It's very likely Taylor Swift became, if she wasn't already, the most powerful person in music over the weekend.
The 25-year-old keeps an unusual amount of control over her career, including how her music is used on streaming services. Swift recently removed her music from Spotify in protest of the small amount of royalties earned by artists on the service.
Yesterday she wrote an open letter to Apple saying she would also be keeping her album 1989 off the upcoming Apple Music service.
"...Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service," Swift wrote.
"I'm sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service," Swift wrote. "I'm not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company"
The letter's tone is a bit hard to pin down; she moves from strongly advocating for the artists who create the music while being careful to continue to show deference to Apple.
"Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing," she said. "I say this with love, reverence, and admiration for everything else Apple has done. I hope that soon I can join them in the progression towards a streaming model that seems fair to those who create this music. I think this could be the platform that gets it right."
She ends the letter with a note that it's not too late to stop this policy. "We don't ask you for free iPhones. Please don't ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation," she states.
If I could explain the letter in one gif, you ask? It would look something like this:
Eddy Cue is Apple's senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, reporting to CEO Tim Cook, and within a day he responded to Swift.
We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple— Eddy Cue (@cue) June 22, 2015
#AppleMusic will pay artist for streaming, even during customer's free trial period— Eddy Cue (@cue) June 22, 2015
"Cue says Apple will pay rights holders for the entire three months of the trial period," Recode reported. "It can't be at the same rate that Apple is paying them after free users become subscribers, since Apple is paying out a percentage of revenues once subscribers start paying. Instead, he says, Apple will pay rights holders on a per-stream basis, which he won't disclose."
Cue said he reached out to Swift, but he doesn't know if this is enough to get the album back on the service.
Why does this matter?
Apple is playing a long game, and the company doesn't need to make money on its streaming service; it just needs to make sure it's not losing a ton of money. The endgame for Apple is the sale of more Apple devices with one-more built-in feature that keeps customers inside its ecosystem.
If you have an iPhone and an Apple ID, you have three free months of this service, and hopefully when that time is over users will continue to pay Apple rather than to go a third-party service like Spotify.
This is why Apple's move into streaming is such a threat to everyone else; just-launched streaming service Tidal isn't paying for itself by selling high margin electronics, it has to make money from the music itself. Apple isn't under the same constraint.
That being said, Apple moves a surreal amount of hardware in a year, and each of those customers would be entitled to three months of free streaming with their new device; all without paying the artists that provide that entertainment itself a cent. Swift is already doing very well financially, but this power play will mean that Apple will pay at least a portion of its normal streaming fees to all the smaller artists who don't sell out arenas.
Apple moves a surreal amount of hardware in a year
The amount of money that will now be paid out to artists is nothing to Apple, a company that pulled in $18 billion in profits in its first quarter this year, with 74.5 million iPhones, 21.4 million iPads, and 5.52 million Macs sold, but it could mean the world to smaller bands trying to scrape together money for a tour or new equipment.
Apple was hoping to provide millions upon millions of fans free music that the electronics giant also didn't have to pay for, but they didn't expect Taylor Swift to step in and mess up that plan. It usually takes an amazing amount of work and convincing to get a company this large to change course. For Swift? It just requires writing a Sunday blog post.