Business Musings: Why I Love Taylor Swift

I love Taylor Swift, and I’m not afraid to admit it. It’s not just because her song “Shake It Off” accompanied me on my daily run during those tough days earlier this year when my world got infiltrated by haters. (Swift wrote the song with Max Martin and Shellback as a response to the criticism she constantly receives.) “Shake It Off” reminded me that I’m better off writing than I am worrying about people who aren’t worth my time.

Here, let me share the song. Take a listen, even if you don’t like Swift. Whenever you feel like weighing in when someone is wrong on the Internet, a listen to this might make you feel better.

But that’s not why I love Taylor Swift this week. This week, I love her because she knows she’s an 800-lb gorilla and she’s not afraid to use her status in the industry to fight for other artists.

If you run away from the mention of Taylor Swift, or you don’t listen to music news or you’re living under a rock, here’s what happened (the short version).

At the end of June, Apple will debut a new streaming service. Customers will receive the first three months free. And, on June 17, a website called Digital Music News, got their hands on the contract, and printed it in its entirety.  The short lead-in to the contract points out that rights holders would receive no income during that free trial period.

That’s right. If independent artists or music labels signed with Apple’s new streaming service, then Apple would not pay them for three months, no matter how much music was downloaded.

Streaming music and royalties are a major, major issue in the music business, and this was just one more major insult. The reaction to this contract reveal happened fast and it was firm.

Organizations from Beggars Group (which handles artists like Radiohead and Adele) to the German Association of Independent Music Companies wrote official letters of complaint to Apple. So did a ton of indie music artists. I’ve been having trouble finding their names, because the media, even the independent music media, doesn’t seem to care much when indies protest.

The protests got louder and louder, with the business press picking up the news. The Business Insider even had a headline that should have sent shivers down the back of any artist considering signing with Apple’s new service: Independent labels aren’t signing up for Apple Music because they fear it will put them out of business.

No traction. None. Apple didn’t seem to pay any attention at all.

Writers should recognize this: Take it or leave it, the big publishers often say. We don’t really care.

And indie writers should also recognize this as well. Google Play is saying the same thing to writers, after tanking a bunch of bestselling books by suddenly offering them for free. Part of the terms of service lets Google set prices, after all, and Google knew that Amazon price-matched. So by making the bestsellers free, Google took revenue from Amazon and from writers. Then told writers that they can’t change the policy. Take it or leave it, suckers.

Back on the music side…

Enter Taylor Swift. All 800 lbs. of her.

Why do I love this woman? Because she knows she runs a business. She’s mentioned this before, she acts on it all the time. And this time? She decided to step into the Apple controversy—hard.

She didn’t give an interview, she wrote an open letter. You can see the full text here, and you should read it because I’m going to discuss it below. 

First, though, let me give you the upshot. The moment the 800-lb gorilla and her 59.4 million Twitter followers weighed in, so did the international media—not just the business media, but everyone, from the celebrity news sites to the old-fuddy evening newscasts in the US to the major news publications. Everyone.

Suddenly, Apple seemed small, and they caved, almost immediately, citing Swift. It helped that Swift (and her people) knew how to put juicy bite-sized quotes into the letter, including this one:

We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.

Yeah, that’s the one, the one that I love. Because it encompasses exactly how an artist should approach her business partners in all relationships.

Imagine if writers took the attitude that Swift has here. I like you, she says to Apple. I love some of the things you’re doing, but what you’re asking of artists is not something you would do yourself.

Imagine if writers took the terms in a traditional publishing contract, like a do-not-compete, and demanded the same terms for their publishers. That means that publishers who want to publish a vampire romance series can’t publish any other vampire romance. See how stupid those non-competes are? Yet writers sign them all the time.

Swift addresses the fear that artists have of speaking out in this little paragraph:

These are not the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child. These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much.

A lot of writers are afraid to speak publically against their publishers. Even more writers are terrified to ask to be treated like any other business person because they’re afraid they’ll get blackballed or lose what tiny deal they have or…most likely, they see themselves as “artists” and not as business people, so why should they make waves?

Swift spoke for a lot of artists, because she knew she can do so without harming her relationship with Apple. But here she’s talking about speaking publicly.

I’m talking about speaking privately. If someone offers you a deal that makes your stomach twist, apply logic. Ask yourself this:

If you reverse the request, would the company accept your demand? Like Swift and the iPhones. Would Apple give its business partners to give away free iPhones during a trial period designated by the business partners (and not pay for those phones)? Of course not. So why should artists—just because they’re artists—be any different from any other business?

The key here, people, isn’t to mistrust your business partners or even to treat them badly. It’s to treat them as equals.

And note what I’m saying: You must treat them as equals in your deal. You have to demand the respect. You do. Because no one else will.

Yes, writers do speak out for each other. But right now, in our field anyway, we don’t have 800-lb gorillas like Taylor Swift. Our biggest gorillas don’t make the national news when they sneeze. It’s a difference of scale.

