Taylor Swift forces Apple U-turn on music streaming

Pop star Taylor Swift has forced Apple into a climb down over music streaming. But is she going after the right people?


Taylor Swift: if Apple wants her, it has to pay

Pop star Taylor Swift has forced tech giant Apple into a U-turn. Apple is set to launch a new music streaming service, Apple Music, for which subscribers will pay around $10 a month. However, Apple didn't plan to pay musicians any royalties during a free three-month trial period.

Swift penned an open letter, noting that "three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing". Apple promptly backed down. Last year Swift pulled her music from Spotify, another major streaming service, on the basis that it paid artists a pittance.

What the commentators said

Many people who hadn't heard of Apple's new service now have, and Swift can present her co-operation with Apple as a big success. But the principle she stood up for is right. Content available online costs money, and if artists who create it aren't paid, industries will wither away.

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That's all fine, said slate.com's Jordan Weissmann, but this isn't just about artists versus streaming services. Another "equally important issue" is that record labels only pass a small amount of streaming revenue onto artists. Many musicians are still being exploited less by tech groups than those who have always exploited them: record executives. "The more heat Swift helps put on Spotify and Apple, the more she's probably helping take it off Sony, Universal and Warner."

The bigger picture, said Hugo Rifkind in The Spectator, is that the internet hasn't changed the sector the way we expected. It was supposed to "slay the middleman", the record labels, in this case, just as it laid waste to travel agents. Yet while everyone thought singers would end up selling their music to the public directly, instead we've got "different middlemen": first iTunes and now the streamers. Artists "get screwed either way".

Andrew Van Sickle

Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.

After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.

His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.

Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.