Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

7 July 2015

Apple Music has arrived. A week ago today, the company famed principally for its brilliantly designed hardware released a music-streaming service to rival the likes of Sweden’s Spotify. The build-up to this momentous launch took a number of surprising and fascinating turns and chief among them was the debacle with Taylor Swift.

If you’re reading this it’s unlikely you live under a rock so I’ll go over this episode only briefly. Two weeks ago, Swift wrote an open letter to Apple, an “incredible” company she “admire[s] and respect[s]”, to tell its bosses that she would regretfully be holding back her latest album, 1989, from the new streaming service. She did this because Apple had been planning on paying artists and producers no royalties for the three-month free trial period at the start of a user’s subscription. She found this “shocking and disappointing”.

The letter found its mark. In a matter of hours, Swift managed to force Apple, the world’s biggest brand, to overturn its decision. It was the perfect demonstration of the power of celebrity.

Swift has since been portrayed as a beacon of moral steadfastness in the face of a corporate machine that treats creativity as a commodity and the plight of smaller artists with indifference. But – oddly, you might think – Apple has come out of it all extremely well. After all, how many people who might not have ever come across Apple Music were forced to acknowledge its existence because of Swift’s intervention? How many newspapers leapt on the chance to splash a picture of their favourite celebrity on the front page?

For Apple, this is gold dust. Streaming services, it has to be said, have not proved to be hugely profitable. Spotify, for instance, with its 20 million-odd paying users, is still a loss-making business. Some analysts predict Apple Music will eclipse that number by year end, with 60 million users of its own. You can bet Apple’s execs will know how to capitalise on that and the Swift saga may well have helped to raise its profile just two weeks before launch.

Apple Music has now launched and the buzz around Swift’s letter has died down. But in the end, there is one amusing irony to be drawn from this episode. That is, in sticking up for the little guy, Swift may well have helped the biggest guy of all grow just a little bit bigger.

Matt Alagiah is Monocle’s Associate Editor.

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