And Now For Something Completely Different: Monty Python And Making New Money With Old Stuff

Jan 24th, 2009 | By | Category: Commentary, Digital Music, Video

Yesterday’s article, about the newly-launched Vatican channel on YouTube, reminded us of a favorite Monty Python sketch, “The Pope and Michaelangelo,” which we embed here for your amusement.

“Look – I’m the bloody Pope, I am! I may not know much about art, but I know what I like!” Priceless.

It got me off on a tangent, thinking about the different ways in which people and organizations are using YouTube and other new media to expand the reach of their “brand.”

This “Pope” video is on the “From the Vatican” playlist on the Monty Python Channel on YouTube. While their content is something completely different from what you’ll find on the Vatican’s YouTube channel, Python is an excellent example of someone turning a vast storehouse of old content into a new revenue source.

Monty Python took classic old skits from their “Flying Circus” television show, scenes from the “Holy Grail” and “Life of Brian” movies, and bits of their Amnesty International “Secret Policeman’s Ball” performances. They added recent video commentary from troupe members, and offered the entire caboodle for free.

Their reasoning?

“For 3 years you YouTubers have been ripping us off, taking tens of thousands of our videos and putting them on YouTube. Now the tables are turned. It’s time for us to take matters into our own hands.”

The group exercise control over their own evergreen material, and in offering it for free, imply an informal agreement with the viewer:

“We want you to click on the links, buy our movies & TV shows and soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years.”

The strategy seems to have worked. Through the YouTube click-to-buy e-commerce platform, and links to buy Python regalia on, the comedians raked in the big bucks. According to the YouTube blog, the November 2008 launch of the Monty Python channel spurred a huge jump in Python DVD sales at Amazon, where they “quickly climbed to No. 2 on Amazon’s Movies & TV bestsellers list, with increased sales of 23,000 percent.”

Mashable points out that the make-money-with-free-giveaways method is working for a number of businesses.

Trent Reznor released the Creative Commons-licensed [Nine Inch Nails] Ghosts I-IV albums as a free download. The freebie albums’ popularity spurred a boom in purchased copies at, which declared it the site’s best-selling album of 2008. The $300 super-deluxe boxed set (with vinyl LP’s and remixable tracks) sold out.

In print media, authors offer their new books for free (as text or pdf downloads, or, as Scott Sigler does, as episodic podcasts), then reap benefits as reader/listeners purchase their own hardcover copy of the story.

Monty Python differs from NIN and The Dark Overlord, though, in that they are not offering free new downloadable material. The skits on YouTube are, in many cases, over thirty years old. Chances are, most of their viewers have seen these snippets (many times!) before. But that back catalogue of old comedy sketches is really good stuff — good enough to make you want to spend money to have your own boxed set copy.

Makes me wonder: what other “brands” have a treasure trove of great content (music, video, lectures, stories) that is languishing in a file cabinet somewhere? What would it cost them to share old treasures? And what might it benefit them (in new customers, in increased sales, in greater visibility) to do so?

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