Last week Apple announced a new and improved Apple Music to somewhat tepid response: it’s mostly nothing new. At $9.99/month for all the music you can stream, it is a lot like all the other services out there like Google Music and Spotify. Yet unlike Spotify, it doesn’t offer a free, ad-supported tier, one which Spotify claims serves as a good “gateway” to paid subscription services. Instead Apple Music wanted to offer three free months to introduce listeners to the service and convert them into paying customers. Yet during these three months, it turns out, Apple planned on not paying the artists and labels. I assume the logic was that if Apple isn’t getting paid, artists shouldn’t either. I don’t think that’s fair but my opinion doesn’t matter here, it’s the artists and labels who have stood up and said that, you know what, they’re not interested. It’s not that Apple is the only service in town and when artists band together like this, they do have significant power.
Right now, as many as 70% of artists on independent labels have not signed on to be part of Apple Music when it launches this summer. I’m not sure how their fan base corresponds with Apple Music’s target audience but given that it is such a large group of artists and Apple aims for mass appeal, this might be a problem. People trying out the service won’t pay for a subscription if they feel they are getting an inferior product. I’m also assuming that many fans will try Apple Music right away so that Apple doesn’t have a lot of time to try and fix this. Whether Apple will cave to the artists’ demands to be paid for music streamed by users during their free trial, or not, will be an interesting decision to follow.
Update: while I was on vacation, Taylor Swift stepped into this debate with an open letter to Apple. Her closing words were: “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.” While Apple could afford to ignore the independent artists, it could not ignore Taylor Swift and the publicity her letter was getting. So they caved. Apple decided to pay artists for music streamed during their Apple Music three-month free trial period, and Ms Swift let them include her recent album, 1989, on their service.