Musicians may have won a victory against Apple’s onerous terms for their forthcoming Music service, but the floodgates of discontent have now opened. Kirk McElhearn clarifies who is (not) getting paid:
Apple, like most other people in this discussion, are a bit confused about their terminology; they don’t pay “artist[s],” they pay rightsholders. They make two payments: one for publishing, and one for performances. Clearinghouses for publishing rights then divvy up their share to songwriters, and record labels let some of their income trickle down to the actual artists. (Except, of course, with the smallest indie bands who actually contract directly with Apple, or any other streaming music service. Most indies go through aggregators, who distribute their music on streaming and download services, and who collect the income and pay it to individual labels.)
So no one – not even Taylor Swift – is saying that Apple is breaking any laws. What Swift is saying, and what I agree with, is that it’s a bad deal for artists. Creators should be compensated for the use of their creations.
This debate is important to app developers because, whether we like it or not, digital music has been devalued – just as our digital creations have been. In just a few short years people have gone from paying tens of dollars for an album, to paying 99 cents for a single track, to paying pennies or even nothing to stream an entire library of music. This parallels in a rather frightening way the history of the App Store where, in an even shorter amount of time, mobile software that once sold for tens of dollars now is lucky to sell for 99 cents. Just as the music industry, now including Apple, has moved to an “all-you-can-eat” subscription model to bring down the per title cost of music below that 99 cent threshold, it now doesn’t seem unreasonable that a similar all-you-can-eat subscription model might be used to allow per title pricing of apps to fall below 99 cents as well.
Not only that, many developers feel obligated to provide free updates in perpetuity for that $0.99, or they risk the wrath of angering their users. Apple hasn’t made it easy for them: there’s no official way to offer upgrade pricing, nor is there a way to offer a free demo of iOS apps.
Esteemed photographer of many artists and bands Jason Sheldon points out that many of his contracts — including the one for shooting a Taylor Swift show — are just as anti-artist [sic]:
How are you any different to Apple? If you don’t like being exploited, that’s great.. make a huge statement about it, and you’ll have my support. But how about making sure you’re not guilty of the very same tactic before you have a pop at someone else?
Photographers need to earn a living as well. Like Apple, you can afford to pay for photographs so please stop forcing us to hand them over to you while you prevent us from publishing them more than once, ever.
It isn’t news that art gets shafted at its intersection with business, and I’m glad that we’re talking about it.1 As it has become easier for artists to make their work known, however, it seems as though we haven’t gained additional leverage over these contracts. It’s good that the Andy Warhol of music is able to influence change for the better, but it’s yet another reminder that a thousand indie artists won’t have the impact that Swift does. It is, quite simply, exploitative, and all parties involved know that.