any type of on-point rebuttal. Guys there have been thousands and thousands of CK-level entertainers over a hundred years, but how many have done anything resembling this recent special?

>Why is it not the most important moment of his career?

is not a serious question, esp. in light of tptacek's laundry list which you are replying to - it's really up to you to make a positive case rather than up to the universe to make a negative one; and:

>how many [of the thousands and thousands of CK-level entertainers over a hundred years] have done anything resembling this recent special?

is not a serious argument, though it seems to be a declaration that selling his own movie has made him the greatest entertainer (at his level) in history, which is funny.

Well thanks for piling on. I know you can't down vote this, but I'll leave it here for someone else to do so.

1. "We developed this system for comedians to do exactly what Louis CK did. You pay based on usage (no large upfront capital risk), it's ready now, and here's a demo so you can see how nice it is."


2. "We could totally develop this site for you. It'll probably cost around $30k and take a 6-8 weeks. Trust us."

In both cases it's going to require salesmanship but I'd feel a lot more confident about selling #1. And of course once you've had a few successful clients #1 get's even easier -- you just point to them.

Compared to what a comedian would pay for venue, cameras, producing, directing and editing, the slack between what Louis paid and could have paid for his site and streaming setup is probably the least of their concerns.

That it worked and held up under load is probably going to keep them from even asking if it could have been cheaper.

It's not just the money. It's finding a web development company, meeting with them multiple times, risking $30k (which is not chump change even to him), and waiting for the site to be developed, giving feedback, etc.

They used PayPal + S3 to do Louis CK's site. This kind of thing isn't very technically challenging anymore with the infrastructure that's available now.

I agree that there's a huge opportunity for digital publishers in this area. I just think it's going to be a market driven by the companies that can take someone from material through polish, production, promotion and then distribution.

Just as today there do exist companies that press CDs and companies that box CDs and companies that ship CDs from one warehouse to many retailers yet the market is truly driven by those who can take an artist from material to digital master. Everyone downstream is commoditized and generally gets or loses contracts based on shmoozing rather than merit.

I'm sure there's money in being the digital equivalent of the plucky independent CD printer/boxer/shipper. But you're going to have a hell of a time getting business from people who don't have a digital master yet (and most won't), regardless of how attractive your rates may be. And in the process of those people getting a digital master - they're likely going to be steered toward the distribution services recommended by those people who helped them create and promote that master.

Isn't this something that gumroad does? (https://gumroad.com/)

That looks almost good. Unfortunately it seems they only accepts direct credit card payment. Many users wouldn't trust them.

Integrate with PayPal or Google Checkout and it could be huge.

Pulley from Big Cartel let's you sell downloadable files as well. (http://pulleyapp.com/)

While I'm glad to see this, I still think he's missing the point. The part where he asks people not to steal his stuff is unnecessary. Of course this will be passed around by friends and pirated on P2P networks. But: the pirates don't count, his customers do. If there's one pirate, how much money do you make? $0. It there are 1,000,000 pirates, how much? Still $0. So don't sweat the pirates. This new system is good because it gives the producers control, and a much more direct relationship with their fans. It's really got nothing to do with levels of piracy.

Steal in that context is a powerful word as it blatantly suggests he already accused all customers of being a thief of some sort. Not only that, he is trying to guilt people into buying his product with the follow up sentence, "why would you steal from a vet".

He is doing it wrong.

I think you should re-read the post with the mindset that he is, after all, a comedian. Sure, this is an issue we all care about here, but there's no need to be overly serious about the tone of Jim's post. He's trying to come off as funny.

Well, Paulo Coelho pirated his own books to increase revenue. So I would guess that 1,000,000 pirates could mean significantly more than $0.

"the physical sales of my books are growing since my readers post them in P2P sites." http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2012/01/28/promo-bay/

Currently, there is a huge incentive for performers and artists to follow this route of distributing their content. It is still seen as novel and championed by fans, resulting in increased exposure that wouldn't of happened if they would of chosen a normal route for selling their products.

Don't get me wrong, it's good to see this stuff happening but I think the more we see of it the less effective it will be for the artists and they may have a tougher time doing so well.

