Why Apple Blinked When Taylor Swift Stared Them Down

Taylor Swift Apple Streaming
Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

Taylor Swift doesn’t exactly fit the mold of the underdog, but pitted against Apple, even America’s reigning pop star can play the part.

Which made it all the more startling Sunday when the Cupertino colossus quickly caved in when Swift lashed out against the terms of Apple Music’s trial period, which would have robbed artists of their royalties for songs in the new streaming service’s first three months of usage.

Hours after Swift took Tumblr with her message, Apple content chief Eddy Cue announced via Twitter that the policy was being scuttled.

When was the last time you saw Apple — or any corporation anywhere near its size, really — buckle that swiftly to that kind of attack, especially considering the source was a twentysomething waif?

It’s rare to see any Fortune 500 company move so nimbly when it comes to counteracting a potential negative shift in the court of public opinion. Commend Apple if you will, though it’s worth wondering why it even came down to Swift’s camp needing to resort to targeting the company rather than settling matters at the negotiation table before this could even get public.

But Apple’s swift reaction may say less about the company’s ethos and more about the circumstances of this particular episode. First, consider the incredible importance of launching Apple Music without the kind of hiccups that could derail deployment.

It’s hard to think of another category that has seemed so vulnerable to the vicissitudes of consumer sentiment than streaming music. Just look at what has happened to Tidal, the Jay Z-fronted service that has seen its launch to market shredded in a piranha-like frenzy — and it was the involvement of many top artists in that venture that was supposed to insulate the product from the very hullabaloo now killing its business.

Spotify already found out the hard way how easily someone in this space can get blown off course from its own much-publicized skirmish with Swift over her own decision to pull her “1989” album over dissatisfaction with the terms of their licensing deal.

Make no mistake that Spotify v. Swift is the conflict that looms larger than anything else over this Apple about-face. Apple can point to precedent in terms of the volatility someone of Swift’s stature can bring to the marketplace, and that incident no doubt emboldened Swift to ratchet up the rhetoric even when confronting the mighty Apple.

Apple doesn’t need any of the noise that would otherwise politicize its own service’s launch. Being perceived as not artist-friendly is a distraction that Cue felt best to just pay away before any real damage could be done.

“What would Steve Jobs do?” is a question many have asked in the era of Apple that followed its co-founder’s untimely death. It just isn’t a question one would have necessarily associated with a negotiation standoff with a pop star threatening to pull her chart-topping album.

And yet Apple’s reversal on its new policy was so unlike Apple that one can’t help but wonder what Jobs would have made of the curious situation in which his company found itself.

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  1. nathillien says:

    Why Apple Blinked?
    Because it was their part of the plot to blink.
    It was soooo clear that all these things with Taylor and Apple would happened.

    Shallow plot but some will still drown in it.

  2. John says:

    We’ve seen what Steve Jobs would do when Apple was attacked by the music industry in the past. Apple suffered attacks from no less than The Beatles for many years. Jobs was reportedly a big fan of them, but Apple was his first love and especially after that nastiness with Microsoft in the ’90s he seemed determined never to let Apple be bullied into submission again. And he finally brought the Beatles to heel around the same time the iPhone came out.

    Given that, and that Swift is an act of much less stature than The Fab Four, it’s pretty disappointing to see Tim Cook cave and let Apple be pushed around by her. I guess it must have been the most expedient thing to do. But it really gets my goat. I wish “Millions for defense, never a penny for tribute.” would come back into vogue.

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  4. Vegan jules says:

    They owe musicians much more than that. They sold millions of ipods full of stolen music. Musicians got shafted, $300 ipods sold like hotcakes. If people weren’t buying laptops, and the latest iphone, they might have bought some music.

  5. Jacques Strappe says:

    Apple Music is not all that impressive. The music biz is so fractured and broken already. The last thing Appley needed was bad PR from pop princess, Swift.

  6. Gary Phelps says:

    After 3 months of listening to her, nobody would want to listen anymore. So I see her concern.

  7. DorothyParkerlite says:

    Methinks this smacks of a publicity stunt for her new album. But I think there are quite a few people who’d be happy if Apple turned out to be a Swift-free zone.

  8. I bet this was all for PR and Taylor and Apple both won. Apple pays per play regardless if it’s a free 30 day trial or not. Plus I didn’t know about this new Apple music program until news of it yesterday and then looked it up.

  9. You know it says:

    F.ierce White Goddess

  10. Scott M. says:

    The voice of one single performer probably netted every other performer at least a few thousand dollars that Apple would have kept; Her 200 words on Tumblr represent maybe the most effective jobs program ever. (BTW, Tumblr is the biggest winner here as the new communication platform)

  11. H. Nelson says:

    I may be wrong–but I don’t think Swift intends to put 1989 on Apple right away, does she? I believe her announcement that 1989 would not be on Apple was separate from her protest about Apple not paying people. I think even Eddy Cue said it wasn’t a certainty that they’d get 1989. So why do so many writers seem so obsessed about Swift not releasing 1989 to streaming services? I guess it seems like a bigger story that way?

    Swift has just been “windowing” her album, just like she and other artists do. She didn’t put Red on streaming services right away. Beyonce is another good example–she didn’t put her last album on Spotify for almost a year. Coldplay waited. “Windowing” simply means that an artist doesn’t release an album to streaming until album sales have dropped low enough to warrant it. 1989 hasn’t even reached the one year mark.

    Now, if Swift doesn’t put 1989 on Apple’s service right away, she’ll probably be criticized, even though she’s doing what she and other top selling artists have always done. But reporters will have a nice (phony) story to spin up. Bring on the clickbait.

    Or am I wrong? Has she ever said she’d put 1989 on Apple right away?

  12. Danielle says:

    Steve Jobs would have come up with something better than streaming and never gone along with the “me too”movement Apple now relies on for it’s products and services.

  13. Jesus says:

    At the end of the day its all about money. She like the rest of hollywood is addicted to money, fame and attention. Im sure she could care less if the unknown band or “indie” bands get anything out of it. When you grow up listening to hardcore music and rock, the bands do things for the fans even if it means losing some money just to get their name out there. Theres not one band i know out there that sacrificed what they made to make their fans happy. Im sure she can go 3 months without getting paid from one of her 100 sponsors, im sure her new designer bag,car,house or whatever materalistic good can wait. im sure she wouldnt last on the road trying to get her name out. At the end of the day this is about her getting her money and getting paid not the other people, so she can stop playing a saint trying to be the “voice” of the underdog.

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