Louis CK’s Million Dollar Experiment

Derek is an MBA in entrepreneurship, painter, and bassist for Onward We March, a local progressive metal band. He teaches business skills to artists and writes weekly music business advice for his blog Derek Thinks Music. Got a business question about your art? Shoot him an email at derekmiller5@gmail.com

For those of you who missed it, on December 10th Louis CK released a self-produced, self-financed comedy special for a $5 download on his own website. No restrictions, other than asking you “please don’t pirate this.”

He made a million dollars in ten days, no middlemen required. 

Louis C.K. said he was shocked as he watched the orders come in — and then began to feel guilty about the amount he’d netted.

“I’ve never had a million dollars all at once. I grew up pretty poor and I was like, this is not even my money,” he said. “This is just a five-dollar impulse that 220,000 people had, and now I have it. And I felt uncomfortable about having that much money.”

So Louis C.K. set aside $250,000 to cover the cost of the expenses of producing the special, then doled out another $250,000 in bonuses for his staffers.

He then donated $280,000 to five charities: The Fistula Foundation, The Pablove Foundation, charity: water, Kiva and Green Chimneys.

“I was going to [donate] $100,000, but it’s like blackjack — I just kept dishing it out,” he told Fallon.

That leaves $220,000 left over.

“Some of that will pay my rent and will care for my childen [sic]. The rest I will do terrible, horrible things with and none of that is any of your business,” Louis C.K. wrote in a statement posted on his website.

He’s not the first artist to make a killing without a label, this just serves as more proof that you can make it on your own. Radiohead’s In Rainbows made the band more money than they’ve ever made for a record even though it was a pay-what-you-want record.

1) Direct-to-fan sales mean cheaper products AND more money going to the artists.

For a large company, $1,000,000 is break-even. For a DIY artist, it’s a smash hit. Rembember $18 CDs back in the 90s? Each CD you bought from a third party only returned cents to the band.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather keep my first million.

2) Fans will pay for great art from the artists they love.What with all the shenanigans the MPAA and RIAA are throwing about to justify the Protect IP Act and Stop Online Piracy Act, you’d think people will only pay for art when they’re forced to.


As the video game distribution platform Steam has shown, making legitmate purchase a better experience for consumers opens their wallets.

Piracy is a service problem.

Louis CK allowed you to download and watch his video using any platform you wanted.

He didn’t even bother copy-protecting the video.

He didn’t have to.

“I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one.” – Thom Yorke

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