The outcry over Apple Music's 90 free day trial is growing within the independent music community. But those upset with free trials that return no revenue to artists and labels for millions free plays are left with few options - except, perhaps, to stop releasing new music for the next 90 days.
Concern Over The Contract
Apple sent a 'take it or leave it' contract to independent labels and digital distributors last week. Effectively it said, sign a new deal that allows Apple to give away free 90 day trials to its streaming music service, during which no royalties are due, or you have no longer have any contract with Apple - no contract for streaming, no contract for iTunes Radio, no contract to sell downloads.
The justifiable concern among many independent labels that we've talked to over the last few days is that when Apple Music goes live on June 3oth, millions or even 10's of millions of hardcore music fans are going take advantage of the 90 day free trial. During the free Apple trials, the indies fear, iTunes download sales will plummet and streaming on Spotify and elsewhere will fall dramatically.
It's a scenario that many indie labels and artists, who count on steady income from downloads and streaming, can't survive. But allowing their contract with Apple - the #1 or #2 source of income for most - to expire, is almost unthinkable.
One answer is not release new music for 90 days.
While Apple's 90 free trial is ongoing, it will be during its first days and weeks, after the new Apple Music rainbow icon appears on tens of millions of Apple devices, that millions will sign up. Media attention will peak and Apple's legendary marketing and ad machine will swing into action, luring millions more with the promise of free music. Spotify, Deezer and others will answer with free or near free - and non-royalty producing - offerings of their own.
Spotify & Deezer Join In
Spotify and Deezer are already offering 3 month trials for $.99 ESD and .99 EU respectively, which suggests that they too have similar "trial" clauses in their contracts already.
During that time, not only is any new indie music released likely to get lost in the cacophony, it also be won't be paid anything when curious fans stream it.
That streaming is the future of music consumption seems undeniable. But how the industry reacts to change, along with the messages it sends by its actions, will determine its future.