There isn't one store to rule us all

Apple CEO Tim Cook introducing Apple Music on June 8, 2015.
Apple CEO Tim Cook introducing Apple Music on June 8, 2015.PHOTO: ST FILE

It looks like Apple is humming along to the tune of Taylor Swift.

When the most powerful technology company in the world became the target of one of today's biggest pop stars, lines were drawn. However, Apple conceded less than 24 hours later.

The issue that the 25-year-old singer-songwriter highlighted was that Apple's upcoming music-streaming service would not pay musicians any royalties during the service's first three months of free use.

Her decision to withhold her latest best-selling album, 1989, from Apple Music, was a retaliation against this decision by Apple and she detailed her unhappiness in a 492-word blog post on Tumblr late Sunday night.

The next morning, Mr Eddy Cue, Apple's senior vice-president of Internet software and services, said the company would now pay full royalties during the trial period.

Having pulled her albums from Spotify last year, it remains to be seen if Apple Music will now have the exclusive streaming support of 1989.

A small part of me cannot help but feel that this confrontation, and the resulting capitulation by Apple, seems too well-orchestrated, especially as the service is launching soon, on June 30.

While I am not surprised that the affable Swift has continued to take a stand against music-streaming services, I am surprised that Apple folded without putting up a fight.

But, regardless of the outcome, the bottom line is that nothing has changed for consumers.

In the realm of music delivery, Apple Music is not innovative because the likes of Spotify, Deezer, Rdio and Tidal are already available. If you have yet to subscribe to those services thinking that something better is coming along, Apple Music is not the saviour your ears need.

Even though the issue of royalty payments during the trial period seems to have been settled, several big names continue to be missing from the 30 million songs available on Apple Music.

Multiple Grammy Award winner Adele is not on Apple's playlist. Nor are The Beatles, who are widely considered the most popular musical act of all time.

Sadly, this is not unique to the music industry. The absence of some content - be it music, TV shows, books and movies from official channels, is something all of us should be familiar with.

And it is something all consumers are fighting to overcome.

As a child, I remember watching Robotech, an American cartoon adapted from three Japanese animes. It was shown only on Malaysia's TV3. It is now slated to become a major film franchise for Sony.

If I had limited my viewing habits to only Singapore channels, I would have missed out on something great.

If you love TV shows, good luck finding boxed sets for the award-winning crime show CSI, or fan favourite, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, in video stores here.

And given the dozens of new TV shows that come out each year, I am not holding my breath waiting for the English TV channels here to ever telecast all of them.

If you like video games, Steam is a good source for old and new games, but if you cannot find a game there, try GOG.com.

The point I am making is that despite the availability of multiple sources, no one service provides consumers with everything they could ever want.

No physical store can do it and even though digital goods remove some limitations of physical ones, they come with their own constraints as well.

Which explains why I subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime and other services; stock up on Blu-ray movies and DVDs; and continue to buy what I need from a mixture of online and physical stores.

If the world's most powerful tech company needs to be schooled by a young singer on properly compensating the creators of the material from which it hopes to make money, what else might Apple have missed out on?

And, more importantly, what will consumers miss out on when they sign up?

sherwinl@sph.com.sg

Editor's Note: This is the final issue of Digital Life. We will be a part of the new Digital section of the main paper from July 1, 2015.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2015, with the headline 'There isn't one store to rule us all'. Print Edition | Subscribe