Elgan: How to launch your career 2.0

What Louis CK taught us about using the Internet for self re-invention

Comedian Louis CK recently produced an "HBO special"-style show, but with a difference: HBO wasn't involved -- and neither was any other network.

CK did all the work and took all the risks. But he also kept all the money.

The project was made possible by technology unavailable 10 years ago. The cost of the cameras, website, editing equipment and other necessary elements would have been far too high in the past.

The special, called "Live at the Beacon Theater," cost CK $170,000 to make. It was edited by CK himself on a regular MacBook Pro. Distribution, which happened entirely on the Internet with a digital rights management-free download costing $5 for each user via PayPal, took place on a site built for $32,000.

That's a lot of money. But the whole project paid for itself in a few hours after the special went on sale. Within four days, CK had made $500,000. And the money is still rolling in.

The most interesting thing to me about CK's venture is not that he produced a special and made a lot of money, but that bootstrapping his own production and distribution gives him control over his work and also more job security. In the past, comedians have always depended upon TV studios, comedy club owners and others in order to make a living. If the people and companies that control access to audiences decide that they don't like you, or demand that you do things you're unwilling to do, you lose your job.

But by doing it himself, CK now doesn't need the approval of anyone but his fans.

In a jobless recovery, with ageism rampant and retirement options anything but secure, this is an important lesson for all of us.

How Leo Laporte re-invented his career -- and his industry

CK's venture reminds me of something Leo Laporte did.

Laporte is an Emmy award-winning broadcaster who created and hosted technology-related TV and radio shows for about 20 years, including on PBS, CNBC and MSNBC.

In the late 1990s, Laporte created and co-hosted The Screen Savers and Call for Help on TechTV, and later a series of other TV and radio programs.

Like just about everyone who creates and hosts any kind of TV or radio talk show, Laporte was at the mercy of the suits, who invariably try to exert creative control and generally stand between talent and audience.

After experiencing disputes and cancellations and generally being jerked around by the industry powers that be, Laporte launched his own company six years ago called TWiT LLC to create and host TV and radio talk shows about technology. (Full disclosure: I occasionally appear as a guest on TWiT shows.)

Laporte launched this venture accidentally, taping a free "show" with some of the people who made The Screen Savers. It was such a hit, he decided to turn pro. He created a show called This Week in Tech (TWiT), which used the then-newish Skype to connect guests and used the Internet to distribute audio and video podcasts, which Laporte calls "netcasts."

At first, the show was a low-budget affair and took advantage of the technology available in 2006. Revenue came, and still comes from, advertising and viewer contributions. But as technology got better and less expensive, and as the revenue started coming in, Laporte expanded, upgraded and optimized his operation. The TWiT company now has about 20 shows, employs about 20 people, and is profitable and successful. Laporte recently opened a large, purpose-built, multi-set studio, complete with a seating area for a live audience. And because Laporte funded the whole thing himself, he's in control of the content.

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