Taylor Swift has just posted an open letter to Apple entitled "To Apple, Love Taylor" explaining why she's holding back her latest album, 1989, from the new Apple Music streaming service. The problem, Swift says, is that for the three-month free trial period every consumer gets, Apple won't be paying artists for those streams. Swift writes, "Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing. I say this with love, reverence, and admiration for everything else Apple has done," and that quote pretty much sums up the tone of her letter. She goes after Apple for not paying artists during that period, but it's also filled with so much deferential language towards Apple that it invites the same sort of armchair psychology that fans usually reserve for Swift's actual music.
"We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation."
But Swift is correct in asserting that Apple isn't paying out money to labels for that trial period. In an interview with Recode on June 15th, Apple VP Robert Kondrk said that this would largely be offset by higher payments down the road. As Peter Kafka wrote, Apple's payments to the labels are "a few percentage points higher than the industry standard."
That's obviously not enough to satisfy Swift, who has also held her albums back from another streaming service that offers a free tier: Spotify. "These are not the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child," Swift writes. Instead, she argues, many artists she knows share her feelings but are "afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much." Swift hints that Apple can easily afford to eat the costs of paying out to labels during that period.
Admiration and respect don't usually lead to fear — and if you'll forgive a little armchair psychology, I'll posit that Swift and the artists she's claiming to represent fear Apple because it's been so historically powerful. If you want to understand the curious mix of strident demands that Apple pull the free trial and the trepidatious expressions of love and admiration for Apple, look at the fact that the most powerful company in technology has launched precisely the kind of streaming service Swift herself has been trying to stop.
Just under a year ago, Swift published an editorial in The Wall Street Journal about her thoughts on the music industry that exhibited a tenuous grasp on the economic laws of supply and demand. Back then she wrote, "Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for." But streaming services cut hard against that grain by making music anything but rare: it becomes an all-you-can-eat buffet, with popular artists like Swift the steak you load up on instead of wasting your valuable stomach space on the mashed potatoes. Swift's desire to fight against that tendency is perhaps laudable, but it's also looking increasingly unrealistic.
About Apple Music, Swift writes: "I hope that soon I can join them in the progression towards a streaming model that seems fair to those who create this music." So do her fans, but it seems very unlikely if that marriage is going to happen because Apple decided to back down on a free trial or decided to pay out money when it doesn't contractually have to. Jokes about Swift trying to avoid "Bad Blood" with Apple are left as an exercise for the reader.
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Correction: An earlier version of this article said that all of Swift's music was available on Tidal, but her newest album, 1989, is not available for streaming on that service.