It's interesting that all this has come from comedians. Perhaps not surprising, given that TV shows are owned by networks, and bands are largely indebted to record labels- I never thought about it before, but a comedian is far more of a "free agent" than anyone else- for instance, Aziz is one of the main stars in a hit NBC comedy (well, as much of a hit as NBC gets these days), but he's free to do stuff like this as much as he wants. I very much doubt a band would be able to get away with that.
I've been a fan of Aziz for a long time- I'll be buying.
It's because a lot of comedians are writer/producer/director/editor of their content--a one man act. They aren't usually signing seven album contracts to a label or answering to a network. Usually they have an agent or manager who gets a cut for promoting them.
Agreed, I've taken a raised interest in comedians since the whole podcast thing has turned into a movement and something of an artform. I've seen three comedians in the last month - I don't think I'd seen more than one per year before this.
But really, musicians have been doing the equivalent - selling albums at a flat/reasonable rate - on Bandcamp for years now. For most of them, being on a label is more about getting exposure in the right channels (getting reviewed on high profile sites, being in premier showcases, etc.) and showing that they live up to curated tastses, which is more difficult than the comedy world.
Exposure seems easier in comedy. A comedian can generate/distribute brand new material (jokes) on twitter or on a podcast at a clip that musicians can't compete with. Subjectively, there seems to be fewer comedians than bands, which is more amicable to cooperation.
It has begun quite a while ago with podcasts. Adam Carolla runs a whole podcast production shop in addition to his own hugely popular show and even some spin-offs, then there's the Nerdist (same thing), Joe Rogan has a popular show, Doug Benson, Bill Burr and many others.
Comedians just seem more... entrepreneurial. It would be interesting whether it's because there's less structure (existing or required) in the comedy world, or because comedy attracts more independent performers.
Dana Gould's doing his own, and it has production values and editing. By comparison, Adam doesn't really do a whole lot of quality control on his show. Shitty shows still get released. It irritates me.
I did stand-up comedy for a while. Allow me to offer my own experience about the entrepreneurial streak you're seeing from the comedy sector:
1. As a comedian, you have no choice BUT to get creative. Nobody is going to give you stage time as a no-name comic so your choices are either (booked) open mics or starting your own show.
2. There isn't an "agent" culture for comics like there is for bands or actors. You write your own material. You're alone on stage. You're alone every step of the way.
3. The money stinks as a comic. I can remember being paid for a show in food. FOOD. And there were limits on what I could order. At a mexican restaurant. Since there isn't a lot of money in comedy shows, every dollar you spend on getting to/from a show or paid to someone to help you book a show is almost a eat-or-pay-rent type of decision. If you go to a comedy show, buy a CD from the comic after the show. It's likely that 5 CD's sold puts more money in the pocket of the comic than whatever they earned from the club.
4. Finding another comic to share expenses is almost a losing proposition from the start. Unless you're on stage together as part of an act, it's impossible. Only headline acts can bring their own opener/feature and you aren't a headline act.
SO, to sum up, the money stinks in comedy, you can't easily achieve scale, and you need to be your own writer/agent/booker/show-runner to make a living.
Everyone learns to perfect their craft through constant failure. Musicians/artists have the luxury of failing over and over while in the isolation of their bedroom. Comics have no choice but to fail repeatedly in front of a live audience, and nobody wants to pay you while you're learning to fail.
Disagree completely -- the world has plenty of office workers scared to try something so bold, we need better filtering tools and more people trying rather than believing that the current system works to capture, foster, and utilize talent properly.
I think we do way too much stifling as a society as it is, and a lot of that has to do with people who gave up on their dreams for a safe existence justifying their decision by ridiculing others who dare to take risks.
Because I've been a part of independent recording sessions with bands who released albums using their own meager funds. It doesn't have to take much money to record and produce a decent-sounding album anymore.
I don't think anyone is debating that music can be recorded cheaply, the point is about standup being easier to produce (from a technical perspective), and unless you're thinking of a solo acapella singer, music requires a lot more production value, even just to get something sounding "decent".
>2. Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero (2007)-- This album was released by Reznor as a free digital download and Reznor also released the master tracks and encouraged remixes of the work.
YZ was actually the last album in Reznor's contractual obligation to Interscope. He leaked a number of tracks as part of the accompanying ARG, but the album itself wasn't free. I seem to remember him having to jump through a number of hoops to get the masters released, as well.
