Taylor Swift Breaks Up with Spotify. Why?

We’ll find out tomorrow how Taylor Swift’s 1989 album did in the stores in its first week. Estimates are that it’ll sell somewhere around 1.3 million in the US alone, which would break a one-week sales record set by a woman (Britney Spears back in the early days of Oops!…I Did It Again) and maybe even the highest weekly total by anyone since at least 2002 when The Eminem Show sold 1.322 million.  And if that estimate is correct, then Canadian sales could be in the neighbourhood of 100,000-ish, making it the biggest debut of the year on this side of the border, too.

Why is this record such a hit? Easy: she’s hitting all the targets. Her old country fans. Her new pop fans. A massive publicity campaign for this record (she went everywhere to promote it).  Product endorsements (hello, Diet Coke).  And let’s not forget that her management/record company, Big Machine, is one of the most powerful in the industry.

Oh, and the songs on the album are pretty catchy. It’s a pretty slick package, optimized for maximum mainstream consumption. It’s the kind of CD for people who buy just one or two CDs a year for the car. They listen a couple of times and then leave it on the floor.

Next to the sales figures, the other big story involving Ms Swift this week is her breakup with Spotify, the most popular streaming music service in the world.  Her entire catalogue was pulled MondayWhy?

Point 1:  Streaming music services cannibalize album sales. Why ruin a good thing when she’s having a record run this week? “If people want the album, they can bloody well buy it!” Digital scarcity means more physical sales and iTunes downloads. Big Machine has hour-by-hour SoundScan reports on album sales and digital downloads. Maybe they saw something in the numbers that gave them pause.  In other words, it’s all about maximizing profits in the early days of the album’s lifetime. After all, previous albums eventually ended up on Spotify after a couple of months.

Counterpoint 1: Fine, but why is Taylor’s music still available on Rdio? It’s also available on Pandora. Neither service pays much, either. And if you want the album, just search for it on YouTube.  It’s all there.

Point 2: Taylor’s views on the shifting music industry feature a dim view of streaming music services and their payouts to artists. Just check out what she wrote in the Wall Street Journal back in the summer.

Counterpoint 2: Er, see Counterpoint 1. And what age is the bulk of Taylor’s fans?  Maybe 18-24? These people don’t buy CDs! They go to YouTube for most of their music! Dumb.

Point 3: Publicity. Pulling her entire catalogue the day before the numbers come out has guaranteed lots of news coverage and perhaps some last-minute sales once people realize they can’t stream it on Spotify.

Counterpoint 3: Um… Okay, it’s hard to argue with that. It seems to be working.

Point 3: It’s rumoured that Big Machine is readying itself for a sale. In order to increase its value, it’s holding back Taylor’s catalogue for the time being. The New York Post speculates that the company may be worth as much as $200 million. Business Insider points out that Scott Borchetta, the label’s owner, might think that “the only metric that will matter to potential buyers is the number of albums the label is able to sell. Our source says Borchetta doesn’t think the number of plays Swift’s songs have on Spotify will move the needle.”

Counterpoint 3: TWO HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS? I got nuthin’. Pull the catalogue! Screw Spotify! Let the bidding commence!

Further reading:

CNBC

CNET

The Music Network

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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