Apple in Swift climbdown over latest music misstep

Artist protest over the terms and conditions for new streaming service Apple Music has resulted in a capitulation from the tech giant following a public protest by pop star Taylor Swift.

One of the main strategies Apple had for luring music streaming customers away from incumbents such as Spotify was to offer users the initial three months access for free. The contentious move was for Apple to insist that the content owners should foot the bill for this sales promotion by not receiving any royalties during that trial period.

Artists and labels were understandably unhappy with this fait accompli from Apple. Indie label group Beggars Group was worried indies were being exploited, but the mainstream got the ultimate champion in the form of superstar Taylor Swift, who wrote an open letter to Apple expressing her disappointment and withholding her latest album from the service.

On top of Swift’s high profile, the tone of her complaint will have caused a shudder through Apple as it queried the very essence of the company’s attitude to the music business and creative people in general. Apple has always tried to position itself as the groovy tech company that aims to empower creative people and today’s Apple owes a massive debt to iTunes and the iPod.

Eddie Cue, Apple’s software and services boss, clearly recognised things had reached a critical juncture and wasted little time in capitulating by tweeting a policy U-turn in the middle of Sunday night, in which he promised royalties will now be paid during the trial period. He followed up with confirmation to Buzzfeed.

Initial response to the Apple Music launch was muted, with many commentators observing there was little to differentiate it from the incumbents. The trial period was a cornerstone of its competitive strategy but Apple failed to make the case for why artists should foot the bill.

Apple is the richest company in the world, with spectacular margins. It can certainly afford to pay for its own price promotions and when it attempts to nickel-and-dime the little guy it just comes over as an avaricious corporate bully. This Swift cimbdown shows, at least, that while Apple is as capable of dropping the ball as anyone else, it has learned from previous missteps such as Apple Maps, antennagate, etc that rapid remedial action is the best way to limit the damage.

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