So don’t expect someone else to jump into the ring for you. Your agent? (Why do you still have an agent?) Your agent has a different agenda than you do, and will often balk at negotiating something that you want. Your editor? Your editor works for the publisher. Some famous writers? They have issues of their own (and, right now, many famous writers have no clue what indie writers are going through).

Stand up for yourself. You don’t have to do it publicly. Most of the groups I cited early in this piece had already decided not to do business with Apple on the early days of the streaming service. No matter what happened, it would have hurt their revenue. (Apple is to digital music what Amazon is to digital books [in the US, anyway].) But the artists were willing to make the choice to pull out of Apple if necessary, while fighting the new policy.

You need to make hard choices for your own career.

But you also have to respect your own business.

Stand up for yourself always, always when it comes to your writing business.

Don’t accept deals that are bad for you. Just don’t. Explain why you can’t. Negotiate a better deal. If you can’t negotiate a better deal, walk away.

Yeah, sometimes it’ll cost you. Sometimes your stance will make a difference to others (like it did when Swift stepped in). Mostly, it’ll only make a difference to you.

But I’ve discovered that whenever I’ve stood up for myself and it seemed like the decision was going to hurt my bottom line, the decision ended up being the best decision I could have made.

It’s hard to see in the moment. But it becomes clear in hindsight.

Make this phrase your own. (I tweaked it for publishing and then added two more sentences.)

Please don’t ask me to provide you with my writing for no compensation.

Don’t ask me to make choices that harm my business just to help yours.

Don’t.

Got that? Good.

I’m back blogging, even though it’s beautiful and sunny and I want to play outside or return to my short story in progress and/or finish the audio book I’m narrating and/or keep reading on the new women in science fiction project.

I put the blog up for free, but donors are the ones who are compensating me. If there aren’t enough donors, I will take another break. Last week’s post went viral, but the donations were way down.

So…if you learned something in the past month or enjoyed this blog, please leave a tip on the way out. Thanks!

Click Here to Go To PayPal.

“Business Musings: Why I Love Taylor Swift,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.




16 responses to “Business Musings: Why I Love Taylor Swift”

  1. Bruce says:

    Kris wrote…”indie writers should also recognize this as well. Google Play is saying the same thing to writers, after tanking a bunch of bestselling books by suddenly offering them for free. Part of the terms of service lets Google set prices, after all, and Google knew that Amazon price-matched. So by making the bestsellers free, Google took revenue from Amazon and from writers. Then told writers that they can’t change the policy. Take it or leave it, suckers.”

    I asked Google about their pricing, and to be fair, I think we have to look at both sides. It wasn’t (or should not have been) the author losing anything via Google, since they still get their share no matter how much Google discounts:

    “Google and its Authorized Resellers may discount the List Price and the Bundled Price at their sole discretion. This sale price was set in accordance with the Google Editions Addendum to which you agreed, per Paragraph 3.4 regarding pricing options. Please note that the revenue share you receive will be based on the list price that you provided, regardless of any discounting Google may apply.”

    Yes, Amazon matched at zero but at least Google did pay the author what they were supposed to.

    The other ‘hinting’ going around has been about Google and plagiarism, not necessarily at this site, but in other places. So I asked them about that as well, and this was their response:

    “For your concern regarding Plagiarism/ Copyright Infringement, I would like to share with you that we host all book content on our secure servers. We disable the print, cut, copy, and save functionality on all preview pages displaying book content, in order to protect your material. If you sell books on Google Play, you can choose to apply DRM (Digital Rights Management) to your eBooks. Moreover, we respond to clear notices of alleged copyright infringement. We remove or disable the access to material claimed to be the subject of infringing activity and/or terminate subscribers.”

    The most important thing here is to be fully informed and then make your decisions based on that.

    • I don’t get your point, Bruce. I always tell people to be informed.

      I didn’t say that Google failed to pay. I’m saying that they triggered a price-match on Amazon by taking titles that were selling well on Amazon, and pricing those titles at $0. Amazon price-matched, and those books that were earning thousands of dollars for the authors on Amazon suddenly stopped earning. Right now, Google Play will not negotiate its terms of service. So if you put a book there, and it’s also on Amazon, you run the risk of the same price-matching behavior. Since Amazon still sells more books than Google Play, the risk is not worth the reward.

      Many writers are trying/have tried to negotiate this one clause from the TOS, and are failing so far. I am not hinting. Right now I am saying that as long as this is part of Google Play’s TOS, the risk of going with Google Play is not worth the extra readers. Too bad, too, because I would dearly love to have books on Google Play. (Outside of my trad pub titles.)

  2. robinbrande says:

    I’ve always admired Taylor Swift’s business sense. She walked away from a trad music label when she was 16 because they only wanted her to do covers of other artists and not her own music. She knew better what she could do and what her fans would want. Very ballsy move at a young age, and she keeps on asserting herself. Very powerful example for other artists and for young women.

