Blog Post

Louis C.K. and the $5 Download

Recently, Louis C.K. has attracted attention for his new method of making his comedy specials available to fans. Instead of selling his work through a large corporate distributor, he has subverted these outlets by allowing fans to download his specials for $5 on his website: His efforts have been wildly successful, and have opened up a series of important discussions about producer/consumer relations, particularly in light of the fraught relationship of the music industry to artists and fans. C.K.'s specials can be fully downloaded, posessed by the consumer, so to speak, and shared, although he has asked fans not to do so if they can afford the $5. His informal request elicits both a request for mutual trust based on an honor system, and an assumed frustration with corporate media outlets, who often attack fan "sharing" as stealing, up-charge consumers for revenue, and jealously guard accress to creative material and intellectual property.

While his success has raised questions about producer/consumer agreements, as well as the the value and control of creative work, C.K.'s strategy cannot be analyzed without reference to his public image and comedic style. Although most comedians would require a corporate producer/distributor to make a name for themselves, this is clearly no longer the case for every comedian, as C.K.'s experiment has demonstrated. But C.K. is also a particular kind of comedian catering to a particular type of audience. I am left to wonder if C.K. attracts the types of fans (perhaps somewhat older and more affluent) who are more able and likely to honor this informal limited-sharing agreement than others. For example, would Daniel Tosh's fans (who skew younger and more media-savvy, perhaps) be as predisposed to honor this type of agreement? What about more corporatized comedians like Jay Leno or Conan O'Brien? How do perceptions of a comedians' place in the industry, quality of material, chosen comedy topics and genre, and personal qualities, relate to fans' willingness (or lack thereof) to enter into an online honor-system transaction?

C.K's experiment with new and online modes of distribution challenges dominant brokers of digital media content. The appeal of his approach is in its directness, appeal to consumers, and abandonment of traditional media outlets for less formalized exchange based on mutual trust. This approach is not unrelated to the ethos of his comedy, but I am left to wonder to what extent his campaign might affect how large media brokers will relate to artists and consumers.


1 comment

Thanks for this article! I hadn't thought about how Louis's reputation and the demographics of his fans would influence the success of his $5 distribution experiment. I think I agree with you: context is everything.