Taylor Swift has become the first artist in music history to release three albums with first week sales of a million or more copies. (The Backstreet Boys, Eminem, and N’Sync, each did it twice.) Her new album, 1989 [Big Machine Records], sold 1,287,000 units in that time span. (And that’s only counting full price sales and not discounted copies, such as those purchased via a promotion sponsored by Microsoft.) At a time when album sales continue to decline quite rapidly, this is no small feat. Actually, it was a big deal back when album sales were significant: only 18 other releases have managed to sell a million plus copies in its first seven days.
But this historic feat has been practically overshadowed by Swift’s decision to remove her music from Spotify. A betrayal of her fans; a savvy marketing ploy; cluelessness; greed; a show of solidarity for fellow artists; the move from the popular music streaming subscription service has been called all those and more. What it isn’t—to anyone who’s been paying attention, anyway—is a surprise: Swift has made her thoughts on the subject of streaming quite well known, to the point of penning a Wall Street Journal op-ed in that regard earlier this year. Right before the release of 1989, Swift further explained her views, stating she was “not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”
One of the most noticeable aspects of the debate over the removal of the Swift catalog from Spotify is how the vast majority of those opining know very little about how the business works. Swift has been accused of being greedy because she wants cold hard sales revenue in lieu of lesser, but still profitable, amounts she would earn from streaming services. Well, we’d like to know what definition of profit describes a songwriter earning about $100 for a million streams. (Yes, you read right— a c-note for 1,000,000 streams.) And of course there’s that old chestnut “You’re rich, you should let us have it for free or close enough”, an argument that would never work for those seeking products from Chevrolet or Whole Foods, but seems to be good enough to demand of artists. And then things took a turn for the humorous and perhaps a tad surreal when, in a page seemingly taken out of Swift's songbook, Spotify publicly begged her to come back, which she declined. Ha!
Never thought we’d find ourselves siding with Taylor Swift on any matter. But stranger things have happened and so…