Musicians Have Taylor Swift To Champion Fairness; Who Do Writers Have?

Taylor Swift, Fairness Warrior @ FB Timeline
Taylor Swift, Fairness Warrior; image @ FB Timeline

Even if you don’t pay attention to whatever elements of Taylor Swift’s life make the media on a given day, one would be hard-pressed to have missed the weekend’s brouhaha with Swift vs. Apple Music. Say what you will about the girl—her fluffy songs, her digitally-enhanced vocals, or her madcap rise to fame—she knows how to use a bully pulpit.

In a nutshell: after Apple Music announced their new streaming service on June 8th to much excitement and fanfare, it quickly became clear that the three-month trial period offered as enticement to joining artists came with some decidedly unappreciated fine print. It seems any music sold during those three months would NOT earn royalties for the artists, writers, and producers who signed up and whose music was being sold. Which meant those free three months, marketed as a “join-up gift,” were really a gift to Apple, allowing them to rake in whatever revenues were earned from those “trial” artists bereft of any payout to the artists themselves. Cold. Calculating. Greedy. And Ms. Swift would have none of it.

She not only withdrew her own latest (and wildly successful) album, 1989, from the steaming service, she took to her Tumblr page on June 21st with an open-letter to Apple. I’m going to put the whole thing here because I think her points (the most salient of which I’ve highlighted) are so important:

I write this to explain why I’ll be holding back my album, 1989, from the new streaming service, Apple Music. I feel this deserves an explanation because Apple has been and will continue to be one of my best partners in selling music and creating ways for me to connect with my fans. I respect the company and the truly ingenious minds that have created a legacy based on innovation and pushing the right boundaries.

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. 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.

This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field…but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs.

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. We simply do not respect this particular call.

I realize that Apple is working towards a goal of paid streaming. I think that is beautiful progress. We know how astronomically successful Apple has been and we know that this incredible company has the money to pay artists, writers and producers for the 3 month trial period… even if it is free for the fans trying it out.

Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing. 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.

But I say to Apple with all due respect, it’s not too late to change this policy and change the minds of those in the music industry who will be deeply and gravely affected by this. We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.



All I could say was, “Brava, Ms. Swift!” Especially after it was announced, just hours after Swift’s note, that Apple Music not only heard her, they were, indeed, changing their policy. From The Huffington Post:

On Sunday evening, Apple responded to Taylor Swift’s rallying cry to fairly compensate artists. “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists,” Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue tweeted. Cue announced the tech giant will in fact pay artists for streaming services during the free trial period of Apple Music.

The power of protest. The power of standing up to behemoths of the industry to make clear that policies rooted in unfairness and lack of respect for the talent, hard work, and expended resources of artists, will not, and should not, stand. Kudos to Apple for getting the point and making the needed changes. Win/win all around. 

But what about writers? What about the novelists, non-fiction writers; essayists and article writers; in fact, any writer who’s creating work being posted, sold, or used by anyone else (i.e., book sale sites, news sites, resource sites, company websites, etc.)? This group of artists does not, at least not that I’m aware of, have a champion akin to Taylor Swift putting their own work on the line to protest for fairer industry practices. Instead, I see piece after piece cajoling writers to give their work away for free as “enmaeavatar_biggerticement” to new readers. I see content wranglers justifying non-payment in lieu of “online real estate,” calling it the “Huff Post formula” (forgetting that Huff Post actually has a level of exposure few other places do, and really, who need more “online real estate”??). I see sites like Amazon parsing subscription formulas to pay royalties based on how many pages of a book are actually read, as opposed to the purchase of the book itself (tell me, when were we ever allowed to pay for just the amount of a meal we ate at a restaurant??). All of these tactics, and others, are designed to benefit the purveyors of that content and the readers of that content, with little consideration for the creators of that content. Which is wrong. And pretty much the exact argument Swift was making to Apple. 

In fact, she made a similar point last year regarding Spotify, another music streaming service, reiterating her view of the “value of art” in an interview at Yahoo Music:

“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.

I felt like I was saying to my fans, ‘If you create music someday, if you create a painting someday, someone can just walk into a museum, take it off the wall, rip off a corner off it, and it’s theirs now and they don’t have to pay for it.’  I didn’t like the perception that it was putting forth. And so I decided to change the way I was doing things.

Yes! Exactly! What’s with the perception that art has little or no value? That artists are somehow obligated to give their work away simply because it’s on the Internet and there’s that strange, persistent, unsupported “cultural think” that if it’s on the Internet it should be free? NO, IT SHOULDN’T! The Internet is like a store. A store where people put up the stuff they’re selling. It’s not a free box on the side of the road; it’s a place for commerce. As Taylor says, we don’t ask for free iPhones, so why free art? 

read your novel

But, sadly, we in the book/writing business don’t have a champion like Swift. The 2014 kerfuffle between Amazon and Hatchette was just a snit-fest between the Big 5 and big Amazon; it had nothing to do with fair compensation for indie writers. And, let’s face it, the proliferation of sites screaming “FREE & BARGAIN BOOKS!!” has exploded, creating a demographic of readers that simply expect books to either be free or so effing cheap the profit margin wouldn’t afford the author a latte while writing the next book they’ll be browbeaten to “donate” to the undiscerning public.

