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Is ‘Horace and Pete’ Worth $5? And Who’s Asking, Anyway?

Is 'Horace and Pete' Worth $5? And Who's Asking, Anyway?

Even among the largely glowing reviews for Louis CK’s “Horace and Pete,” there was one niggling undercurrent: Five bucks? Really? It seemed, at least to some, like a lot to ask for what was billed as “Episode 1” of an ongoing series, despite the fact that it was over an hour long and looked more like a play than a TV show. As Indiewire’s Liz Shannon Miller wrote in her review:

“If C.K. plans to produce a full season of ‘Horace and Pete’ and release it in this fashion, that could mean spending in the neighborhood of $50 to 65 to watch it. I don’t know how much it costs to have Paul Simon do the music for your show (and compose the title theme song!), but I’m pretty sure C.K. doesn’t need the money.”

C.K. responded to these concerns in the email he sent out yesterday, writing:

“Okay so let’s talk for a
minute about the five dollars of it all. If you’re on this email list
then you’re probably aware that I always make an effort to make the work
I do on my own as cheap as possible and as painless as possible to get. That’s why my specials are five dollars and that’s why I sold tickets
to my last big tour here on the site, with our own ticketing service at a
flat price with no ticket charges and we have worked hard to keep my
tickets out of the hands of scalpers.  

why the dirty fuckballs did I charge you five dollars for ‘Horace and
Pete,’ where most TV shows you buy online are 3 dollars or less? Well,
the dirty unmovable fact is that this show is fucking expensive. 

standup specials are much more containable. It’s one guy on a stage in
a theater and in most cases, the cost of the tickets that the live
audience paid, was enough to finance the filming.  

But ‘Horace and Pete’ is a full on TV production with four broadcast cameras,
two beautiful sets and a state of the art control room and a very
talented and skilled crew and a hall-of-fame cast. Every second the
cameras are rolling, money is shooting out of my asshole like your
mother’s worst diarrhea. (Yes there are less upsetting metaphors I
could be using but I just think that one is the sharpest and most
concise). Basically this is a hand-made, one guy paid for it version of
a thing that is usually made by a giant corporation.

Now, I’m not complaining about this at all. I’m
just telling you the facts. I charged five dollars because I need to
recoup some of the cost in order for us to stay in production.  

it’s interesting. The value of any set amount of money is mercurial
(I’m showing off because i just learned that word. It means it changes
and shifts a lot.) Some people say “Five dollars is a cup of coffee.” Some people say “Hey! Five dollars??  What the fuck!”  Some people say “What are you guys talking about?” Some people say “Nothing. don’t
enter a conversation in the middle.”

Anyway, I’m leaving the first episode at 5
dollars. I’m
lowering the next episode to 2 dollars and the rest will be 3 dollars
after that. I hope you feel that’s fair. If you don’t, please tell
everyone in the world.”

As C.K. points out, cost is fluid. (“Mercurial” isn’t really the right word, but it’s a great word. Let’s all say it together. Mercurial.) By definition, an object is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. I don’t know what the face value of Hamilton tickets is, but it’s a lot less than the $1,000-plus you can pay for premium seats on StubHub right now. What are those tickets worth? How much can you afford?

Reading into C.K.’s response, it would seem enough people bough “Horace and Pete” at $5 for him to feel comfortable lowering the price on subsequent episodes, and enough people complained about $5 being too much that he knocked a little more off Episode 2, like a salesman offering an up-front discount to get prospective buyers into the store.

Is it worth five bucks? To who? To critics, for whom paying for art is an occasional novelty, often reimbursed, tax-deductible at worst? To people who regularly spend that much on a cup of coffee, or their daily commute? In many cities, $5 won’t buy you more than a pint of cheap beer, though Horace and Pete might throw in a shot of watered-down whiskey as well. Even at minimum wage, the time you spend watching “Horace and Pete” is worth more than the money it costs to download it. (Update: Final cost for the 10-episode season: $31. CK says he lost millions of dollars making the show.)

We live in a time in which art has become tremendously devalued. In the last 10 years, we’ve moved from a model where works of art were largely purchased on an individual basis (or else illegally downloaded in knowing defiance of the law) to one where many if not most people expect it to be available on demand and without restriction for a virtual pittance. A decade ago, $9.99 was a fair price for an album; now, people are outraged at the suggestion that they might have to pay the same amount for unlimited streaming access to the vast majority of all music that’s ever been recorded (and when Adele or Taylor Swift or Rihanna decide they don’t want to throw their new album in the bucket with the rest, hoo boy). We’re already paying for Netflix or Hulu or cable: Why the hell should we have to pay another five bucks for Louis C.K.’s weird little experiment?
The answer, of course, is that we don’t: No one’s forcing anyone to buy “Horace and Pete,” and C.K. hasn’t even encumbered his downloadable files with DRM that might make it harder to bootleg. (You’ll have to live with him thinking you’re an asshole, but you could have figured that out on your own.) But he’s taken a firm stand on the proposition that art — or at least his art — has value, and it’s right to determine what it is. It’s possible he might sell the rights to “Horace and Pete,” or any of the other products he’s made available exclusively through his website, to Netflix or another streaming service down the road, but as Miller pointed out: He doesn’t need the money. So it’s more likely that “Horace and Pete” will continue to cost what it costs. What’s it worth? That’s a trickier discussion, and one that shouldn’t be conducted primarily in the language of dollars and cents.

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