In the rollup to Friday’s long-anticipated release of Taylor Swift’s sixth studio album “Reputation,” industry wonderers have been wondering what the latest twist in the singer’s mercurial relationship with streaming services will be.
To recap quickly, the singer returned her music to streaming services in June of this year — at the same moment frenemy Katy Perry’s new album was released — after a nearly three-year hiatus. Swift had famously removed her music from streaming platforms shortly before the release of her 2014 album “1989,” decrying the services’ royalty payments. In 2015, she called out Apple Music for failing to pay royalties on streaming during free trial periods, but relented with Apple Music after a Fathers’ Day 2015 conversation with Apple SVP Eddy Cue in which he changed the company’s policy.
Against a wall of “no comment”s on the matter from reps for both Swift and the major streaming services, on Tuesday Variety conducted off-the-record conversations with six well-placed individuals who are generally close to the situation — and for them, the question was not whether Swift will withhold the new album from streaming services for its initial release, but for how long.
Opinions differed. Two insiders felt that she would keep the window relatively small — one to several weeks — in an effort to keep the album atop the charts: a new U2 album will arrive on Dec. 1, and an Eminem album is rumored to be dropping at some point between mid-November and the year’s end. Streaming numbers play a far bigger role in chart placement than they did even in 2014, and thus are more essential to an artist who, to put it mildly, likes to win. (One insider said that no time frame has been confirmed by Swift’s team; a source tells Bloomberg that it will be withheld from streamers for at least a week.)
A third insider countered that the unusually large number of songs released ahead of the album and readily available on all platforms — four, more than a fourth of the album’s 15 songs — will keep her streaming numbers high enough to fend off competition while simultaneously selling what will likely be the biggest number of downloads and physical copies since the release of freakishly successful Adele’s “25” in 2015, which was withheld from streaming services for months. (However, Swift’s audience is comparatively young and digital-centric and more likely to rely on illegal downloads — the worst possible scenario — than Adele’s.)
Two other insiders felt she’ll withhold “Reputation” from streaming services for several months, as she did with “1989,” to maximize the amount of money she can bring in from physical’s much-higher profit margin (to say nothing of the millions the 2018 “Reputation” tour, dates for which have not yet been announced, will bring in), and trust that her dominance of “mindshare” will keep her chart numbers high.
And one insider opened up the possibility of a last-minute “Hail Mary” — a financial offer for a streaming exclusive so big that the singer simply could not refuse. Apple Music and Amazon are the only companies with the resources to make such an offer even arguably worthwhile.
Only one thing is certain, a participant said. “We’re not gonna know for sure what’s happening until Thursday night.”