Also: keep in mind that Saul Williams had attempted a pay-what-you-want model with the Reznor-produced The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust! prior to any of the other releases you mentioned.
I know Louis CK was successful in this model, but at the time I expressed hesitation about others following his lead.
He made a good amount of money, but given Louis CK is probably the most popular working comedian today, it didn't seem like ENOUGH money to justify the entire business model (assuming no one else would make as much doing the same).
But now Aziz Ansari is doing it. Jim Gaffigan has announced plans to do so as well.
I know we'll have to wait for their numbers to come in to find out if Louis CK was a fluke or a trend, but I'm really hoping I was wrong and it's the latter.
If this is the future of selling online content, sign me up.
Considering Jeff Foxworthy has sold over 15 million albums, recently had a primetime show in syndication, and managed to make three of his drinking buddies into 8-figure yearly draws, I would say Louis CK is not even close to the most popular working comedian around. He has a rabid base, yes, but I would argue he's not even a mainstream comic (ie I would bet 9/10 people off the street would not know who he is).
I think this bodes very well for those who can mobilize a few hundred thousand people. What I think will be even more interesting is how this will affect those that can only mobilize a few thousand.
Louis CK is popular in the same way that a band like Arcade Fire is popular. Arcade Fire sells lots of albums and is highly respected by other musicians, but the band isn't as well known among most of America as a top 40 staple like Rihanna.
This represents sort of a "high" pop-culture, which would include popular indie music acts like Arcade Fire, TV shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and comedians like Louis CK and Jim Gaffigan.
I'd never heard of him and didn't particularly like the preview. I still paid the $5 because I would like to see this business model take off and the show might be funny. To be honest, I didn't find Louis CK's $5 offering all that funny.
Louis has a hit cable tv show, a deal for a network show on CBS and whenever almost any comedian is asked what other comedians they like are they usually reply in some form of "Louis, of course". Any fan of stand up comedy has at least heard of him.
He's not Jeff Foxworthy, but he's certainly "mainstream", although he's certainly not the most popular comedian around.
He says that $250k was about how much he would have been paid by HBO or Comedy Central if he let them produce it. So his new model tripled his profit compared to the old model.
Which is probably why he ended up choosing to keep $220k for himself and giving the rest of the profit ($530k) to charity and to his staff.
Louis CK: "That leaves me with 220k for myself. Some of that will pay my rent and will care for my childen. The rest I will do terrible, horrible things with and none of that is any of your business. In any case, to me, 220k is enough out of a million."
Aziz isn't as big a name as Louis CK, but he's still a decent draw and has what I imagine would be a fairly dedicated fanbase. Assuming his special didn't cost too much to produce, I can see this method's working out pretty well for him.
One doesn't need to make Louis CK's total ROI to claim success here. Even if Aziz pockets a few hundred grand in net profit, that's nothing to sneeze at.
There are many webcomic artists who make a tidy profit on the same model (look at Rich Burlew's recent kickstarter.) If a niche artist can make that much, I'm sure mainstream artists can make at least that much.
And the value of getting the money directly with no middlemen is substantial.
There are so many reasons why this model is great for comedians. Production costs are low so the risk is low. Profit margins, for the comedian, are far higher than with other forms of releasing a special, so total revenue can be higher. More so, because of the drm free aspects the show can have a broader reach than otherwise, increasing exposure and serving as promotional material for the comedian's acting gigs, next standup releases, and live shows. Expect this sort of thing to be the norm inside of 5 years if not sooner.
I'm also guessing that someone offended by the profanity would likely not be a happy customer. Which highlights an interesting potential limit of A/B testing for conversions. It may take some time after the point of sale to determine whether you've created a happy (and therefor loyal, returning) customer or not. So imagine in this case that profanity is likely to turn away 2 customers but presence of profanity will tilt 1 additional conversion -- so overall conversion rate of non-profane form could be better (2 vs 1 on some margin). But what if the non-profane converts are ultimately dissatisfied with the product whereas the the profane convert is likely to be happy? Perhaps the long term relationship with the latter customer is worth more than the two unhappy customers, even though a naive A/B test would push you to limit profanity for the short term conversion benefit.
This is something about A/B tests that always bothers me. They always seem to assume that if variation A is best for a proxy stat (signups, views, etc) it's also best for what I'm really interested in (longterm value). I still use them though - not sure there's much you can do about it anyways.
