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Vox Looks at The Economics Behind Taylor Swift's Op-Ed

Posted by - 10:40 AM on 07/09/14
Nilay Patel, writing for Vox, looks at the economic missteps in Taylor Swift's recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Taylor makes a nice little argument in favor of paying for music. "Music is art," she says, "and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It's my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album's price point is." This is an impressively-constructed syllogism. It is also deeply, deeply wrong.

The single hardest economic problem posed by the internet is the end of scarcity.
 
Displaying posts 1 - 13 of 13
10:41 AM on 07/09/14
#2
Jason Tate
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I don't think Nilay Patel gives Taylor Swift enough credit in her article, as she does address some of this in more detail throughout. She talks a lot about what's been lost, but her focus on how much has been gained is also very important (and not focused on much here). It’s harder to make a living off of album sales -- but it's also so much easier to get started.
11:11 AM on 07/09/14
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I don't think Nilay Patel gives Taylor Swift enough credit in her article, as she does address some of this in more detail throughout. She talks a lot about what's been lost, but her focus on how much has been gained is also very important (and not focused on much here). It’s harder to make a living off of album sales -- but it's also so much easier to get started.

I feel like this writer didn't understand that "rare" wasn't implying it's hard to find music, but it's hard to find good music and that good songs aren't easy to write. I can't sing all that well, I write okay songs, but I don't have the talent or production team or resources that a Taylor Swift has at her disposal. I also don't believe I'm anywhere near as gifted as she is at writing a good, catchy, complete song. It's a talent, a gift, and it is absolutely a rare thing to be able to write an entire album's worth of songs that are either good or catchy, and even more rare to be able to do both.

There's absolutely merit to what Patel has written, but the argument is misplaced.
11:19 AM on 07/09/14
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Jason Tate
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I feel like this writer didn't understand that "rare" wasn't implying it's hard to find music, but it's hard to find good music and that good songs aren't easy to write. I can't sing all that well, I write okay songs, but I don't have the talent or production team or resources that a Taylor Swift has at her disposal. I also don't believe I'm anywhere near as gifted as she is at writing a good, catchy, complete song. It's a talent, a gift, and it is absolutely a rare thing to be able to write an entire album's worth of songs that are either good or catchy, and even more rare to be able to do both.

There's absolutely merit to what Patel has written, but the argument is misplaced.
Yeah, I agree. I think he kind of addresses that in passing at the end:
That's exactly right. People will pay to go have experiences they treasure, and they'll pay for spectacles like a Taylor Swift show. And they'll pay to get a piece of someone they've connected with — that's why there are hundreds of teen YouTube stars you've never heard of selling out shows around the world. "In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans — not the other way around," writes Taylor. We're in that future now; that's where Justin Bieber came from. Here's Iovine again, noting that people will pay for experiences, but not for simple access to music. "It's not enough."

But hitting that tipping point is almost impossible for the vast majority of artists working today, and their inability to actually sell music means they have to sell other things — and making all those other things means they'll have less time and money to put into making their music. It's a vicious cycle, and it means that being Taylor Swift is perhaps more valuable than Taylor Swift's music.

After all, Taylor Swift is a scarce resource.


(Also that video that's in the that post of Jimmy Iovine is really good.)
12:27 PM on 07/09/14
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Nobermann
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The internet did not end and will never end scarcity. There's too many things left out. In the case of digital music, there's a scarce amount of computers, MP3 players, and most importantly, amount of disposable income. This makes its way around to Taylor's viewpoint on the economic theory of intrinsic value.

Side note: I don't know this writers education background, but he probably doesn't know much more about Economics than Miss Swift.
12:35 PM on 07/09/14
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Jason Tate
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The internet did not end and will never end scarcity. There's too many things left out. In the case of digital music, there's a scarce amount of computers, MP3 players, and most importantly, amount of disposable income. This makes its way around to Taylor's viewpoint on the economic theory of intrinsic value.

Side note: I don't know this writers education background, but he probably doesn't know much more about Economics than Miss Swift.
Hah, I mean, he just has a degree from the University of Chicago, but yeah ... doubt he knows much about economics.
12:42 PM on 07/09/14
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Hah, I mean, he just has a degree from the University of Chicago, but yeah ... doubt he knows much about economics.

University of Chicago happens to be one of the top Economics schools in the country. However, unlike MIT and Harvard, they had been notorious for having a different look at Macroeconomics, basically almost anti-Keynesian. Fun fact of the day.
12:44 PM on 07/09/14
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FTank
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That was sarcasm
05:03 PM on 07/09/14
#9
brothemighty
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holy condescension
05:58 PM on 07/09/14
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I agree with the writer of the article much more than I agree with Swift, who doesn't seem to realize how fortunate of a position she's in as someone who has such a large, die-hard following. Very few artists are as lucky as her nowadays.
06:39 PM on 07/09/14
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Im not bored enough to read more than the copied quote but that last sentence is truth fact. Both sides of the argument Im sure have validity as weve been hearing and will continue to hear variations of this same debate for some time. A decent understanding of the expansive and unfiltered nature of an internet market does indeed call into question the 'rare snowflake' argument
09:24 AM on 07/23/14
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I agree with the writer of the article much more than I agree with Swift, who doesn't seem to realize how fortunate of a position she's in as someone who has such a large, die-hard following. Very few artists are as lucky as her nowadays.
I agree with Patel more as well. Swift is the center of a giant machine that churns out all the things sold to supplement the fact that even she's not selling as much CD's as the artists in her league back in the early 2000's. She can focus all her time in writing music and leave the merch design, and tour planning etc to others. SO OF COURSE SHE HAS MORE TIME to bleed into her "body of work". But it all ties back to her as being the only scarce resource of value in this whole operation. And the only delicate snowflake part of her whole story is the opportunity she has to be at the center of it all. Take away everything but her guitar and songs, and there is no difference in what she sells and any other artist you love and no one else has ever heard of.
11:26 AM on 07/23/14
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I agree with Patel more as well. Swift is the center of a giant machine that churns out all the things sold to supplement the fact that even she's not selling as much CD's as the artists in her league back in the early 2000's. She can focus all her time in writing music and leave the merch design, and tour planning etc to others. SO OF COURSE SHE HAS MORE TIME to bleed into her "body of work". But it all ties back to her as being the only scarce resource of value in this whole operation. And the only delicate snowflake part of her whole story is the opportunity she has to be at the center of it all. Take away everything but her guitar and songs, and there is no difference in what she sells and any other artist you love and no one else has ever heard of.
Nailed it.

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