'On the Web, Both NBC.com and LouisCK.com ... Are Equals'

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The comic Louis CK has a dedicated following due to his television show and awesome rant about Wi-Fi on airplanes. So, with his latest comedy special, he decided to route around the established video distribution players and go direct to his audience on the web. He released a video of his work without any kind of restrictions (i.e. DRM). You pay $5 and you get a video file to do with what you will.

The experiment has been a resounding success. When The New York Times' David Carr spoke with him late last week, he already had sold 175,000 copies of the show. "He expected 200,000 total downloads by the weekend, which meant he would have grossed $1 million," Carr wrote. "After covering costs of about $250,000 for the live production and the Web site, that's a $750,000 profit."

Clearly, not everyone is Louis CK. Without an established fan base, it can be very difficult to drive visitors to a given website and get them to give away their payment details. But, the success reminds us of a key factor about the Internet. Here's how he put it:

"O.K., so NBC is this huge company and they have all these studios and these satellites to beam stuff out, but on the Web, both NBC.com and LouisCK.com have the same amount of bandwidth. We are equals and there are things you can do with that.

That is to say, the infrastructure of the Internet means that you can create an entirely new distribution channel nearly instantly that everyone in the world can access. It's not perfect for everything, but "there are things you can do with that."

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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