You might think Taylor Swift is a hero, but there maybe something more worrying going on…

On June 23, 2015

Following on from last week’s post about Apple, Tidal et al, I’m continuing to focus on what’s happening with this streaming debate. Over the past few weeks, Indie associations such as AIM, A2IM, CIMA and others have come out against Apple’s royalty stance on its new service Apple Music. Statements were made recommending artists did not support the service and in protest of the dangerous precedent Apple was setting by paying no royalties during the 3-month trial period of the new service.

The last few days have been dominated with Taylor Swift’s open letter to Apple, which has apparently made the company backtrack on what was a stupid idea to begin with. While I applaud Swift and her team for coming out in support of indies (she is one!), I also wondered why, given previous comments from industry leaders, this one tumblr post became the power-play that forced Apple’s hand.

The open letter from Swift caused a social media storm, which is no surprise given her 71m Facebook fans, 60m strong Twitter following, and almost 35m Instagrammers. Most media agencies began reporting on what seemed to be a battle between the world’s biggest pop star vs the world’s biggest music store. However, I’m not convinced that’s the case.

Eddy Cue and Jimmy Iovine

As others have also noticed, Swift gave high praise to Apple in her letter, explaining how she has partnered with them on many occasions and almost putting this issue down to a blip. Apple is still the biggest music store in the world, and you sense that even Swift doesn’t want to make an enemy of Apple – much in the same way Eddy Cue’s response has shown Apple doesn’t need an enemy in Swift and her army of fans…

And this is what is bothering me: Industry bodies were ignored, but Swift was heard. Apple recognised that Swift could gain a lot more traction on the issue than the actual associations set up to protect artists. Apple didn’t actually care about indies; they cared about image – and that’s what ultimately made them bow to pressure. The thought of Swift pulling the only Platinum album of 2014 from Apple Music is obviously enough to get more than lip service from the big boys at Apple. But let’s not just stand up and rain praise on Apple for changing their mind; it is only shifting from the terrible idea of no royalties back to an ongoing issue of low royalties; in fact, Apple now makes it seem like a “better” deal. It isn’t.

The pessimist in me says this wreaks of a hustle… Company creates bad service deal, everyone moans about said deal, company teams up with pop hero who praises company but also complains about deal, all of said heroes fans now aware of said service, company improves deal, everyone smiles and buys into deal. 

This is purely stipulation, but it does seem like a win-win for both Apple and Swift, especially given Swift’s anti-Spotify stance. Where Apple bowed, Spotify and Ek simply made a statement saying how they were working on long term improvements but wouldn’t/couldn’t change strategy overnight. Swift pulled all her albums from Spotify stating their freemium model as the issue, adding to the load of criticism heaped onto the company.  Maybe this was just another part of the Apple/Swift long con? Who knows…

Taylor Swift with apple

Whether this is a play or not, there is still some good to come of this. Another competitor has entered the streaming market, which will hopefully see the market evolve in a more positive way. Perhaps more customers will turn away from pirating and move to a legit service. And possibly we’ll hear the voice of indies a bit more, even if it takes someone like Swift to make that happen.

PS. Apple’s new programming language is called Swift. Just Saying… ;-)

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