Aziz Ansari and others follow Louis CK's lead with $5, DRM-free comedy concert downloads

Aziz Ansari, an extremely funny standup comedian, has just released "Dangerously Delicious," a comedy special that follows Louis CK's Live at the Beacon Theater DIY, DRM-free concert video, which netted CK over a million dollars. Ansari, who was an outspoken critic of SOPA and PIPA, is also asking for $5 for his DRM-free download, and has a very good ecommerce setup for buying and downloading the video, and is also using it to promote an upcoming tour.

Ansari isn't the only comedian who's trying this. As Mike Masnick notes on Techdirt, Jim Gaffigan is also following suit. Masnick laments that both Ansari and Gaffigan are slavishly copying CK's exact methodology, and wishes that each would experiment some with pricing, delivery and so on, in order to learn if there are ways of improving on CK's experiment.

The one thing that concerns me a little about this is the fact that the deal terms are identical. I can understand why they're doing this. It's basically "don't mess with what worked for Louis." But I worry that the message people are getting is "$5 direct offering off a website is the secret." I don't think that's it. Lots of people have offered up a product for download off their website for a variety of prices. The key to making it work is not just the pricing. It's the way the offering is presented. I think it would be even cooler if some of these comedians experimented a bit more with branching out creatively around this business model. It wouldn't be hard, for example, to build on what various musicians have done, and offer up different tiers of support. Or something else. The real opportunity here is in how it's presented -- in a way that treats fans as fans, rather than assuming they're criminals or that there needs to be a big impersonal gatekeeper in-between the fans and the artist. But, unfortunately, some are going to look at these experiments and say "the lesson" is "$5 off your website is the secret." And when that doesn't work for some content creators, they're not going to understand why.


  1. This is a valid concern, but I don’t think it’s something comedians haven’t thought about.  There’s a very recent NYT article  in which Gaffigan and Ansari both admit they were inspired and emboldened by Louis CK’s success, but all three realize it’s not a magic bullet and I think Louis is even quoted saying his next album will probably be a more traditional release.  There’s no doubt that the online format will only be wildly successful for artists which are already well known and successful.  So maybe it will take a less successful artist to come up with an improved version of this type of promotion.

  2. I agree that innovation is good, but who cares if some dummies’ takeaway from all this is “$5 off your website is the secret.”? Worst case scenario is they need to pay someone to do it all for them. I think this qualifies as trying too hard to look for the bad in a really good thing.

  3. The key to making it work is not just the pricing. It’s the way the offering is presented.

    No, wrong, that’s the swindler’s motto.  The key to making it work is offering value for money, the idea is that I get enjoyment from it that is worth the labor it took me to earn $5.  If that happens, I come back again, and bring friends with money.

    “The way the offering is presented” means advertising and marketing, it means convincing people that a wormriddled shit sandwich is what they really wanted for dinner.  That’s exactly what’s wrong with our culture, that we think misrepresentation is reasonable behaviour.  Shortsightedness.

    1. That’s the cynics version. What the article actually means by presented is offering the product the way you would on Kickstarter. Rather then have just one price, have different pricing levels with different levels of the product. A cheap download version, a slightly more expensive one with extra stuff, autographed, book etc etc.

  4. My favorite part was when I paid for it, Aziz’s site fucked me on the download five times, his tech support never responded to my email, and so I had to torrent it anyway.

    1. I am now obligated to say that in the immediate rush of downloads, I recieved not a password but a 404.  His tech support responded very quickly (within the hour in what must have been a very busy hour), and humorously.  I laughed and downloaded and was very impressed.

  5. The way Louis C.K. got five bucks out of my pocket was by being funny.  The precise methodology was not nearly as important as being able to make me laugh and want to do it some more.  Sadly, if the preview is anything to go by,  Aziz is not very funny.  Cute, with big puppy-dog eyes, but I couldn’t muster up so much as a chuckle from the preview and I kind of wanted to, I wasn’t fighting it.   I don’t see C.K. level of success in this guy’s attempt.   I’ll be curious to see how Gaffigan’s effort turns out.  He’s generally pretty funny.

    1. Yeah, well, that’s just like, your opinion, man. 

      Additionally, there’s really no reason that it needs to be as successful as Louis C.K.’s was. I think the guy realizes he’s not as popular.