I can hear Taylor screaming in her jasmine-scented soundproofed vocal booth.

That's not how it works

Clearly, I’m no Taylor Swift. There are no legions of fans hanging on my every word; no one cares with whom I’m holding hands. I’m not tall, skinny, and loaded with a Brinks vault of awards. I have no power over any industry (though there was a time my catering captain skills were in demand!), and the only thing of mine Apple respects is a decent purchase history of phones and computers. But still… I’ve been around a long time, I’ve got artistic bona fides, and some have said (though I can’t remember who), I’ve got a good head on my shoulders. So if I had a bully pulpit, this is what I’d say:

Perpetuating the perception that independent books have little value and should be free or sold for ridiculously low prices is deleterious to the true merit, status, and negotiating power of independent authors. This is not about greed or the overvaluation of unknown writers; this is about the artistry and hard work that goes into creating good books. Excellent books. Books that, if agents and publishers were wrangling them in the traditional publishing world, would be bestsellers. Instead, those authors are struggling to find footing in a slippery marketplace that can’t seem to discern between mediocre and masterful, and values/devalues it as “all the same.” 

Which is folly. If an amateur wants to crank out an unpolished tome to put on Amazon for family/friend consumption, giving that book away for free or one or two bucks, so be it. But if a skilled, professional, highly qualified author puts years in, hires experts to produce, and publishes a masterful book (and I know many of those excellent authors and their excellent books), those books deserve to be sold at prices comparable to any other excellent book being traditionally published. Anything else creates a two-tiered system that designates one group as worthy, the other as not. Which is inherently unfair and vastly misguided, as what publishing category a book belongs to does not necessarily indicate its excellence.

This is about us indie writers and our industry taking a stand to determine that the perceived value of our art is commensurate with any other valued art, and, subsequently, demanding commensurate and fair payment for that art. Let “free” be a choice, not a mandate.

Okay, I’m done. I’m gonna go now and “Shake It Off”! 

Related articles you might find interesting:
I’m Not Interested In FREE Books 
Free Books: Marketing Genius or Devaluation of Writers?
Free Book Promotions: How Good ARE They For Writers?

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Hogging the Cultural Spotlight…You Know How We Are.

USA Today headlined a recent edition with the probing question, “Will Boomers Ever Yield the Stage?” and I thought, thank God someone’s finally asked…we’ve all been wondering. Haven’t we?

There followed a series of articles debating the query; timely, no doubt, what with battle lines now drawn on issues such as Social Security vs. job security, Medicare vs. Mommy-care and, of course, facelift vs. Facebook. The Young have apparently gone to the mattresses, weary of Woodstock retreads, relentless “new” Beatles releases, and the sense that no amount of fashion forward will ever convince anyone that bell-bottoms and platforms are “fresh again.” Those damn Boomers are a tough act to follow and every generation since has been left panting after this gluttonous bunch “sucked up a lot of the cultural oxygen.”*


I remember when my son was about three and pretty much everything in life was a contest. Drinking juice, brushing teeth, eating an ice cream cone; he compulsively gauged his success by whether or not he got to the goal “first.” First to finish, first to spit out his toothpaste, first to crunch that cone; whatever the task, he’d puff up and holler, “I won, I’m first!” (I routinely abdicated, refusing to rush my dental hygiene or the slow enjoyment of a Häagen-Daz.) It was important to him, though, being first. Being best. Winning the prize. Cute at three and it’s a human urge, certainly, (think DWTS or American Idol) but without wisdom and humility it’s just juvenile. And this generational battle being debated in the media smacks of the same.

Except it’s not real. It’s manufactured. Despite the headlines and pithy analysis, it’s a faux battle whipped up by provocateurs who frame life along the lines of my three year old, pitting even eras against each other. And we wonder why we have wars.

Does anyone really think the Younger Generations (inclusive of X, Y, Z, ELEMENO P, whatever other letters are being assigned these days) are paying any attention whatsoever to what the Boomers did or didn’t accomplish…or to the Boomers themselves? NO. Laughably, no! They don’t have time and, frankly, they don’t care.

I know younger people. Some are my friends. Some are family members. I work with some, workout with others. The ones I know span several post-Boomer generations and I’m here to tell you, they are not gauging their lives, their value, their ability to contribute or their historical legacy against my large and lumpy generation.

First of all, they’re younger. And younger, by its very nature, means self-confident, self-focused, certainly thinner and with better skin. Regardless of which Gen we’re talking about, which sub-group of which Gen, they’re typically fixated on something youngish. Anything from getting famous, being hot, graduating college, getting jobs, designing software, starting foundations and pursuing extreme sports, to planning a wedding, buying their first condo, making babies, passing the bar, getting careers established and staying abreast of smart technology. They’re doing whatever it is people do at whatever stage of life they’re in. Why on earth does anyone think would they give a rat’s…well, care at all about being compared to Boomers who are all pretty much just…old? Trust me, THEY DON’T. They’re not even paying attention.

