For Louis CK, the Future of Content is No Laughing Matter

Judging by the tremendous outpouring of support he’s received across the Web over the past week, comedian Louis C.K. may be the future of how stars create, produce and distribute their content on the Internet.

For Louis CK, the Future of Content is No Laughing Matter

Judging by the tremendous outpouring of support he’s received across the Web over the past week, comedian Louis C.K. may be the future of how stars create, produce and distribute their content on the Internet. In mid-December, Louis C.K. bypassed the cable TV networks and made his one-hour live performance at the Beacon Theater available on his personal website at a flat rate of five bucks per video download. Thus far, the experiment in content distribution has been a wild success, netting Louis C.K. close to $750,000 after more than 200,000 downloads. Yes, people actually paid for content in 2011, even when they had opportunity to get it for free.

What made the experiment so audacious was not the pricing (nearly free), or the lack of digital rights management on the video content, or the payment mechanism (PayPal), it was the fact that Louis C.K. went out and managed everything – from the production of the live comedy show to the editing of the footage to the setting up of the website for downloads on his own dime, using readily-available, off-the-shelf tools. Even when people had the chance to access pirated versions of the show for free, Louis C.K. still got more than 200,000 downloads. After backing out $250,000 in production costs, the show still netted him a cool $750,00. Not bad for a few hours’ worth of work.

At a time when the marginal cost of original content has been driven down to nearly zero, Louis C.K.’s experiment is a reminder: Steward Brand’s oft-repeated maxim from 1984 that “information wants to be free” was followed by another, lesser-known maxim, “And it also wants to be expensive.”

And it’s not just Louis C.K. who’s found a way to monetize original content using personal, DIY distribution tools on the Web. The Wall Street Journal recently profiled Darcie Chan, a 37-year-old environmental lawyer with kids who found time to write after putting the kids to bed, and ended up writing a bestseller that's sold 400,000+ copies, all without a publisher. Instead, she published the novel herself, took out ads to support the book herself, and priced the book at $0.99 to encourage broad-based sampling. All told, the Wall Street Journal estimates that she's cleared $130,000 on the book. Darcie Chan’s model was similar to Louis C.K.’s – the do-it-yourself model fueled by a little elbow grease and a basic understanding of how to reach lots of people very quickly on the Internet. Or, consider Mark Cuban, who just wrote a 30,000-word e-book on business and is now looking to sell it to his millions of friends and followers on the Internet, all at a low-low price of $2.99. 

Which is not to say that the world of content creation has been forever turned on its head and that content creators will now be churning out huge, seven-figure paychecks (ok, ok, maybe just six-figure paychecks) from now on. Louis C.K. and Mark Cuban are outliers in the content creation business, to say the least. They come with a huge installed base and plenty of name recognition.

To think that everyone can emulate the success of a Louis C.K. or Mark Cuban is a bit like thinking that Radiohead offering its latest album at a “pay-what-you-want” price without a major label would upend the music industry back in 2007. (The last time I checked, most songs on iTunes are still selling for $0.99 or $1.29, not a “pay-what-you-want” price.) However, the future for original content creators on the Internet is looking much brighter than at any time in the past 12 months. If you create any type of content on the Interwebs, you have to be asking yourself right now: What’s my Louis C.K. strategy for 2012?

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source:

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source:

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source:

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

Your genetics influence how resilient you are to the cold

What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?

Surprising Science

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Harvard study finds perfect blend of fruits and vegetables to lower risk of death

Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.

Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
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  • The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
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