Monty Python's free web video increased DVD sales by 23,000 percent

Mashable reports on Monty Python's YouTube channel:

“We’re letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there! But we want something in return. None of your driveling, mindless comments. Instead, we want you to click on the links, buy our movies & TV shows and soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years.”

And you know what? Despite the entertainment industry’s constant cries about how bad they’re doing, it works. As we wrote yesterday, Monty Python’s DVDs climbed to No. 2 on Amazon’s Movies & TV bestsellers list, with increased sales of 23,000 percent.

Can Free Content Boost Your Sales? Yes, It Can (via Michael Geist)


  1. Of course it works. Its just a completely new marketing and distribution model that is very difficult for massive corporates to get a stranglehold on, and allows medium, small and tiny publishers to access greater market share.

    It’s better for artists, better for consumers, but not so good if you’re a Sony exec.

  2. I guess I _could_ give them more money, but I already bought that ginormous boxed set and I haven’t finished watching all of them again :-)

  3. Hey, where’s that guy who will say they are not funny, not funny at all?

    Missing a big opportunity here.

  4. Am I the only one who can’t find the quoted best sellers list. I also wonder where the 23.000 percent is coming from. Then again I’m probably a shill for the music industry ;)

  5. @ #6:


  6. Nice to give us the full Monty. The “In Rainbows” model is the best way to respect the fans which fills the coffers in turn. You’ll get no argument from me (unless you pay me $5.) ;D

  7. 1. Give all your IP away for free (in low res).
    2. Attractively package some of it for sale.
    3. Profit.

    No missing ??? step here.

  8. @ #14 Eustace

    The problem is that there’s an up-front cost in step 2, and it’s harder to know if you’ll recoup it if you’re already giving out the IP for free.

    Sometimes it works, as in this case, sometimes it might not. And for a company, one time where it doesn’t work could be enough to sink it.

    I’m not saying I agree with this thinking, but I try to understand how the Enemy thinks :)

  9. To add to Eustace’s devilish advocacy, I have to wonder if this worked for them because they were the first (that I know of) high-profile act to embrace this strategy. If it became the norm, I wonder if everyone’s sales would rise, or if it would even itself out.
    Personally, I’ve thought from the beginning that offering things for free to get people hooked can only help sales. Take the radio. They play it in my office, and there are certain songs I would never want to voluntarily hear which, once heard 20 or so times for free, get stuck in my head and I wind up liking them.
    I wonder if greed breeds stupidity, or it’s the other way around?

  10. Ah, what do ya know! Now if only the US RIAA would get it through their skulls that P2P and free based releases is not a threat. It is a threat to their OLD model of marketing and profiteering. They need to welcome this change and innovate.

    Piracy has long been known to help companies. Think Adobe and Microsoft for example!

  11. I don’t know about the pricing for their movies on Amazon, but the tv show DVD set has been hugely discounted for the past couple months. I picked it up for $35-40 down from the original $100 pricetag.


  12. So…is the DVD set, unlike the earlier (A&E set), unedited? (By which I mean edited from the broadcast version, not those demanded by the BBC after initial airing.) I want the unexpurgated version — I don’t care if the gannet wets its nest.

  13. Well, that’s the sort of blinkered, philistine pig ignorance I’ve come to expect from you non-creative garbage!

  14. I’m proud to say I already own ALL of their DVDs. :) I love Monty Python! Hopefully this will expose more younger people to their genius.

  15. @Bemopolis:
    The DVD set on the Monty Python site is still produced by A&E, so I’m willing to bet it is still the same content as the earlier one. :(

  16. I bought ‘Life of Brian’ and ‘The Meaning of Life’ via their amazon reference link. Hooray, I’m part of the solution!

  17. Who’d have thought thirty year ago we’d all be sittin’ here watching YouTube, eh?

    In them days we was glad to listen to it on gramophone records.

  18. Geez TW15 I almost forgot about the Python LPs.
    Technically savvy even back then, they released the first three-sided single LP (Matching Tie & Handkercheef) IIRC.
    There’s some radio comedy in Python’s DNA, eh wot?

  19. I hope this will serve as a signal to many media companies: I find a lot of old music on YouTube and if I like it I go out and buy it – I know many others do the same. It’s an easy way of discovering, not ripping people off. Let’s hope more follow the Python’s example.

  20. Gramophone records? LUXURY! We had to listen to Monty Python on radios we built ourselves from spare parts and we were grateful!