It’s a trick, this question, a red herring; a ploy to draw attention away from the fact that, in the zeitgeist of today, it isn’t what’s happened in the past that’s hogging the cultural spotlight, it’s the very now epidemic known as gerascophobia, “the fear of aging.” That’s the real hullabaloo; a syndrome so pronounced it has six syllables. Young folks aren’t afraid of Boomers per se, they’re just scared of that much old.

I’m not sure who’s to blame for this growing malaise — the media, reality TV, the cosmetic surgery industry, Taylor Swift — but nowadays it isn’t just lovely to be young, nice to have all that energy, delightful to be fresh and pretty, so many opportunities, all that attention being paid…no, nowadays, YOUTH is a religion, a movement; a CULT. And if you are not a member of the cult (unless you’re Cher), it’s time to go. Clear the stage. Make room for baby. We’re so squeamish about age we’ve evolved into a culture where a celebrity like 65-year old Jaclyn Smith is admired because “she just doesn’t age!” when it’s painfully obvious surgical intervention is behind her polymer doll gleam. Where an anxious 18-year old singer feels the need to “freshen up” with Botox before appearing on a youth-oriented show like Glee (Botox For Glee Debut). Where the quest for physical perfection in all its forms reigns supreme over every other characteristic or quality, with heinous entities like TMZ featuring (with big red circles) the cellulite that exists “even on the butts of young celebrities!” Holy hell. I’d be afraid to get old too if I was young in today’s world.

Gerascophobia has tsunami-ed over our society, leaving it willing to slough off its venerable elders like so much dead skin; implying uselessness, as if there are no admirable, appealing, energized, authentic older folk worth emulating, worth listening to. In doing so, we’ve literally scared our young into believing there really is no there there. There, beyond the dreaded fork in the youth-road (40? 35, even? I dunno…I’m so far past it I’m squinting). Our print media, our entertainment models, our determined standards of what is beautiful have so convinced the Young that youth is the only currency that matters that the black hole of OLD AGE is a terrifying specter. Age, with all its moldy implications, has become as hideous, as repulsive, as leprosy (in fact, in one article I read, the image of shoving Boomers out on ice floes or pushing them off the cultural cliff was actually articulated…could an island colony be far behind?)

Consider our growing acceptance of those aforementioned taut, plastic faces, fat-injected cheeks and frightfully puffed up lips, a look so ubiquitous these days that children must think older people are simply tightly-wound and oddly unattractive replicants of younger people. How terrifying that must be! When I was growing up, the lined, sagging, utterly human face of my beloved Grandmother with her ample (and authentic) bosom and soft bread-dough arms comforted and charmed me. I wanted to bake like her, travel the world like her; be capable like her. I loved her embroidery skills and her indefatigable sense of adventure, flying after her to climb the steps of the clackety Chicago El to cross town in search of empty lots of dandelion greens and good deals at outlying department stores. She was magical and inexhaustible and I made no judgment of her based on her soft, aging body…and this was when she was not much older than the tight, taut, oh so shiny Miz Smith!

Contrast my sweet, anachronistic acceptance of my Grandmother to a Facebook exchange I read recently between two twenty-something women: Young Woman 1: “Wasn’t it great to see Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford together again on Oprah?!” Young Woman 2: “Dude, I was SO bummed to see how old they both got!!”  Deep sigh. Is it possible this girl actually believed Bob and Babs would remain the way they were forever? Poor thing. What a shock to realize that if even rich and famous people can’t actually stop aging, clearly her fate is sealed.

In all fairness, some of our young are arguably less terrified of age than others. They’ve got lovable Grandmas, cool Dads, that amazing blues guy down the street or those feisty gals who sell empanadas at the farmers’ market. And the smart ones reject the idea that any one generation is a great big monolithic thing that is sucking energy, taking up space or “hogging the cultural spotlight” from any other generation. Whether X, Y, Millennial, Boomer, or The Greatest, a generation is less a thing than an amalgam of people, events, experiences, accomplishments, and serendipity, all in response and reaction to the times they’re in, their particular moment in the Youth Spotlight. We all get one. And one is not better than another, I don’t care what Tom Brokaw says. Every generation makes its mark, regardless of size or place in history. Accomplishment, discovery, invention, and innovation are happening every minute of every day, year after year, generation after generation and while we’re all still here on this earth, we Generations can peacefully coexist, continuing to make our marks simultaneously and uniquely, growing old, graciously and fearlessly, together.

And just so you know, we’re not going anywhere yet. So just breathe, all of you…there’s plenty of air to go around.

* (Leonard Steinhorn, Communications Professor at American University in Washington, D.C., and author of The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy.)

Photo credits:

Woodstock: Complete Woodstock ’69 CD cover

Other photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke

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