Incentive for established comedians. Don't minimize the need to be able to front the $100k+ to do the initial filming, venue, rental, etc.

There's a bit of overhead in this price due to him trying to bandage fix an old model with some features of a new one. Instead of trying to reinvent it.

If you think about it, you can do a stand up comedy with a cheap at home or at a bar with friends. And upload it to YouTube as a private video and/or use existing platforms to sell video.

They could save a lot. They're only not doing this because they just started taking baby steps away from the existing model. Plus they don't know any better, Louis spent a fortune just to setup that simple website. He could have used existing platforms. If he doesn't know how to use those, then here's a startup opportunity.

But that's not the same value proposition.

The deal is "professionally shot/produced/edited video shot at in a venue with good lighting and sound, in front of a live audience". You're not replicating that for $500.

There simply aren't enough artists with the resources to do what Louis CK has done and Gaffigan is about to do. So it's almost tautological that it can't take off for lesser-known acts until some digital-publishing middle-men spring up to simplify and streamline the process of going from "I have a 60 minute comedy act" to "I have a $5 special on somesite.com".

And any digital publisher worth their domain name is going to offer promotional services.

Yup, the novelty will wear off over time, just like the "pre-ordering of PC games" space after Minecraft was released.

Minecraft was a huge hit with that model, the others less so.

Minecraft's success had very little to do with the model of "pre-ordering PC games", and very much to do with being an amazing product (even in it's pre-release state).

Delivery novelty may account for a fraction of the overall effect - it's certainly not the central reason for a commercial success.

I meant novelty in product marketing, not novelty in product itself.

Minecraft was sold as a preorder when in Alpha, with buyers expecting to shape the future direction of the product as it gets "made". This worked in that case, but not in the iso zombie mess case.

With these comedy sales, the novelty again is in the manner of selling. One big shot, some mob mentality, hype and Reddit. Everyone sharing the moment. The hope is a big pay day, but each time there's fewer people who haven't seen/felt the "trick"/emotion before.

Shape the future of the product? This is the first time I've heard of that and I was an alpha customer.

I bought it because I wanted to play it. In its current form.

Once 50 performers do similar things, a company or two will start up offering production and marketing assistance to "self-publishing" artists, in exchange for a cut of sales. And, the old system will be reborn, much leaner, more effective and efficient for all involved, and artists can go back to doing what they love instead of dicking around with final cut for hours.

Wasn't that where Odeo was going before the founders abandoned it and went with Twitter?

I'm very interested in how this turns out. I personally have never heard of Jim Gaffigan and Louis CK has steadily been gaining mainstream popularity. When music artists did this, didn't their popularity have a significant part of their success?

Jim Gaffigan is a fairly well known comedian. Almost a million followers on Twitter, 11.5M views on his YouTube channel, Comedy Central specials, etc.

> When music artists did this, didn't their popularity have a significant part of their success?

Yep. Nine Inch Nails was very successful. Saul Williams' Reznor-produced album, released through the same mechanism and heavily promoted to Nine Inch Nails fans (advantages that wouldn't be available to most) didn't sell very well.

Jim Gaffigan is hilarious.

Yeah. Gotta watch him, if only for the skit about hot...pockets.

Just YouTubed this skit. Not funny. Forget the $5, I want my 5 minutes back.

I hope this turns out well for him. I'm also hopeful that more musicians and comedians will follow suit. I also agree that he shouldn't worry about how many people pirate it...people will do that regardless. It's the people who don't pirate it that count. Personally, I probably wouldn't normally purchase one of his albums for $20/$25, but the fact that he is taking a big step by doing this and separating himself from a large corporation is reason enough for me.

Even if the video is highly pirated, I wonder if he will make more with his $5 per distribution then with the $0.XX he would get otherwise. People say that the internet will destroy creative enterprise, but I think just the opposite. I think artists will be more empowered once they embrace the opportunities of this new medium and learn to cut out the middlemen.

Oh there will still be middlemen in the entertainment industry. The difference is that instead of entertainers working for the middle men, once they reach a certain popularity, the middle men will work for the entertainers.

And really, this is nothing all that new. Musicians have been creating their own labels for decades, often selling as an imprint to larger labels.

