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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Celebrities Feud and Consumers Win

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I would take a bullet for Taylor Swift without hesitation

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I would take a bullet for Taylor Swift without hesitation. With all the heartache and betrayal that woman has gone through, jumping in front of a speeding bullet is the least I can do.  

This is why the Katy Perry vs. Taylor Swift feud has been of particular interest to me. Not only do I find Perry’s brand painfully contrived and basic, but I just don’t really enjoy her music unless it is being covered by the Glee cast, which it frequently was during the show’s run. While Taylor’s vocals may not be as skilled as Perry’s, she is one of the few who actually writes her own music and is able to tap into emotions we have all felt before in a way that is so vulnerable and human. For me, listening to her albums is a cathartic experience.

But in an interesting turn of events, this feud, which has spanned over the last several years, has resulted in a win for consumers, as is typical when it comes to market competition. After all, when it comes to this particular celebrity feud, that is all it really is, a race to see who can sell the most music and acquire the largest fan base.  

Streaming Revolution

My undying affection aside, three years ago T-Swift broke my heart when she removed all of her music from Spotify ahead of the release of her most recent album, “1989.” Swift has long been an advocate of “musician rights,” if you can call it that, claiming that these music industry elites are suffering from crippling record sales as streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music have dominated the consumer music market.

Music streaming services are not “free,” in the sense that Swift claims they are.

To be sure, physical album sales have been suffering for years ever since MP3s became the new normal. As a millennial, I hardly remember buying physical CD’s before the invention of Napster and other pirating platforms became commonplace in the beginning of the new millennium. As a child, I remember saving up my allowance in order to buy a Spice Girls CD from an actual music store, which only a few short years later became obsolete.

But in Swift’s defense, she did manage to do something no other artist had done; she has continuously broken records when it comes to physical album sales in a time when a majority of her fans have never even owned a CD player. There is something to be said for this, as she clearly has demonstrated her popularity and demand in the music market, but that hardly justifies her stance on the matter.

Swift recently announced that her entire discography will once again be available on Spotify.

Music streaming services are not “free,” in the sense that Swift claims they are. Not only do patrons pay a monthly fee to use these platforms, but each time the user plays a song, the artists are compensated. It is not an exorbitant fee per play, but if, for example, like me you have listened to the Hamilton soundtrack literally thousands of times, that can add up quickly. And I am just one person.

However, Swift has been opposed to this model, even writing a scathing letter to Apple Music condemning the company for not compensating artists enough for the privilege of streaming their music and declaring that “1989” would not be available to stream. This letter was met with criticism from many, including Foo Fighters frontman, Dave Grohl who said:

“Me personally? I don’t *** care. That’s just me, because I’m playing two nights at Wembley next summer. I want people to hear our music, I don’t care if you pay $1 or *** $20 for it, just listen to the fucking song. But I can understand how other people would object to that.”

As a music consumer, I couldn’t be happier about Swift’s decision.Bad Blood, Cheaper Music

But as adamant as Swift has been in her quest to protect artists from being taken advantage of (and to be clear that is to be read with a hint of sarcasm) she has done a complete 180 within the last week, announcing that her entire discography will once again be available on Spotify. Celebrity gossip columns were quick to pick up on the timing of this change of heart, pointing out that Swift’s entire music catalog was being brought back to Spotify on the exact day that Katy Perry’s new album was scheduled for its release on the same platform.  

This was not lost on Perry, who said she couldn’t be sure of Swift’s intention, but that the timing was definitely suspect. From the perspective of a music consumer who, aside from purchasing a membership to “Tidal” specifically to stream Beyonce’s Lemonade album, has been a devoted Spotify loyalist, I couldn’t be happier about Swift’s decision.

I comment often on the consumer benefits of market competition and this current situation is no different. Without competing products— iPod vs. Zune, Hulu vs. Netflix, Coke vs. Pepsi, Backstreet Boys vs. NSYNC—the consumer would not have access to the very best and innovative goods on the market. The need to be constantly improving on an existing good or service in order to out beat the competitors serves only to benefit the consumers. It also is serving Swift well as her older songs are currently outperforming Katy Perry’s new “Witness” album.  

I will be the first to admit that when Swift initially removed her discography from Spotify, I immediately pirated her albums in protest. Now, I will happily delete these files in exchange for the Spotify Taylor Swift experience. Do you hear that T-Swift? Streaming also discourages pirating, but that, alas, is a topic for another time.

  • Brittany is a writer for the Pacific Legal Foundation. She is a co-host of “The Way The World Works,” a Tuttle Twins podcast for families.