On the other hand, if you can eventually measure long-term value and you can keep track of users over a long enough cycle, then you can eventually run an A/B test on long term value. This depends on accurately tracking users, having a quantifiable way to calculate long-term value, and eliminating other sources of error, but it should be absolutely doable.
You can also measure how well your proxy stat does correspond to long-term value and adjust your expectations accordingly.
Aziz Ansari is so funny. I loved him as the fruit vendor who hates Australians on Flight of the Conchords, and his Randy character was pretty much the only good thing about that train wreck Funny People. Nice to see him succeeding via Parks and Recreation and el Internet.
Why should a comedian have to submit to a behemoth like writers do? To get on iPad or Kindle or Nook, you have to go through their stores and risk rejection or wind up giving them 30% (a fee I do not think is in any way justified just for hosting; they damn well can't market anything, just provide one listing out of jillions).
I say more power to the comedians. Submit to no one, share with no one. I wish writers could do the same.
There's no requirement for a writer to submit content to Apple (iTunes store) or Amazon (Kindle store). A writer can format documents in .mobi, .epub and .pdf files and sell them through any digital storefront (either home brewed or something like leanpub among many others)
If a writer wants the exposure from being on the Kindle Store or iTunes Store, that's another matter. But there's no requirement that a writer sign up for such a distributor.
>>>There's no requirement for a writer to submit content to Apple (iTunes store) or Amazon (Kindle store).
Maybe I wasn't clear. Sure, any writer can set up a site, but then you cannot give buyers the convenience they expect with automagic downloads to a Kindle, Nook, or Kobo device. (I exclude iPad. Apple made competing eBook apps download via browser. Which is not something eInk devices can do.)
If you set your video to unlisted on youtube (only those with links can see it), then setup a paypal/google wallet account that automatically mails the link when someone pays you. Then all you'll be paying for is the paypal/google wallet fee.
Wouldn't have a sexy landing page. But would also save ~ $200k (how much Loius CK said he payed for his website).
But once that link is online, anyone can reach to it. Even the people who didn't pay for it. Correct me if I'm wrong. They need a link generator for every payment. Or have the video show up in my not yet developed "Paid Videos" section on my youtube profile.
I would need to share my link with someone else. Just like I can share the non DRM video I downloaded from Loius CK. The whole concept is that people will rather pay for it even if they can get it for free, if they think it's worth it. And it has been working so far.
So you shoulnd't need to create artificial blocks to try to stop people from pirating. I mean, look at the humble bundle, you can just click that you don't want to pay for and download the games. But people pay anyway and they make millions off it. So why would you create artificial blocks that pisses people off?
You have not paid attention to what Amazon has done. There was one furious weekend a year or so ago involving books with homosexuality in them. And Amazon recently delisted a bunch of books for content it didn't like in the Romance genre. Amazon does have a mention of "content guidelines" in their submission TOS. But good luck getting anything specific about what those "guidelines" are.
$5 AND DRM Free? Could you imagine...stealing a movie that costs $5 and is DRM free? That'd be like stealing a movie that's $5 and DRM free! There's no other way to complete that analogy because that's the shittiest thing you could ever do!
I'd like to see someone set up a turnkey solution, soup to nuts (i.e. website, paypal or other payment service, content delivery) with some simple pricing model. It would then be easy to standardize in terms of format, TOS, etc.
I just bought it and was redirected to an error page even though the paypal went through, though a few minutes later I received an email with watching/streaming details. Just an FYI for anyone else this may happen to.
I paid, received no email at all, then got a support reply the next day (today), which successfully let me log in, but left me with no downloads and no streams. Incredibly shitty UX. Anyone else encounter problems?
As someone who bought both this and the Louis CK download, the difference in UX is huge. I wonder to what extent my experience is not unique and to what extent the success of Louis CK's experiment was due to the seamlessness of their website experience. These guys should probably using Stripe; I'm beyond impatience with PayPal.
This is the model of new media for any type of artist.
Create enough value that you establish yourself as an expert in whatever your art is and then exploit secondary pursuits. I constantly refer back to Diddy getting famous with music, but also establishing himself as a partying/lifestyle expert and then making a killing on Ciroc. 50 cent did it with vitamin water and fitness, Athletes do it with endorsements.