    2. Agreed.  I hadn’t heard of Aziz so I torrented it (before buying, shame on me). And it’s terrible, unfunny, dirty and uninspiring.  Some good ideas, but terrible execution.

  6. The bigger issue is that people might see this as a replicable model across the industry whereas in fact it is only possibly by those at the very top of their field who have benefited from years of industry support. This model works for Louis (and possibly Aziz, that remains to be seen) because he is a world class comedian at the top of his game, with massive reach and clout. But he was only able to get there after years of development and investment by the middle-men distribution companies he is now bypassing. It’s like saying Radiohead’s pay-what-you-will album sales experiment could be a sustainable model for the entire music industry. No, it works for them because they have achieved massive scale from being on a major label for years, and can now reach the number of fans required to make that financially viable.

    Which leads to the more worrying issue, which is that these artists only got to where they are today because of the artist development and financial support contributed by the Comedy Central’s and HBO’s of the world. Is the middle-man content distribution system fundamentally outdated, bloated, and in need of a complete overhaul in all content based industries? Most certainly. But like in the music industry, there is still a ton of money being spent on marketing support, advances paid on comedy specials and albums, tour support, etc, without which these artists would simply not be where they are today. So what system replaces this one when emerging artists eschew these support networks and attempt to claw to the top by themselves?

    While distribution costs have plummeted and it is possible to reach massive audiences with nothing more than a good idea and a twitter account, the need for artist development and marketing support is not going away entirely. If the existing middle-men aren’t able to recoup on the rare runaway hits amongst the rest of their otherwise failed investments, then they are going to stop investing. A new risk-taking support network with a successful return-on-investment strategy is going to need to emerge to replace them. And fast. Or it will be that much harder for the next rising star to get their voice heard. And its hard enough as it is…

    1. So you’re saying people can’t become famous without corporate interests and they shouldn’t try being reasonable because it will never work for them? 

      1. No, more about pointing out that the internet is not a magic money making machine. These experiments work becasue the artists have an established fan base. It isn’t simply about trowing up a website with a nice price on it.

    2. I think you greatly overestimate how large a fanbase Louis C.K. (or really any comedian not named Dane Cook) has.

    3.  I think you’re overestimating what Comedy Central and HBO do, just like the major labels have overestimated the value of their artist development process.  I don’t think Louis CK was very happy with a majority of his interactions with large media corporations.  While it occasionally gave him a better then average paycheck, creatively he’s not been shy about saying he felt many were disasters because of their meddling.  I think CK mostly states that it was constantly touring, then dumping all the material and starting again, that got his comedy into the place that it is now.  The FX deal actually gave him very little money to make the show, and with that he was able to buy complete artistic freedom.  That’s the opposite of big media offering artisitc growth, he had to accept less money simply so they would stay out of his way.

      Unfortunately, there is still a need for large media corporations in culture.  That’s not what I’m arguing.  I’m merely arguing your point that they are important to an artists creative growth and development.  In fact, artists will be better off when big media has been whittled down to a much leaner version of what they are or replaced entirely by more independent minded middle men that actually get and like creatives versus hacks that look at them as disposable gambles on the road to a large paycheck.

      1. yeah, fair points. these intermediary companies do need to come around to the notion that content is king, and that they are there to serve and support it. this change is coming, albeit verrrry slowly. and it is opening a door of opportunity for a whole new class of independent, taste-making curators and distributors, which is ultimately for the best for the content makers.

        though presumably at a certain point those new companies will all get bought up and aggregated into a new class of bloated media empires who greatly overestimate their importance, and the cycle will start all over again…

  7.  Now I wonder how much the MPEG-LA has or will ask them for the use of H264. (If they cut it with any of the Apple non linear film editor, then they don’t have a commercial license for it)

    1. The royalty payable will be $0.02, and it’s not just an Apple thing: film editing software with a commercial license for H.264 distribution does not exist.

  8. “But, unfortunately, some are going to look at these experiments and say “the lesson” is “$5 off your website is the secret.” And when that doesn’t work for some content creators, they’re not going to understand why.”

    – and neither will you.

  9. It wouldn’t be hard, for example, to build on what various musicians have done, and offer up different tiers of support. Or something else.

    Yes, this a very specific criticism which gives an example relevant to the content being offered.

    Similarly, it wouldn’t be hard, for example, to build on what various fast food restaurants have done, offering up value meals where you get fries and a Coke with your download.  Or something else.


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