  21. When the whole MPFC collection came out on DVD at CostCo, I snapped it up right away. One of the first sets of DVDs I ever bought, too. I’m just getting around to watching them with someone who has never seen the series.

    The one problem with the early ones, though, is that DVDs were such a cool nifty thing back then, that it’s almost painful to navigate the menus. We all got over the whiz-bang menu navigation long ago, just play the shows! :D

  22. Doesn’t “23,000 percent” seem like an insane lie of a number? We’re people violently returning DVD sets in the days/weeks up to this happening?

    That number makes 100% no sense.

  23. Can I say something here? DOOM. Remember how it made millions by giving the game away for free? hint hint.

    Of course many other games tried the same thing. It helps it the product is good.

  24. Um, hasn’t the entire output of the music industry been given away for free for over a decade now?

    Why aren’t they up 23,000%?

  25. This article makes me wonder… What happens when your content reaches market saturation? There is probably a limit to how much Monty Python we can all buy, either because we already own it or have to buy other things -like food.
    Monty Python is wonderful but, it is dated and the pool of new buyers is a shrinking number.
    This is not just about Monty Python but all content. At some point whether it is available for free or not no one will want it. Or not enough people want it to make a living trying to sell it. If it is kept locked up no one benefits and no one even knows it exists.

  26. therevengor

    A funny point!

    But perhaps the set of people who would see legal free content and then buy hardcopy versions, and the set who would see illegally hosted content and then download the same music aren’t entirely congruent.

    Not everybody on the internet finds themselves in the places music is illegally available for free.

  27. The retards that runs the industry fail to realize that people don’t way to pay for crap, and when people find out something isn’t crap, there’s a good chance that a) they’ll plunk down the cash for it (and for more of it in the future) and b) rave about it to their friends.

    Then they get blindsided by artists who embrace the model and gross something like $.75M in a matter of 2-3 days. (e.g. NIN Ghosts)

  28. I think this would be a great idea, and I do love the python chaps (I already own all the available Palin’s world travel DVDs and most of the available python stuff) but I am forced to ask “Where is the EVERYTHING?”. Flying-Circus-wise it looks like there are 20 clips of about 6 minutes each (mostly the oft-quoted stuff), out of what should be 45 episodes at about 40 minutes each.

    Do we have to keep checking back to get our EVERYTHING in serialized form?

    Am I supposed to BUY, BUY, BUY in hopes that EVERTHING will eventually show up?

    Or am I just missing something? (or being a cynical impatient dick?)

  29. “one copy as opposed to 23,000 copies”

    A 23000% increase would mean 230 copies sold (not 23,000) for every single copy that was sold before.

    For a group that is old enough to have fallen out of much of the public’s day-to-day consciousness (where YouTube is increasingly *in* their day-to-day consciousness), I find the number entirely believable.

  30. Um, hasn’t the entire output of the music industry been given away for free for over a decade now?

    Why aren’t they up 23,000%?

    You mean radio has been around for only a decade?

    I expect it already is up 23,000% from where it would be without that.

  31. I think the rule of all of this is that 1)Your content must actually be good. Then you can move on to 2) Give low res versions away for free, before 3) Selling the good stuff and making teh profitz. Being that Monty Python is genuinely good, I’m glad this new business model is working for them.

  32. Too many variables at play here. There have also been a lot of TV commercials lately for this boxed set. Heck, there was a whole hour long special on PBS less than a week ago. I’m sure that had something to do with it. Plus, I hate the tone of this post – it seems to imply that because there is a business end that copyright holders should not object to their product being online and given away for free. Personally I don’t want my albums being downloaded for free even if does increase my overall sales.

    – Ghost of Elvis Presley

  33. Noen@29: That’s nothing. We used to dream of listening to MP on them gramophones, but our dad used to break them over our heads every night before we’d go to sleep, half an hour before we’d wake each morning. Then he’d pick up the broken pieces and slash our wrists with ’em, just for spite. You kids on your youtubes got it easy…


  34. Radio ? You lucky sod. We were too poor to afford ears, and you just try reading lips over a radio.

  35. Lips? Hah! Luxury.

    Our radio presenters didn’t even have mouths! They winked morse over the telegraph.

  36. My copy of “The Holy Trinity” (Holy Grail, Life of Brian and Meaning of Life) arrived yesterday, and it’s wonderfully done. The motto on the boxed set “To laugh is human; to mock, divine.” I actually stumbled across it looking for “The Galaxy Song” to show my girlfriend on YouTube. I enjoyed the channel description and the pleasantly insulting channel description, watched a few clips and clicked through to buy the box set. It felt good to be treated like a fan instead of a criminal. Cheers to the Monty Python crowd for getting it right as usual!

