Music Business Worldwide reports in a fairly detailed article that Apple is launching a music publishing division–crucially based in both London and the US run by Elena Segal (recently of my old alma mater, Mitchell Silberberg). This doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple will be competing with publishers to acquire catalogs or for songwriter talent just yet, but that is something worth thinking about.
Personally, I don’t see a catalog buy in Apple’s future. They don’t need the money or the headache–Apple is in the Benjamin business not the Lincoln business. If Apple moves into publishing my bet is that it will be strategic and not tactical.
But I could see a world in which Apple leveraged their creative staff and audio recording toolshed to attract developing writers. Even a $1 million investment in a stable of developing songwriters could go a long way.
Here’s five reasons why Apple has a strategic advantage over almost everyone in getting into the creative side of the business:
1. History: Largely due to Steve Jobs’ genius, Apple has always attracted musicians and artists to the company’s products. When I attended the “Hell Has Frozen Over” launch of iTunes for Windows, even a blind man could see how much the artists who Facetimed with Steve on stage really enjoyed the guy. Remember that iTunes for Windows launched with a whole bunch of exclusive tracks from top artists–all of whom were happy to participate. How much happier would they be to actually include Apple in their creative careers?
2. Trust: Apple has never been sued by songwriters or artists. They give a straight count for iTunes. Not to say they shouldn’t be audited, trust but verify, etc., but on balance most people trust their Apple statement not to be shady. That is definitely not true for Spotify, or…ahem…others. Plus, Apple doesn’t hand out stock to lower royalties for everyone.
3. Fairness: As an old Apple lawyer once said to me, we decide what’s fair and then we jam it down your throat. Which sounds harsh, but remember that Apple Music’s long-time honcho Eddie Cue made a huge change in Apple Music’s launch strategy because Taylor Swift tweeted that she thought the free period was too long. One tweet and that was that.
Contrast this exchange with billionaire Daniel Ek’s tone deaf mansplaining to the same Taylor Swift over windowing.
4. Longevity: In a time of ups and mostly downs in the music industry, Apple isn’t going anywhere. There’s no fear that key executives are going to pump and dump their Apple stock on a get-rich-quick scheme that benefits everyone except the creators. So the long term interests are aligned.
5. Playlists: You don’t get the impression that Apple is going to use the 21st century algorithmic equivalent of Top 40 to create a version of George Orwell’s versificator that bears about as much resemblance to a Ponzi scheme as it does to a listening experience. Apple smartly engaged Zane Lowe & Co to keep the human element in a kind of global Radio One. Artists don’t like to feel that they are simply part of the background music–who can get excited about being on the “Sleep” playlist? It’s like asking artists if they’d like to sign to Muzak.
I personally find the idea of Apple in the creative side of publishing very attractive because it allows Apple to distinguish itself on values that many creators find compelling: Transparency, integrity and trustworthiness.
Frankly, we could all do well to promote those values in our business instead of passing laws that try to make the indelible sleaze disappear.