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The Louis CK Experiment

October 5, 2012

Louis CK has been undergoing a very personal experiment. It started last winter with the release of his standup show, “Live at the Beacon”, that he personally directed, produced, and distributed directly to his fans.

In his own words, he describes his experiment,

“People of Earth (minus the ones who don’t give a shit about this): it’s been amazing to conduct this experiment with you. The experiment was: if I put out a brand new standup special at a drastically low price ($5) and make it as easy as possible to buy, download and enjoy, free of any restrictions, will everyone just go and steal it? Will they pay for it? And how much money can be made by an individual in this manner?”

And the results have surprised even him. In 12 days, he made over $1 million selling his video for $5 to excited fans. Additionally, he’s created a direct access model that eliminates the opportunity for mass ticketing services and ticket resellers to take control over what consumers pay to see his act. His goal was always to offer affordable tickets, but over the years, he’s seen the reality of price gouging infiltrate his shows with resellers buying up tickets and hiking up prices for his fans. It’s a common occurrence across many forms of entertainment today from concerts to sporting events, creating a bad taste for many.

So, Louis CK decided to stand up and take matters into his own hands. The cynical could argue that he’s doing this for personal gain, which is probably true to some extent, but it goes much deeper than that. It’s disrupting an industry that has traditionally served the bottom line first and the consumer second. He’s flipping that around and proving transparency, humility and access can be just as lucrative.

And, he’s also putting his money where is mouth is, giving just over ¾ of his revenue from this project back to suppliers, employees and charities.

“In any case, to me, 220k is enough out of a million. I never viewed money as being “my money” I always saw it as “The money” It’s a resource. if it pools up around me then it needs to be flushed back out into the system.”

There is one thing that Louis CK clearly gets, and that is that there is more than one authentic way to feed his fans’ appetite for his comedic storytelling and he can do so in a way that reflects his personal values and how he wants to treat his fans.Louis CK is taking comedy into an area previously explored by the English rock band Radiohead, who self-released their album In Rainbows (2007) as a digital download for which their fans could set their own price of purchase.

From the world of sports, Augusta National began selling direct day passes for the 2012 Masters practice rounds and tournament at a much reduced rate than golf enthusiasts found on StubHub.  Could this be an indication of a growing attempt to bypass the profit-driven ticket suppliers and give fans a chance to pay fair value for their tickets, eliminating the heavy surcharges and fees we’ve become so accustomed to swallowing.

The next phase of his experiment is beginning with the opening of his October through February live show tour. And he is once again turning to the direct to consumer model he’s been experimenting with for the last year. Playing in venues that aren’t beholden to exclusive deals with large ticket services and promising a value-priced ticket at not a penny over $45. He’s doing 67 shows, has sold over 135,600 tickets in one week, meaning sales are grossing around $6.1 million. Yep, that’s definitely a profitable model, but yet his fans can feel great about it too knowing they’ve paid fair value and not a penny more.

Louis CK’s personal experiment is a great lesson in re-imagining how to better serve consumers, while not sacrificing profitability. He had the courage to try, to be honest and genuine in his attempt to do right by his fans, and in turn they’ve continued to support him with their wallets. Unfortunately today it seems like an innovative idea, but really it’s about growing a business by putting your customers first. An unlikely smart-ass comedian is teaching fundamentals in truly being consumer-centric.

By: Kristi Burrows

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