It is the Tony Robbins model. His books didn't make him rich but they allowed him to charge 500k a speaking gig.
Your initial art is your marketing that develops your right to charge money for future art.
Agreed that success is not guaranteed. The other two factors are context and success expectation. You can't win NBA MVP and expect to successfully go and sell cookware (unless you are known for being a cook outside of the league) it is not what people trust you for. You also need to look at the size of the audience of your accepted expertise. Tony Robbins is known, but apparently not enough to float a primetime television show.
Everyone here keeps saying to turn this into a platform. Though I agree that developers can capitalize on this opportunity, there's a road we can go down that in my opinion may make things too crowded. Yes, it would be great to have a central hub where I can browse through popular comedian's trailer videos and then download my favorite one for $5 DRM free. But, I think that'll just create so much competition between the comedians that they won't see the level of traction that Louis C.K. saw. Then again, it's a tradeoff and you can't really have both can you?
I just purchased it. That was simple as possible (enter e-mail in box, redirected to PayPal, redirected to page with stream and download buttons). There's a streaming limit (3 views) and download limit (5 downloads).
The download is hosted on Amazon S3 where I'm barely getting 500k/s. The stream and download limits would then limit his delivery costs to ~$1.50 per customer with S3's bandwidth pricing. PayPal is taking out $0.41. He could be getting as little as $3 of each $5 for the special.
Which allowed you to buy it -- for now. See, there's a weak link in that chain. Just two weeks ago there was a huge uproar over PayPal rejecting payments for books they unilaterally and unjustifiably deemed "offensive."
Eliminating the middleman is not the point. Avoiding the negative consequences of having a middleman is the point, and eliminating the middleman is merely a means to that end. If you can be a middleman without (or with fewer of) those negative consequences, then you're working toward the same goal.
I really like this new model but it got me thinking about how hard it's going to be for Aziz to push his content to different types of media. Traditionally the labels would handle that (usually incompetently) but for a startup to focus on this niche would be awesome.
It's interesting to compare the economics of comedy vs music. I'm much more likely to enjoy a song the second, third and fourth time I hear it. I might enjoy the second time hearing a joke, but it goes downhill pretty fast after that. I'm guessing this is normal.
If a comedian's routine is recorded and widely disseminated, a lot of people might become fans and want to see him/her, but they're probably not going to want to see the same jokes again. The comedian will need to come up with new material.
Writing and perfecting a good comedy bit might be comparable in time and effort to writing and perfecting a good song. Anyone know?
How do these considerations affect which business model works best for different types of artists online?
If you get a chance, check out "Talking Funny", a very nerdy but informative DVD of conversations between Jerry Seinfeld, Louis CK, Chris Rock, and Ricky Gervais. In it they discuss this very subject.
Seinfeld says his method is to repeat material for years before throwing it out. Chris Rock sees his comedy specials schedule as the equivalent of an album ("like Prince"), so every tour he does completely new material. Gervais lands in the middle - enough freshness to keep things interesting but also enough old stuff to keep the crowds happy. Louis CK is constantly changing his act - if I remember correctly he says he rarely keeps a joke for more than a few shows.
I wonder if these big-splash events where a comedian sells a clip DRM-free for a simple payment might be better suited to comedy than to music, given the more time-sensitive nature of the value of a comedy bit.
Pretty sure this is mostly why DVD's come out at the end of tours or during the middle of a new tour to stop that exact thing happening, they might do a couple of the old gags but mostly it will be fresh material (unless your Peter Kay)
This is hilarious. He is being downvoted for pointing out one of the biggest serious issues with digital content licensing: The problem isn't just the DRM, but also that the licensing agreements usually (always?) destroy the traditional right to resell your book/movie/album when you are sick of it, or just when you would rather that a friend have it (say, when you finish reading a book).
Paying say $15 for an ebook that is nontransferrable, when the physical book is ALSO $15, is an absurdity that I can't imagine will stand the test of time. Our entire human history is on the side of the feeling that when you buy something, you can then give that particular thing away to someone else.
Current legal and market norms don't serve this basic human instinct yet, and it remains to be seen which shifts first. My money is on humans insisting to keep giving things away to their friends.
Despite being named .mov and lacking any metadata whatsoever, the file is encoded as a native H.264+AAC in 720p, which syncs just fine via iTunes and plays on an iPhone 4, meaning it should play back on an iPad as well.