Ansari's "Dangerously Delicious" standup special will be available online worldwide for $5 beginning Tuesday.
"It seemed like the smartest way to deliver it," the 29-year-old comedian said. Fans can download or stream the 60-minute show without commercials or restrictions.
Ansari is the latest entertainer to bypass the big guys and sell his material straight to his fans. Radiohead famously did it with their pay-what-you-wish download of "In Rainbows" in 2007, and comedian Louis C.K. opened the door for comics do to the same when he sold his "Live at the Beacon Theater" standup special online in December and brought in more than $1 million in the first two weeks.
(Radiohead didn't reveal sales figures for "In Rainbows", but experts estimate the band collected at least $2 million and as much as $10 million.)
"It seems like this is the thing to do at this moment when so much is changing and nobody's really figured out how to do anything," Ansari said, adding that he was inspired by the popularity of his comedy clips on YouTube. "In this era, the way people consume media, the way people release media has not caught up."
Louis C.K. said he'd go straight to his audience again, and after the success of his "Beacon Theater" specials, would consider selling his show tickets the same way — "keeping my price as far down as possible, not over marketing to you, keeping as few people between you and me as possible in the transaction," he wrote on his website a few days after his special went on sale.
The straight-to-fans approach works especially well for comedy, Ansari said: "It makes sense that comedians would embrace something like this where you have so much control over how you're releasing stuff... comedians are used to being autonomous anyway."
Still, such online success mostly belongs to artists with established audiences, says Karen North, director of the USC Annenberg Program in Online Communities.
Direct-to-consumer entertainment is a growing trend, "but I don't think it's going to destroy the studio system," she said.
"If you have a following, it's great, because you have people to announce it to, people to anticipate it and people to search for you. When you release content, it will be found and purchased or found and appreciated," she said. "Going straight to consumer if you don't have some kind of following is a bit of a needle in a haystack," and time-strapped audiences rely on studios and talent-scouts to curate the endless entertainment content available online.
Like Louis C.K., Ansari funded his production and the website to sell it. By making the special available around the world, he's counting on his fans — including the 1.7 million who follow him on Twitter — to help him recoup his costs. He can even tell them about it in person during his "Buried Alive" tour, which begins next month in New Jersey and continues through the summer.
Profits for Louis C.K.'s online special so exceeded his costs that he wrote on his website that he would give his staff $250,000 in bonuses, donate $280,000 to charity and keep $220,000 for himself.
"To me," he wrote, "220k is enough out of a million."
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