Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Taylor Swift vs. Apple Over Compensation

It’s funny how quickly things can change.
When Apple upped and announced that they were not going to pay artists for music streamed during the three month trial period, I immediately thought that was patently unfair. Here, the wealthiest company in the world, was essentially funding its business plan on the backs of the artists who were barely scraping by on the few pennies that trickled down to them from one song sale to another. I had a nice missive half put together addressing my reaction to this policy.
Then Taylor Swift swung in and announced she would not be releasing her new Album on iTunes because of Apple’s policy that they would not pay artists for music streamed during a listener’s three-month free trial of the iTunes radio service. Her message spread around the world like wildfire, being picked up by most major news outlets and social sites.
Eddy Cue, Apple’s Vice President of Internet Software and Services, relented his position and announced that Apple would indeed continue to pay artists their due during the free month trial period offered for new customers to Apple’s streaming service.
So, problem solved, issue averted, life moves on. Musicians will be paid for their music and Apple will wade into the music streaming business.
Only…
It disturbs me that Cue even thought this was a valid option. 
Based on his executive compensation bonus in 2014, Cue makes at the very least more per hour than I made in the past three years combined. 
He makes more per day more than 75% of the citizens of the United States each make in salary for an entire year.
If Cue were to forgo 99% of his 2014 compensation, he would still make more for the entire year than 97% of other citizens in the United States. After taxes! Even with 99% of his revenue removed, Cue could still live quite comfortably if he cut yet another three months of pay out of what was left.
Apple itself makes more per minute than most people make per year.
Many young musicians trying to get a break in the music industry work part time jobs that pay as much as $11K–$15K per year.
Last week, the exhaust pipe on my car blew out and had to be replaced. The cost for that left me with no money left until next month. I don’t mean no money in my budget, I mean no money at all. The gas in the gas tank has to last me until my first paycheck in the month of July, which is still two weeks away. Even then, I have bills that must be paid, leaving little left over for gasoline, much less food. I can go without meals, but I need gas to keep the car or scooter going so I can get to work.
This even effects my work. I am more and more frequently receiving letters from fans who want to know when my next book will be out. The answer is soon, but not as soon as I want it to be. Until I can afford to replace my computer and cover the other business expenses that go with writing a book, I can only do this in small steps. If not for all this, the book would have been out a year ago.
Even the most carefully tended budget can be completely thrown off the rails by almost any unexpected event. When you are poor, the effect is amplified by a magnitude or two.
This is why I became so upset that Cue and the other executives at Apple somehow thought that beginning artists like myself could even think of forgoing three months of income. The wealthiest company in the world was placing all its financial risk onto the shoulders of struggling artists who were creating the products it was trying to peddle.
Now, this deal was about music and not writing, but it has just as much pertinence to me as an author as it does musicians who are trying to make it by working at their art.
Part of the agreements authors must agree to in order for distributors such as Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others to sell our books is we must allow them to “adjust” the price of our products at their whim.
But the key part of that agreement is that they only have to pay me at the agreed rate for whatever price they sell. So if they drop the price, so drops my share of the sales proceeds. If they decide to give away my book for free, I don’t get anything. They basically put any losses on me, not themselves. If a distributor wants to hold a sale, fine. But pay me what I would have made at the regular rate.
Sure, giving stuff out for free is a great promotion. Only, I need to sell 15,000 copies in order to break even this year—to cover my debts, pay the bills, and buy a new computer so I can focus completely on working and writing the next books. If 15,000 copies went out for free during the promotion—yes, that put my book in the hands of 15,000 potential fans, but it doesn’t put food on the table. And it doesn’t guarantee that when the promotion ends, I will sell another 15,000 copies on top of the freebies that people snatched up.
I am trying to start my career as a writer, I just cannot afford to give discounts. Even though my scooter gets 70MPG, I need to sell four books just to pay for one tank of gas. Food for a week? Twenty books. A pair of pants? About 16 books. (All my pants have holes in them. I figure by the time it gets too cold to wear shorts, I’ll have enough money raised to buy at least two pairs of jeans.) To replace my broken computer with a new computer with equal capacity will require me selling over 1,800 books. The cover art for a book: 290 books.
It takes a long time before a book is found by its audience and actually sells in numbers like this. Until that happens, an author has to slog it out and keep on working. And any free time goes to the part time job that helps pay the bills.
The problem is the people who approved this idea make so much money that they can have over 99% of their income taken away and they will still be making more money than most people. They become so removed from the reality of everyday life, they cannot comprehend what even a trifling loss does to someone who actually makes a living creating their product by hand.
I've worked for far too many people who are like this.
The CEO of the last company I worked for made the comment that “…the employees need to learn how to better manage their money.” Well, the reason we were all complaining was because they were three months behind in our pay. (I walked out shortly after that comment was made.)
Eventually, I will find an audience for my books and I will be able to make a livable wage through writing. Until then—and after—I must continue my efforts to write stories that people will enjoy.
I’m happy that Apple chose to reverse their position on this. But I am still upset that they even considered it in the first place.
Most importantly, I hope that this may open the gates for independent musicians in the way that ebooks did for independent authors.