On Tuesday, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek finally put his money where his mouth is and released some figures about what Taylor Swift was earning from streaming her songs on Spotify. Ek claimed that before she pulled her tracks, the current queen of pop was projected to earn $6 million a year. Yesterday, Swift's label boss, Scott Borchetta, fired back in Time Magazine, where he said Spotify had paid a mere $500,000 for Taylor Swift's domestic streams last year. Spotify replied in the same Time article, saying it had paid Swift $2 million in global streaming royalties over the last 12 months.
$6 million, $500,000, $2 million — how do you reconcile all those numbers? It's pretty simple actually. All these numbers could be accurate without conflict. Borchetta was looking to cherry-pick the smallest possible figure, so he went with $500,000, which is what Spotify paid for Taylor Swift streams in the US. But that's only one of its markets, and it's not even its largest. Globally, Spotify paid swift $2 million over the last year.
How did Ek get to a whopping $6 million? As more people sign up for Spotify and Taylor Swift continues her march towards infinite popularity, the amount she is getting paid is increasing. He took her trend line and ran it forward a year to get to the highest possible number he could quote."We paid Taylor’s label and publisher roughly half a million dollars in the month before she took her catalog down—without even having 1989 on our service—and that was only going to go up," Spotify told Time.
There is a much bigger argument going on here about whether or not streaming services are cannibalizing album sales and digital downloads. Will artists be left with pennies on the dollar they once earned? For the rare artist left like Taylor Swift who can move actual honest-to-god compact discs, there may be a boost in sales from keeping new tracks off Spotify. But album sales have been in a downward spiral since well before streaming services arrived, and streaming royalties are the fastest growing source of revenue in the music industry. There are few people who can swim against that current, and it can only last for so long.