I think the key takeaway here is the distribution model, not necessarily the organizational model. The Gaffigans and Radioheads and Louie CKs of the world don't have the organizational baggage that the big content producers have. They also don't have the supposed things to lose that the big producers have. So, they're freer to experiment.

I hope, and I'm sure many media consumers agree with me, that as these big acts begin to diverge from their former masters and build their own organizations, that the distribution model that survives long term is the one that doesn't ultimately attempt to screw over us consumers.

Time will tell, I suppose.

What I just sent him (pending moderation):

Congratulations for being the first larger-name comedian to jump on the bandwagon. However, I'd like to offer up a great big "Go Fuck Yourself" for not getting why Louis C.K. did it, and what he ultimately learned. Your 2-months-prior-to-release announcement clearly shows that you saw that Louis made money, and you're going to make a half-assed effort to kinda-sorta emulate what he did. And if you fail (because you don't get how to market on the internet), you'll blame it on Pirates.

You're an idiot because you don't understand the difference between copying and stealing.

Stealing requires you to incur a loss of property. When a file is copied/downloaded, the original still exists.

When you say that a Pirate is stealing your property, you make an ass of yourself to anyone who understands the difference between moving a file from one folder to another, and copy/paste.

You're not even losing any intellectual property, because you can't claim ownership of any copy you did not originally create.

Gabe Newell has taught many businessmen that Pirates are merely underserved customers. Treating them like criminals leads to stupid shit like Metallica suing their fans for downloading their songs, and losing all credibility with anyone that doesn't work for Viacom or Paramount.

And fuck your military contribution. Doug Stanhope once said that most people that are in the military kinda/sorta want to kill someone. War is an outlet for those people to legally murder people, usually of a different skin color. If I give you $5 for your show, you'd better not donate a DIME of my money to them.

Good Job raising publicity. Many of us at ­http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=359­5285 are making fun of how little you understand this business model right now. Maybe in April you'll get some of this publicity you just wasted with a pre-announcement.

It probably won't be approved. That's fine. there's no other way to contact him on his website. Another sign that he's clearly not in control of this thing, and is just bandwagoning.

I remember this feeling... yes, when Amazon started offering DRM free MP3 downloads at 80% cost of an iTunes DRM'd MP3. Digital video may finally be turning the corner, very exciting times.

Time for a humble bundle style package for indie comics...

Is there a site (or sites) where I can purchase content and the money goes entirely to human creators of that content? I love standup, I love the little guys, but catching them on the day they may be in my city is very inconvenient. It is too bad all those comics can not have a central site to catch their acts, and they can be paid (even if some money gets funneled to that site for costs).

Hope this trend picks up!

Joe Rogan said he'd do the same on his podcast, which would be great. More artists should do this, in all mediums.

I think it will be an option for many indie publishers in all mediums in a not to distant future.

On the other hand I'm not really sure about the way Gaffigan lays it out, which is not making me want to spend $5.

It's interesting because it's all over the torrent networks (Louis's $5 comedy special).

It shows you that it's not about: price, protection, or availability. Many times it's just because people want it for free and are not willing to part with their hard-earned money.

I also think that most people bought this only because they wanted to prove to the world that it would work (DRM-less and cheap media).

When it becomes a popular thing to do, artists will see the reason why you need to charge a little more+have some sort of protection in the first place. DRM and other protection schemes were invented after the result of mass piracy.

The problem is that whatever the reason is, there isn't any way to stop it (without taking away too many freedoms). It's too late. So, the answer for software is to only make services (and charge a monthly fee) and other industries need to figure out ways to change their business models and use the fact that people will pirate it to their advantage.

> I also think that most people bought this only because they wanted to prove to the world that it would work (DRM-less and cheap media).

I think the number of people concerned with making a gesture to push some political agenda about DRM is dwarfed by the number of people who like Louis C.K.'s stuff from HBO and FX and think $5 is a great deal for a 60 minute special.

It shows you that it's not about: price, protection, or availability. Many times it's just because people want it for free and are not willing to part with their hard-earned money.

It's entirely about price, (lack of) protection, and availability.

There will always be those who pirate it – ignore them. How do you make the most money from people willing to pay? Make it cheap, let them own it, make it easy to obtain.

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