Last Saturday comedian Louis CK released his latest special, “Live at the Beacon Theater,” exclusively on his website as a livestream and digital download. Within days, he had sold over 100,000 copies and the tech/media blogosphere were quick to write the usual boilerplate posts about how this was revolutionizing the future of sharing/shopping/listening/watching as we know it. Louis had circumvented the “evil” of iTunes/Amazon and the giant media companies, and created something for himself.
What many of these publications ignored in their final analysis was the most important reason Louis sold so many copies in such a short time: he is one of the most popular and respected comedians of our time. That is not a reputation you can manufacture overnight. If the product wasn’t worth the consumers’ time, then he might not have sold 10 copies. Even if he hadn’t released outtakes for free on YouTube, or received Twitter cosigns from other famous comedians, most people who bought the special knew what they were going to get. The comedy of Louis CK is reliable.
When marketers choose to promote a specific product or brand, they need to ask themselves if their efforts are worthwhile. Does it make sense to spend time and energy pushing something that will ultimately disappoint consumers? Trust is an important piece of the sales cycle. Another aspect of trust is respect for consumers’ privacy and property. This is part of what drives people away from the big media companies. Price being equal, a direct, unrestricted download/livestream from a comedian’s website might be more appealing than a limited download from iTunes or Amazon, considering that a larger percentage of the profits go directly to the artist. Buying this special from the website was simple (just a couple clicks) and allowed consumers to purchase the special without ever having to enter a password, as the site incorporated Paypal without requiring a sign in for the payment service.
What Louis CK did was special, for a few reasons. One, it made consumers feel empowered by offering a low price and an attractive, alternative distribution method while still maintaining a profitable model. Radiohead tried an independent distribution strategy with their 2007 release “In Rainbows,” when they allowed consumers to pay whatever they thought the album was worth. Judging from the profits and reviews, critics certainly thought much higher of the album than purchasers. Credit to the band for trying something new, but Louis is showing that it is possible to be just a little more pragmatic without losing the spirit of the enterprise.
The second reason this release was notable was the clear path from social sharing to action (in this case, purchasing). As of this writing, the special’s web page has 32,000 Facebook likes and over 12,100 people have Tweeted directly from an application embedded in the page. These numbers do not take into account all the other times this site was linked or discussed on countless social pages. Louis made it really EASY to buy the special. This allowed him to take advantage of existing networks to spread the word and, the simple call to action.
Lastly, Louis did not abandon traditional techniques. He put out teaser “outtakes” videos (to encourage sampling) and he pounded the late night talk show pavement to promote the film. He included personalized messaging on the website that sounded like something Louis CK the person would actually say. Even his email marketing was done in his own unique style. Real innovation in marketing, technology or any other industry is a combination of experimentation and relying on proven techniques.
Nathaniel Grimes is the Business Development Coordinator at GY&K. Connect with him on Twitter: @Nathaniel_g