Communicator of the Week: Taylor Swift

Legendary investor, Warren Buffett, when explaining why he thought Wrigley’s – the chewing gum manufacturer – was a company worth investing in, said that it was a company that wasn’t going to be damaged by the growth of the Internet.

Buffett backed up his view by buying Wrigley’s for $23 billion dollars in 2008 in a joint deal with Mars. Over the last decade most industries have been affected by the Internet. Largely this has been a positive disruption to open markets and streamline processes but some, such as the music industry, failed to adapt to these disruptive pressures and have seen revenues and profits plummet.

The problem for musicians has always been the challenge of commercialising and productising their art. When Walt Disney promised the composer Igor Stravinsky that including his music in Disney’s Fantasia would mean more people heard his music Stravinsky replied, “The numbers of people who consume music is of no interest to me. The mass adds nothing to art.” Those international rock and pop stars who raked in millions from the 1960s to the 1990s would disagree. 

Now though, with music streamed for free via Spotify, YouTube or Google Play, artists earn a tenth of a cent per play and sales of music across all formats, even digital downloads, fell in the past year. 

It was surely time for a fight back and happily we have had one with Taylor Swift’s decision to remove her music from music streaming service Spotify including her latest album. Swift outlined her point of view by attacking Spotify saying, "I'm 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. I just don't agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”

This is certainly a headline grabbing move that needed to work if her transition from a country star who likes pop to a genuine global pop star was to be secured. It did work to a degree that must have music execs smiling. The album, 1989, in only seven days, sold more copies than any other album released in 2014 as well as being the fastest selling album since 2002.

Spotify responded in a blog post talking about the “new music economy” that “works for everyone”. This is the kind of language that must have sounded good in the brainstorm but looks limp in reality. The only music economy that is working this week is one where fans buy the music of one of their favourite stars in huge numbers, journalists write about this and the artist sells even more. It’s a phenomenon many thought we wouldn’t see again.

It may be a one off or the start of a larger fight back but for now Taylor Swift has turned back time to the days before Spotify and iTunes. For this I make her my Communicator of the Week. 

Communicator of the Week is written by Ed Staite.

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