From Taylor Swift’s open letter to Apple, titled “To Apple, Love Taylor“:
I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company. […]
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. […]
But I say to Apple with all due respect, it’s not too late to change this policy and change the minds of those in the music industry who will be deeply and gravely affected by this. We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.
Good on Taylor Swift. This is a classy act of leadership and a powerful letter. It’s outstanding that she’s doing something that not only helps her, but helps thousands of other creators in the music industry. And by simultaneously praising Apple and the Apple Music service, she maximized her odds of communicating her point and securing Apple’s cooperation.
- The biggest music distributor in the world (Apple)
- one of most experienced music deal makers (Eddy Cue)
- one of the most experienced music producers (Jimmy Iovine), and
- the company with $200M in cash reserves* (Apple)
- negotiated a deal
- where they wouldn’t pay
- writers, producers, or artists
- if a consumer listened to their work
- during a three-month trial period.
I don’t think this is right, from any perspective. The Loop’s headline “Why don’t the top executives at Apple give up their salaries for three months, and pay musicians” basically frames the foolish notion of asking people to forego pay.
Ironically, Apple’s ultimate aim is to *ensure* artists get paid, by leading the industry in putting artists’ content behind a paywall. (That’s a borrowed point from John Gruber, here.) But I think that, in any free trial situation, the party that decides to offer the free trial should be the one paying for it. That’s fair and clear.
And I realize Apple has reversed its decision. What I find disappointing, though, is the habits or conventions that led them to the poor decision in the first place. Basically, if Taylor Swift had remained quite, Apple would have likely continued as it planned. Which brings me to the next topic: PR.
Seeing, now, the type of calculation that Apple made in this deal structure, it’s not hard to attribute a meaningful amount of PR calculation to Apple’s reversal: if Apple hadn’t acted, a number of artists would have likely echoed Taylor Swift’s sentiment. And soon, there could have been comparisons between Tim Cook’s words on respect for privacy and Apple’s less-than-respectful action toward content creators (with this particular arrangement). The fact that Apple has usually acted to maintain or bolster content creators’ prices would have been lost in the noise.
*Update: To clarify, this simply gives Apple the freedom of action to break with past convention and pay for work that’s used during a trial period. It’s not a suggestion that Apple “subsidize” anything other than what it chooses to give away during a free trial.