How Louis C.K. Is Changing the Way We Pay for Entertainment

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Comedic everyman Louis C.K. is a bigger star than ever — the new season of his acclaimed FX show Louie debuts today — but a ticket to his upcoming tour won’t set you back quite as far as you might expect. Why? Like an increasing number of artists and entertainers, C.K. is eliminating the middle man and using the Internet to deal directly with fans.

In this case, that middle man is Ticketmaster. Tickets for C.K.’s fall tour, which spans 52 shows in 25 cities, are being sold exclusively through his website at a flat rate of $45 (including taxes). That’s about half the price of his 2011 show (handled through Ticketmaster) and cheaper than any show he’s put on in the last two years.

“Making my shows affordable has always been my goal but two things have always worked against that. High ticket charges and ticket re-sellers marking up the prices,” C.K. said in a statement on his website. “Some ticketing services charge more than 40% over the ticket price…By selling the tickets exclusively on my site, I’ve cut the ticket charges way down and absorbed them into the ticket price. To buy a ticket, you join NOTHING. Just use your credit card and buy the damn thing.”

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Ticket distributors like Ticketmaster typically tack on 20 to 40% to the price of a ticket in the form of service fees, which are used to pay venues and promoters in a way never clearly explained during the purchasing process. Ticketmaster, now merged with event organizer Live Nation, dominates the sale of concert tickets, having deals with 80% of major concert venues in the U.S. and regularly selling more than 100 million tickets each year, according to The New York Times.

Artists have long raged against Ticketmaster. Pearl Jam famously forced a Justice Department investigation of Ticketmaster’s alleged monopolistic practices in the ‘90s, but no changes to the company’s ticket policies were enforced. Now the band regularly tours in Ticketmaster-controlled venues.

Smaller acts have also attempted to sway the ticketing giant. The jam band String Cheese Incident recently bought tickets from a Los Angeles venue to resell directly to its own fans at no extra cost. They tried suing Ticketmaster in 2003, but to no avail.

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Louis C.K. may be smarter to simply circumvent the company instead of trying to reform it. In his rise to national prominence, he’s been aggressive in shaping his brand on his own terms. On his sitcom Louie, he is the show’s editor, writer, director and main star. His last TV comedy special wasn’t on TV at all–he sold it for $5 on his website and made $1 million in 12 days. Comics Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari followed suit with $5 shows available online this spring.

This new round of fight-the-system entrepreneurship has already gained Louis C.K. lots of press, and some of his shows are already sold out.  “It was a real challenge to find venues around the country that could work with our exclusive ticketing service under these parameters,” he said on his website. “In some cities I’ve had to play smaller venues and do more shows.” He also admitted he was making less money than he would under the “very excellent but expensive” traditonal ticketing service, but such careful control of his own brand may ultimately increase his star power.

The modern entertainer has long been at the mercy of content distributors–those that sell show tickets, broadcast television programs and press CDs. But Louis C.K. has tapped into what the Internet is all about–creating new, efficient distribution models that benefit the producer and the consumer.

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