Photo: Taylor Swift's Reputation is the number-one record in Australia. (AP: John Salangsang)
Taylor Swift and streaming? It's complicated.
In 2014, she boycotted Spotify, pulling her catalogue because, she believed, the platform wasn't fairly valuing artists' music.
Earlier this year, she got back in the game. The relationship appeared mended. She even starred in ads for Apple, owner of another major streaming service, Apple Music.
Then, in early November, Swift released Reputation, her sixth album — and left it off streaming services.
Arguably the biggest record of 2017 was unavailable to anyone who preferred to listen to music on-demand, without directly paying for it — which, these days, is a lot of people.
That changed yesterday.
Three weeks after the album's physical release, Reputation is now streaming on Spotify and Apple Music.
The yawning gulf between the physical and the streaming release dates illustrates a couple of things about the music business in 2017 — and about Swift's place within it.
Firstly, it speaks to her power
Few artists could get away with this.
"She's got the power to do that," triple j's Zan Rowe says. "She's got a hugely loyal fanbase, and she knows they will go out and buy her record."
She cultivates that fan base, Rowe says, through her savvy use of social media platforms like Tumblr and Instagram.
"Whoever is coming up with that strategy is quite smart," Charles Fairchild, associate professor of popular music at the Sydney Conservatorium, says. "I also think it's a strategy that is not open to everybody."
Both Rowe and Fairchild liken the move to one by Radiohead, who in 2007 released In Rainbows on their website under a pay-what-you-want model, a novelty at the time.
In other words, this strategy will work for very few.
Those who are not already extraordinarily famous — who have not sold tens of millions of records, or achieved near-unrivalled clout among a generation of teenagers — cannot afford to bypass the streaming services.
Secondly, it's an example of ingenuity
Artists, even the biggest ones, are trying out new and innovative ways of recouping some of the cash they are losing as sales of CDs and digital downloads — the things where people actually pay you money directly for your music — decline.
Some artists are giving music away for free, to boost awareness; others are focussing on unique merchandise.
Swift, for this album, seems to have tried to push fans towards the physical product, selling it in the US with a limited-edition printed magazine and giving buyers the opportunity to get better seats at her shows via a deal with Ticketmaster.
It's particularly bold given her core demographic is going to be largely unfamiliar with walking into a record store and exchanging cash (remember that?) for a tangible piece of music (remember them?).
External Link: The video for Look What You Made Me Do, the first single from Reputation
Lastly, it seems to have paid off
Reputation is the number-one album in Australia at the moment for the second week running. Worldwide, it's sold 2 million copies.
In the US, Swift's Big Machine Records shifted 1.2 million copies in the first week — the majority of that as digital downloads — making Reputation the number-one record in that country by a long way.
"This shows that there still artists out there where the album — the ownership of the complete package — is still the primary driver," David Bakula, an analyst at the data tracking firm Nielsen, told The New York Times.
It was a risky move for the singer, who has confirmed she will be heading to Australia in either late 2018 or early 2019, but it appears to have succeeded.
Still, not everyone is pleased with Swift's approach.
Spotify's head of global creative services suggested the singer's decision may drive fans to piracy. "It kind of sets the industry back a bit," he told an Internet Association summit recently.
So, like I said: Taylor Swift and streaming. It's complicated....Read more