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Louis C.K.: Comic ditches Ticketmaster, sells $4.5M in tickets

Louis C.K. is selling every seat in every city for his upcoming standup comedy tour for a $45 flat rate, including sales tax. Tickets are only available through his website. It's been three days, and Louis C.K.'s tour is all but sold out. Is he changing the way we buy entertainment?

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He notes that $45 is a lower price than had been available for his shows in over two years.

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The gambit has already worked, tremendously. Withing the first 45 hours, 100,000 Louis C.K. tour tickets were sold, generating $4.5 million. Tickets for shows at several major cities were gone in a matter of hours, including three Boston shows in early January. 

The ticketing idea came after the comedian found similar success selling his standup special, “Live at the Beacon Theater.” He paid for the theater rental and production crew for the live show himself, then made the finished product available only on his website. Like the tour tickets the one-hour show was available for download only on louisck.com, for $5. It made $1 million in the first 12 days.

The venture was so successful that other popular comedians followed suit, including Aziz Ansari. But it was far from a sure thing at the time. Before Louis C.K.’s success, the track record for entertainers setting their own prices was a disappointing one. In 2007, British Rock group Radiohead made its new record “In Rainbows” available online; customers were allowed to pick their own price. The album was critically claimed and warmly received by fans, but the price many people picked was $0. But C.K. proved that customers were willing to pay, if the price was right.

Given the comedian’s success, which seems to be benefiting both him and his fans in equal measure, are we headed for a world without ticket vendors and distributors? Louis C.K. is, perhaps, exactly famous enough to make this sort of thing work. He’s enormously popular, but still far from a household name. Word of the deal went out first to his email subscribers and Twitter followers, so most of his biggest supporters had first crack at the cheap tickets. It would be harder for a smaller name to foot the initial costs, or to get venues to agree to such an arrangement – something that C.K. admits was difficult. Were he any bigger of a name, the ticket vendors might be panicked enough to take measures to stop him.

But for now, his experiments in direct sales are working for everyone but Ticketmaster. And those of us who missed out on seats.

Editor's note: An earlier version of  this article mischaracterized Radiohead's "In Rainbows" as a "flop." This has been corrected.

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