How Taylor Swift Saved Apple Music

4 minute read

When I awoke Sunday, I was greeted by multiple stories about Taylor Swift’s open letter to Apple and its CEO, Tim Cook. In the note, she took the company to task for its decision not to pay artists during an initial three-month free trial of Apple Music, the new streaming service Apple’s launching Tuesday.

Swift wrote:

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.

The letter was polite and to the point. Swift felt it unfair for Apple to use artists, especially up-and-coming ones, to grow its new service without compensating them for it. The counterargument, meanwhile, holds that the free trial could bring lots of free publicity to those same lesser-heard artists. The flaw there, however, is that Apple was asking those artists to make a leap of faith in the hopes of more followers and money in the future — but many small artists live essentially paycheck to paycheck, and they can’t stomach a quarter of reduced payouts.

So in one of the most amazing changes of direction I’ve seen in my 35 years of watching Apple, Swift’s letter — and the public show of support it drummed up — got Apple to change its mind. Just hours after the note went up, Apple announced it would indeed be paying artists for their music during the free period, if at a reduced rate (other streaming services have similar practices).

You might think Swift’s Apple-shaming would be a public relations disaster for the company — and at first, this is how it was portrayed in the media. But in an ironic twist, Swift’s move was wonderful for Apple and its new music service.

Before Swift’s letter, only music and tech industry followers seemed truly aware of Apple Music’s imminent launch. To me, it was clear Apple would need to do lots of promotion to get significant numbers of users on board — die-hard Apple fans might have been good for as many as 15 million users off the bat, but not more than that. Because of Swift’s letter, millions more potential users are now aware of the service.

But Swift’s letter did something else for Apple, too.

At Fortune, fellow Apple-watcher Philip Elmer-Dewitt wrote that “the Taylor Swift effect continues to ripple across the music industry.” Elmer-Dewitt continued:

According to Billboard, two independent music umbrella groups—the digital rights organization Merlin and Martin Mills’ Beggars Group—have dropped their resistance to the new Apple Music streaming service set to begin next week. Merlin and Beggars are long-tail powerhouses. Merlin represents some 20,000 independent music labels and distributors. Beggars, which dates back to the young Rolling Stones, launched the careers of Adele, Jack White, M.I.A.

More artists who resisted putting their music on Apple Music are now changing their tune — thanks, in part, to Swift.

What Swift ultimately did is create a win-win scenario for herself, Apple, and all artists who now have a powerful outlet to showcase their musical talents. Most of Apple’s competitors have around 15 million paying customers. My firm is predicting Apple will have at least 60 million subscribers by the end of the year, as it can ride iTunes’ massive userbase and the iOS ecosystem to quickly amass a strong audience of listeners.

The result of Swift’s letter, then, is that when Apple Music service launches, it will have the richest library of available songs for potential subscribers to check out. And given Apple’s customer base, it could become the most successful streaming music service almost overnight.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

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