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Taylor Swift Criticizes Apple Music for Lack of Artist Compensation in Free Trial Period

Taylor Swift, writing on her personal blog, criticizes Apple for lacking any sort of artist compensation during the three-month free trial period of Apple Music:

These are not the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child. These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much. We simply do not respect this particular call.

I realize that Apple is working towards a goal of paid streaming. I think that is beautiful progress. We know how astronomically successful Apple has been and we know that this incredible company has the money to pay artists, writers and producers for the 3 month trial period… even if it is free for the fans trying it out.

This is not the first time Swift has criticized music streaming services with free trials that can’t pay artists enough (or at all). Notably, her latest album, 1989, is only available for digital purchase and has been withdrawn from streaming services – the same will be the case with Apple Music.

Here’s what Swift wrote in an article for the Wall Street Journal last year:

There are many (many) people who predict the downfall of music sales and the irrelevancy of the album as an economic entity. I am not one of them. In my opinion, the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work, and the financial value that artists (and their labels) place on their music when it goes out into the marketplace. Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically, and every artist has handled this blow differently.

In a media industry increasingly driven towards free downloads and monetization through other channels, I find Swift’s overall position both sensible and a little too optimistic.

Apple’s terms for the free trial are controversial and I wonder if they could handle this differently. It’s not like Apple doesn’t have the resources to offer a free trial for users and make it up to artists on their own. I think Swift makes a solid argument here.

But I want to touch on the bigger theme as well. Swift is also hoping that an entire generation now accustomed to free YouTube videos and ad-supported streaming will somehow rediscover the lost value of the digital album. Nostalgia can be a powerful selling factor, but, in this case, I’d tend to believe that convenience of free services (or very cheap ones) is a stronger motivation for millions of people.

It sounds sad, but, for many, music has become an easily accessible good with no exclusive value – the money is in concerts and merchandising (basically, emotions and memories that are personal, not online). Ask Nickelback (seriously, read their story). The over 8 million global copies sold by 1989 are sadly an exception these days, and most artists are now rethinking what it means to monetize music at scale. Often, this includes using streaming services and social media to find and nurture future concert-goers.

When even Apple is willing to cannibalize traditional album sales with a cheap streaming service that has a feature to connect artists with fan, you have to wonder if the money really is elsewhere at this point.

If only there could be live shows for app developers too.