Apple’s about-face on its decision to withhold royalty payments for songs played on Apple Music during its three-month free trail — mostly thanks to Taylor Swift’s reverent but damning Tumbler post Sunday morning — provides an eTextbook example of how brands need to stay vigilant for the social media snippet that can upend their well-wrought tactics within hours.
“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,” Swift concluded (after having pointed out that, personally, her live shows paid all the bills, thank you very much). “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation,” she wrote collectively.
Before the day was over, Apple’s SVP of Internet software and services, Eddie Cue (@cue), was tweeting that it “will pay artists for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period” and “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple.”
Cue later told Re/code’s Peter Kafka that “Swift’s letter, coupled with complaints from indie labels and artists, did indeed prompt the change. He said he discussed the about-face with Apple CEO Tim Cook today. ‘It’s something we worked on together. Ultimately, we both wanted to make the change.’”
“When I woke up this morning and read Taylor’s note, it really solidified that we need to make a change,” Cue told the New York Times’ Ben Sisario.
Indeed, Swift was just the very public face behind a private battle being waged for several weeks by independent labels and the young songwriters and producers on whose behalf she was speaking.
“As The Future of Music Coalition reports, independent music labels deserve some of the credit for Apple's reversal as well,” writes NPR’s Sam Sanders. “It wasn't just Taylor Swift,” Casey Rae of the Future of Music Coalition tells Sanders. “There was a huge chunk of the indie label community that was simply not willing to let Apple have a free pass.”
As popular as Swift may be in some circles, she is not universally beloved.
“The world's biggest-selling artist is not so much a musician as she is a full-body lifestyle experience,” writes Nilay Patel on The Verge. “You can fill yourself with her Diet Coke and moisturize your skin with her lotions before stepping into her line of Keds and moving to New York, which has been waiting for you.”
Patel analyzes the goings-on and concludes that Apple will be offering “the same fundamental deal … as the much-vilified Spotify.” Or, as the subhed states, the whole brouhaha is “a heartwarming victory for the status quo.”
As Ethan Smith and Daisuke Wakabayashi point out in the Wall Street Journal this morning, Apple hasn’t actually said yet how much it’s going to pay in royalties for the trial period, although it “risks raising the ire of Ms. Swift and others if it comes in with what would appear to be a lowball offer.”
But even some of those critics carrying cudgels begrudged their admiration yesterday.
“There are a lot of things about Taylor Swift that drive me crazy. The rich-kid sense of entitlement. The bragging about the numerous houses. The way her finance-sector parents bought her career. The fact that her machine-made songs sound like a cash register ringing,” writes Scott Timberg on Salon.
“But Swift is one of the few musicians powerful enough to exert pressure — even just the pressure of public opinion — against the world’s biggest corporation.”
No social media deed goes unanswered, of course. Photographer Jason Sheldon has taken the occasion of Swift’s takedown of Apple to applaud her for her stance while accusing her of having a double-standard regarding rights to photographs taken at those aforementioned live shows that support not only herself but also her “band, crew, and entire management team.”
“To cover a performance in March 2011 at Birmingham's LG Arena, Mr. Sheldon said he had to sign a permission form that granted Swift's management company long-term rights to reuse the images and prevented him from featuring them after the initial coverage,” the BBC reports.
“If you don't like being exploited, that's great — make a huge statement about it, and you'll have my support. But how about making sure you're not guilty of the very same tactic before you have a pop at someone else?” Sheldon wrote.
Ah, the times we live in — just a tweet away from excoriation.