“A Roughly 31,000 Percent Return”

Fascinating article about Instagram and its recent $one billion sale to Facebook:

At Stanford, [Instagram CEO and co-founder Kevin] Systrom opted to go abroad to Florence, Italy, for the winter term of his junior year, where he focused on photography. A teacher there persuaded him to switch from his Nikon to a plastic Holga that took square photos, a choice that would be echoed later at Instagram. Florence also marked Systrom’s introduction to using chemicals in the developing process, such as selenium toning, which can give photos a distinct purple hue.

All this would ultimately be incorporated into the new app that Systrom and Krieger were busily sketching out by hand in notebooks in the summer of 2010. During the exhausting push, Systrom took a cheap vacation to a hippie artists’ village called Todos Santos, in Baja California Sur, Mexico, with his girlfriend, Nicole.

Read the article, The Money Shot {vanity fair}, to learn how filters became a key part of the app and find out who made that crazy-high return on their investment my headline alludes to…

Via {daring fireball}.

On Louis C.K. & Direct-to-web Distribution

I have yet to purchase Louis C.K.’s new direct-to-web performance, Live at the Beacon Theater {official site}, but that won’t stop me from pontificating. (I’m not completely without my C.K. bona fides however; I listened to and enjoyed his “appearances” on WTF and Fresh Air.)

Anyway, as you probably know by now, the comedian decided to release his show direct to fans, bypassing the traditional studio model where they pay for the shooting of the video, have control over the distribution, and eventually send the performer a cut. C.K. simply paid for everything (a $250,000 investment according to the Times), and made it available on his website direct-to-fans for $five.

It’s reminiscent of Radiohead’s web release of In Rainbows {wikipedia} via a pay-what-you-can scheme.

C.K.’s experiment has already been dubbed a success, earning him $750,000 pure profit (again, according to the Times). The temptation here is to make too big a fuss about this, pointing to this new model as the future of the web and entertainment. No one would be giving Louis C.K. five¢ if it weren’t for his appearances on shows produced by established media empires, a point David Carr {NY Times} should be given credit for acknowledging:

In fact, I wouldn’t know anything about Louis C. K. if it weren’t for cable. I DVR’d his freakishly hilarious series “Louie” on FX, which is owned by News Corporation, and I saw his last two comedy specials on cable. The people who helped build the brand of Louis C.K. might wonder about his decision to go native (digitally), but hey, it’s the Internet: it’s every man, woman, producer, consumer, company and cable outfit for itself!

In other words, it’s great work if you can get it. But we’re a far cry from the day when artist an can support themselves on the web by selling their shows directly to fans. But if there has to be a middleman, I suppose one like Etsy or Threadless is a step up from NBC or Viacom.