Will her refusal to stream for free lose her fans in a growing music market?
Earlier this year, Taylor Swift sold out Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena in one of her final concerts promoting her album Red. But today, Swift’s vociferous fans across China, just like their American counterparts, no longer have free access to her material.
This shouldn’t be surprising: Swift has removed her music from free streaming services globally, telling TIME: “I think there should be an inherent value placed on art.” But in the U.S., at least, there’s a popular option available for purchasing that art. Swift’s album sold huge amounts of copies at physical retailers like Target and on iTunes. But trade site China Music Business makes clear that the Chinese music-listening public isn’t accustomed to downloading music, and that the share of music consumption via download (as opposed to streaming) is only shrinking. In the U.S., Taylor Swift’s desire to ensure her music isn’t streamed for free is viable. There’s an existing music-sales apparatus that people are accustomed to using. Even a star of Swift’s caliber, though, may not be able to sell records in China.
This makes Swift’s removing her music from Chinese streaming services in some ways a bigger risk than her doing the same stateside, not least because those services aren’t necessarily equipped to accommodate her requirement that her music be on a special paid tier (Xiami, an Alibaba-owned streaming service with two different tiers separated by audio quality, cannot do so due to “technical issues”). Another problem for Swift: The companies have communicated almost nothing about the singer’s decision to the Chinese public. (The Spotify-Swift debate that’s still ongoing in the U.S. has as its Chinese counterpart bland statements from streaming services about “copyright reasons.” Swift has phenomenal power, to be sure. But overcoming ingrained issues with a listening public very different from America’s may well test that power’s limits.