Dec 14, 2011

The Joke’s On iTunes

Being funny requires fresh thinking, which might explain why business innovation and comedy have always been closely intertwined.

In the 1920s, Charlie Chaplin pioneered self-production in movies. In the 1950s Desi Arnaz led the way to the modern sitcom format. Today, according to CNET News, comedian Louis C.K. has found a new way to get his work into people’s hands: producing and selling an online video of his show with no copyright restrictions.

He sums it up as follows: “I have a profit around $200,000 (after taxes $75.58). This is less than I would have been paid by a large company to simply perform the show and let them sell it to you, but they would have charged you about $20 for the video. They would have given you an encrypted and regionally restricted video of limited value, and they would have owned your private information for their own use. They would have withheld international availability indefinitely. This way, you only paid $5, you can use the video any way you want, and you can watch it in Dublin, whatever the city is in Belgium, or Dubai. I got paid nice, and I still own the video (as do you).”

Peter Drucker, we think, would have been pleased by such creativity. Indeed, he anticipated it. “In a time of rapid change distributors and distribution channels tend to change faster than anything else,” he wrote in Management Challenges for the 21st Century. “And it is also on the distributors and distribution channels that the ‘Information Revolution’ is likely to have the greatest impact.”

Louis CK

When Drucker was writing, it was “traditional distribution channels”—namely, brick-and-mortar stores—that were being threatened by e-commerce upstarts such as Amazon. Now, it’s Louis C.K. who stands to grab business “rather than sharing it with services from Apple, Google, Netflix or other corporate powers,” CNET noted. [EXPAND More]

This may cut against conventional wisdom, but that’s exactly what makes it so potentially powerful. “A serious cause of business failure is the common assumption that conditions—taxes, social legislation, market preferences, distribution channels, intellectual property rights and many others—must be what we think they are or at least what we think they should be,” Drucker noted in Managing in a Time of Great Change.

What’s your sense: Is the selling-with-no-copyright-restrictions experiment by Louis C.K. an interesting novelty or the start of a big new trend? [/EXPAND]

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