    Speaking of which, Kris, have you watched her new video BAD BLOOD? Talk about power! If you haven’t seen it yet, I suspect you’re going to love it.

  3. Lurkertype says:

    Also, she has awesomely-named adorable cats.

  4. Alan Spade says:

    Am I dreaming? A blog post of less than 3,000 words by you, Kris? I hope you don’t feel too much guilty. 😉 Just kidding, never mind.

    In France, a publisher that you know, Bragelonne, has opted in Kindle Unlimited for some books (I noticed some Robert Jordan’s translations in French) since the recent change Amazon made with the payment rules in KU. That’s very rare among publishers in France.

    Fine for their authors. Fine for Amazon and Bragelonne.

    But the publishers are not submitted to exclusivity if they opt in for Kindle Unlimited, as indie authors are.

    My reaction on Facebook: that’s double standards. We indie authors are not Amazon’s hirelings, or flunkies.

  5. Bob Mayer says:

    I always go back to Harlan Ellison’s Pay The Writers video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE
    I also find it strange when people who have no dog in the hunt feel free to write blogs about other people’s situation. When trad authors start talking about KU it seems weird and pay per page. But everyone’s an expert apparently.

  6. Stephen Gradijan says:

    Yet another wonderful post; thank you.

    Is Google’s motto still “Don’t Be Evil”? If so, they should be ashamed of themselves. In fact, they should be ashamed of themselves anyway.

    Maybe I will start using Bing instead, although I am not a fan of MS either….

    Thank you for crafting another insightful gem. I am not a writer (yet…I am procrastinating), but if I ever do get around to trying my hand at writing, then at least I will go into it with clear eyes thanks to a large degree to your writing here.

  7. jrmurdock says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Taylor with regards to artists getting paid. I applaud her for standing up to both Apple and Spotify.

    I disagree with the latest article about contracts Taylor makes photographers sign stating “if all the rules are not followed for photography during an event, {Taylor’s company} reserves the right to destroy the equipment used to take the photographs.”

    This seems a little excessive. Just my opinion. There were a lot more complaints about rights and usage of the photographs that was also disturbing, but the destruction of personal property…can’t agree with that one.

    • Remember that in addition to being a musician, Taylor Swift is a brand. I’ve seen the agreement. It’s harsh, and yet, the Swift camp repeatedly says it will negotiate. Remember, Apple was not negotiating. They had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

      When I signed an agreement licensing me to write a book in the Star Wars universe, the contract was harsher than anything I would ever sign for my original writing. When you take a photo of Taylor Swift, you’re playing in the Taylor Swift Universe. I’m not defending the camera clause, but I understand it, given technology right now. You might be able to take out the SD card and still keep the image.

      What Swift did with Apple was negotiate a better agreement for all artists. If photographers don’t like Swift’s model release (which is what this is), then they can negotiate (which the Swift camp says they will do) or they can not take photos of Taylor Swift.

      • It is trivial to have your images transmitted to the cloud in nearly real time. Even if you’re shooting high-res stills, all you need is another cell phone stashed on your person (or your friend’s) and a Bluetooth interface. Cops and security guards who take cameras, or even smash them, are doing nothing but punishing slow movers and demonstrating their willingness to act like goons.

  8. Vera Soroka says:

    Great post! I admired what Taylor did. I listen to some of her music but not a fan over all. It’s unfortunate that Apple won’t listen to the artists. Companies like Apple just don’t care. They only care when their pockets get hurt and it would have hurt if she withheld her album. Money talks.
    The big name writers are not fighting for better contracts because they already have the contract they want. They aren’t going to speak for others. I never seen a Patterson or a King stand up and demand better contracts for writers. It seems to be a different beast.

  9. I think writers are their own worst enemy. They’re so afraid of not getting published that they sign anything just for the chance and won’t rock the boat.

    About 7 years ago, I walked out on a co-writer and the book we had co-written. It had been in submission to agents at the time. It was hard and painful and the right thing to do. As we’d gotten into the submission part, my cowriter had locked up with fear (which I didn’t realize until Dean pointed that out). He initially tried to sabotage the submissions process by stalling and dragging his feet. When that didn’t work, he started picking fights with me. If I tried to avoid the fight, it would get nastier and more personal. One day, I started wondering what would happen if we actually got accepted by an agent, and I didn’t like what I was seeing. I felt like if I stayed with him, it was going to poison my writing. That’s when I left, and he got the book out of it, though I’d done most of the work on it (and he later abandoned it).

    You have to stand up for yourself, because no one else will do it for you.

    And yet, I’m on a Facebook writer’s page, and I have to bite my lip. Way too many writers apologize for writing or ask for permission or are afraid they will do it wrong. I’ve seen way too many magazines and startups that thought they were doing writers a “favor” by publishing them. I’ve seen magazines say, “Don’t expect payment. You’re lucky we’re giving you a link to your website and printing your bio.” The writers don’t even connect that without their stories, this magazine has nothing. Until writers realize that they do have this power, it’s still going to be an ongoing problem.

Leave a Reply