The Taylor Swift pulldown is about free versus premium on-demand streaming


Taylor_Swift_-_1989It’s becoming much clearer what this week’s removal of Taylor Swift’s back catalogue from some streaming music services is all about.

The key point: Taylor Swift is not anti-streaming.

Her albums are still available on Rdio, Rhapsody, WiMP and Beats Music, to name but four services. And as far as we can tell, this isn’t a personal gripe between Swift and/or her label Big Machine and Spotify. Taylor Swift is not anti-Spotify, in that sense.

This dispute is about an issue we’re going to all be talking about a lot more in 2015: windowing, but not just between an album going on sale and becoming available to stream, but between an album being available as a premium stream for paying subscribers, and a free stream for everyone.

So it’s about whether streaming services are willing to make some albums only available on demand to their paying subscribers, and not to their free users. Spotify is maintaining a hardline policy on this – it won’t take an album unless it’s available to all its users – and that’s the sticking point with Swift, as it has been before with some other artists.

This is also why it’s not a sticking point for Rdio, Rhapsody, Beats and WiMP: the latter three are subscription-only services, while Rdio’s free tier is focused on stations – personal radio – rather than fully on-demand access.

Two key talking points for the coming months, then: first, will Spotify face growing pressure to change its policy, especially if more big artists demand it? We suspect that the questioning may shift a bit from ‘Was Taylor Swift right to pull her catalogue?’ to ‘Is Spotify right to fight the idea of premium-only albums?’

And second, how will YouTube’s upcoming music service – especially if it still has an “all your music on both free and paid tiers” licensing requirement – play into this debate? Bumpy times ahead, but a hugely important moment for musicians and the music industry.

As a postscript: it’s still a bit surprising that Taylor Swift hasn’t addressed the Spotify removal with her fans, putting her side of the story. But if the issue here is about paying for music – subscriptions, in this case – she did flag her intentions in advance with her Wall Street Journal op-ed piece earlier this year:

“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.”

Written by: Stuart Dredge