Louis CK is probably the best standup performing today—and I say that as podcast-listening, special-re-watching, club-attending, die-hard fan of standup comedy. But CK is more than a comedian, he’s a director, writer, and producer (who edits his own show on his MacBook Pro) and recently he made big waves with both comedy nerds and tech nerds (I am both) by selling his latest standup special directly to fans for $5 with “no DRM, no regional restrictions, no crap.”
The risk paid off as CK made over $1 million selling the video, most of which he gave to his staff and a handful of charities. He’s been so wildly successful, that Fast Company’s Austin Carr has suggested that he make his website available as a kit for fellow comics to peddle their own videos online.
Comedians have “repurposed” CK’s work before, but just as in those cases, they’d be better off creating something themselves when it comes to online sales. A site that does what louisck.net does—enable visitors to buy a digital download—isn’t that hard to make. In fact, it can be assembled for a few hundred dollars. Here’s how:
Start with WordPress
WordPress is flexible enough to be used for nearly any small business website and a comedian’s site is no different. Not only can WordPress serve as a means to sell a video, but it can serve as a comedian’s blog, a schedule of standup dates using a plugin like Modern Tribe’s Events Calendar, or host a podcast using a plugin like Podcasting Plugin by TSG. To see WordPress serving up comedy in all forms, check out Nerdist.com, the hub of Chris Hardwick’s ever-expanding comedy empire.
Add WP e-Commerce
If you head over to GetShopped.org you can download WP e-Commerce for free. For zero dollars American (or zero Yen, Euros, or even Moldovan leu) you can install this little bit of code in minutes and have an online store capable of receiving payments via PayPal or Google Checkout—or pay $40 to get over a dozen other payment options including taking credit cards directly via gateways like Authorize.net. WP e-Commerce also supports selling digital goods (like a video of a standup special) out of the box. Free stuff like this is why the WordPress community is so awesome.
Brace for Impact with Amazon’s S3 and Cloudfront
If you expect CK-levels of traffic, you’ll need to beef up your hardware. But even the most beastly web server is going to offer poor performance when a quarter million people try to download 1.37GB high-def video file like Live at the Beacon Theater. Amazon’s S3 (Simple Storage Solution) solves this problem by giving you all the server power you could ask for. Combine that with Amazon’s CloudFront, and you’ve got content delivery power on par with iTunes…or well…Amazon. To make things drop-dead simple, WP e-Commerce has an Amazon S3 plugin that makes this whole thing automatic for a whopping $45.
Let’s add that up. WordPress costs nothing and neither does WP e-Commerce, so we start at $0. You’ll probably want to budget $30 to $75 for a premium theme to make the site look cool, but let’s just round up to $100. Promote your gigs with the pro version of Events Calendar for $50. Give yourself over a dozen payment options with WP e-Commerce’s Gold Cart Plugin for $40 and then plug in to Amazon’s server firepower for an additional $45. So far our development bill is at $235.
Most comedians aren’t going to do this themselves, but a web design shop (like ReadyMadeWeb) could put this together for a few thousand dollars, maybe even less given the relative simplicity of CK’s “Buy the Thing” approach. A few road gigs ought to cover that.
The real cost of something like this is in hosting, with the lion’s share going to serving up the movie itself through Amazon’s S3 and CloudFront. I punched in 220,000 downloads of 1.37GB (that’s 300 terabytes) into the S3 calculator and it told me that serving up Live at the Beacon Theater would have run just shy of $20k. Add CloudFront—which delivers faster downloads—and you double the bill to almost $40k. That’s a big hosting bill, but at $1 million in revenue, this method of distribution costs only 4% of gross. I’m guessing that’s a little less than HBO’s typical cut.
So CK doesn’t need to get into the web software business as Carr suggests. The kit is already available, and it’s stupid cheap.