  37. @Carrie – Python, dated? Python continues precisely because it’s humor transcends the date of it’s creation. Almost everything is just as accessable to today’s audience as it was back when they created it. All the passage of time does is increase the number of people who get to experience the joy of their absurdism for the first time.

  38. Actually its funny to hear Python described as dated. I’m reminded of a Flying Circus sketch about a guy who completed everyone’s sentences. That sketch has become a regular bit on Late Night with Conan O’Brien with a character called “The Interupter”. Apart from some minor details it is essentially the same material.

    Python is one of those rare collaborations where a group of talented people are given the resources and opportunity to experiment, and the result is a paradigm shift in the art.

    Python is dated, like the Beatles and the Theory of Relativity are dated.

  39. the ‘in rainbows model’? good lord. please lets get over the ‘radiohead invented pay what you like’ thing.

  40. geez, if you want dated, listen to nightclub comics of the fifties and sixties – or watch jerry lewis solo comedy films. Or watch tapes of the old laugh-in show. In general, the more ‘topical’ the jokes, the worse it will date. EG Python’s political jokes about Cyril Connolly, etc.
    Most 20th C. comedy dates very badly indeed. Python, not as much , IMO.
    But for me personally I admit that the nostalgia factor does play a role with Python. And for me it is tough to winnow it out, so it may indeed be dated.

  41. I love this story, but I just don’t think it’s true. What Python DVD is #2 on the Movies & TV bestsellers list on Amazon? Look at the list on Amazon – there are no Python DVDs in the top 100.

    The best seller I can find is the Complete Flying Circus, at #817 in Movies & TV.

    Besides, Amazon doesn’t rank sales by “comedy troupe”; there would be no way to find a statistic about how Monty Python’s sales have improved over a period of time. They only track the sales of individual items. Most likely someone at Mashable saw that some Python DVD was #2 in the TV > Monty Python Store category and went off half-cocked.

    So while this probably has done good things for the Python guys, the lack of any actual evidence makes this hard to believe.

  42. Totally makes sense to have clips on the best remembered Python sketches on youtube. Most of the Python fans will already have bought the DVDs, so the best way to gain new younger fans is to have those clips ready for showing 24/7.

    BTW, as those Flying circus episodes were originally filmed in European PAL TV format, I highly recommend getting a UK box set if your DVD player can play them: The picture looks so much better on your new HDTV set without the PAL->NTSC downsizing.

  43. Avraamov@67: No one said Radiohead invented the model of giving things away paying off in real cash. It’s just nice to see. I could have used several other examples but decided on one that could be easily and instantly understood by most BB readers, which seems to have succeeded. Why does my choice of words matter so much to you? Or more to the point: What the hell is your problem and why are you even commenting here if that is all you have to say?

    I leave you with the immortal words of our beloved Antinous:

    You’ve given one of the Five Principal Examples of Unintentional Irony.

    1) Anyone who tells other people to grow up, hasn’t.
    2) Anyone who tells other people to relax, can’t.
    3) Anyone who tells other people to get over it, hasn’t.
    4) Anyone who tells other people to stop whining, won’t.
    5) Anyone who tells other people to get a life, doesn’t have one.

  44. This is a delightful example. I wonder if it is possible to buy these
    DVDs without going through Amazon. Amazon has done several nasty
    things. Can they be obtained direct from the publisher?

    Also, I wonder if they have, or will now, release unencrypted DVDs.
    Now that they release them for download, there is no rational motive
    to keep the Digital Restrictions Management. But if they already have
    DRM, they might keep it from sheer inertia. Meanwhile, with such
    large sales, they may have to reprint soon. If someone could pass
    along the suggestion…

    Meanwhile, if you love these videos, please don’t call them “content”,
    because that term takes the stance that they are just filler and what
    is important is the box that they fill up.

  45. So, am I the only one here who knew this sketch primarily from listening to “The Final Rip Off” audio cassettes, and am seeing the video for the first time, and is all “Holy F— they had Saarinen tulip chairs?!?!”

    Because wow. I knew these guys were cutting edge for their time. But wow.

  46. Just the 23,000% jump in sales makes me want to buy their DVDs. If that many are flying off the shelves, better get them while they last! Reply

    Image of AmishJohn: Meh. AmishJohn: Meh. 01/23/09
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    @Segador: It also helps that the last time I checked, Borders had the box set on sale for $100. IIRC, it was originally $250. jogos

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