Friday, December 16, 2011

"It's all about being direct" - Louis CK

It's being called a "milestone" event.  Last Saturday, comedian Louis CK released a special offer through his web site.  He posted 81 tweets that day, engaging everyone who said something about what he was up to, and another 23 tweets over the next week.  His Reddit thread created thousands of comments.

His offer:  for $5, anyone could download a live performance, could burn their own DVDs, watch it on any device, no app required.  Famously, he appealed to torrent freaks to not steal his work, and after four days he issued a statement about "the experiment".

He explained in later interviews that he wanted to make his performance more affordable. By selling direct he could rely on his own voice to reach his audience.  He even let people download DVD cover art so they could create their own DVDs (scrub to 2 minutes into this video to see him pitch the deal to Jay Leno).

What's at play here is an entirely new cost structure that puts unprecedented powers into the hands of media creators.  Louis CK's 788,000 twitter followers spread his message so effectively he sold 160,000 units within 5 days.  He declared a profit of $200,000 after only four days and others have analysed his costs.  At the same time his twitter following grew by over 10% to 828,000.

The purchase and delivery system used for this experiment holds some remarkable similarities to the Bitmenu design.  It does not require users to create an account or supply financial information.  Buyers can download their file immediately after their purchase goes through.

We expect this experiment to generate more tests and to ultimately alter how media creators bring their work to market.  Some are calling it the "Louis C.K. Window":

"The new twist here is the way his experiment changes video “windows” — which determine when shows and movies show up on different outlets. By going direct-to-fan first, C.K. doesn’t shut off his chance to end up working the Big Media Companies... he’s just making them wait. So the people who really love him can get it right away, and he can capture almost all of that value in the transaction."

In the words of Louis CK:

"Please bear in mind that I am not a company or a corporation. I'm just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea. I can't stop you from torrenting; all I can do is politely ask you to pay your five little dollars, enjoy the video, and let other people find it in the same way."


On December 21, Louis CK posted another statement along with a screen shot of his PayPal balance:  One million dollars.  He will donate as much to charity as he keeps for himself.

His twitter following has grown to over 890,000.

From his statement:

"hi. So it's been about 12 days since the thing started and yesterday we hit the crazy number. One million dollars. That's a lot of money. Really too much money. I've never had a million dollars all of a sudden. and since we're all sharing this experience and since it's really your money, I wanted to let you know what I'm doing with it. People are paying attention to what's going on with this thing. So I guess I want to set an example of what you can do if you all of a sudden have a million dollars that people just gave to you directly because you told jokes."

UPDATE 3/3/2012:

Advertising Age reviews the Louis CK experiment and suggests creators engage audiences on their platforms of choice, such as Reddit or Twitter:

"The strategy has already yielded one copycat that's had the unintended effect of showing how deft C.K.'s touch was. This month, comedian Jim Gaffigan announced his own $5-a-pop comedy special, with a dollar from each sale going to a charity for wounded veterans. You've gotta love the thought, but announcing it on 'a personal media-management platform' called Whosay? That's not cool."

Monday, December 5, 2011

An Observation on Monetizing through Social Media

In another group that I read and occasionally post to, the question came up about charging for a service or content vs. using ad revenue.

The site discusses financial information and has a lively conversation. It's been free for some time, but the operator is now asking for donations. This was my reply, aimed at the proprietor of the web site:

"My $0.02 on ads vs. pay. I've been in the digital media payment/social network business for the past 4 years. As you experienced, ads only pay significantly at very large scale, like >1M uniques per month. 

"For smaller scale, catering to very devoted 'fans' if you will, it is much better if you have a paid site. The critical caveat is that there must be continuous engagement by, in the words of Hollywood, the 'talent'. In this case, the talent is you. 

"IMHO, this is why business is slow to embrace social media in a conversational way: the one-to-one or one-to-few (less than a thousand) nature of the conversation. When you get above a thousand or so active participants, you hit a ceiling. As you have seen, even if only a small % of the 1,000 people ask questions or start a conversation and expect an answer, it's overwhelming. This, of course, quickly overloads the talent, as you are experiencing. Some sites hire ghost writers to pen the writings, like Oprah and many other large social graph celebrities. But I doubt that's your style or strategy.

"It's been shown that the predominant digital products/site access services men pay for (not necessarily in order), is financial info, entertainment, health info, a passion (music, guitar playing, sports, etc.) and of course, adult. But financial info is the #1 for men, above all else."

At Bitmenu, we've noticing more social media experiments being put in place by large corporations and see that only a few are scaling up. For our sellers, paid services offset the costs associated with managing social media engagement. In addition, a continual flow of new for-pay promotions establishes the seller's authoritative voice and trust with a discerning audience. Finally, social media conversations carry these offers to new markets.

The benefit of selling premium content to a core audience:  offset social media engagement costs, increase brand trust and authority, and grow your base.