If you believe their narrative, when Apple introduced the iTunes Store on April 28th, 2003, they rescued the music industry from a gulag of record labels and freeloading geeks like Napster owner Sean Parker.
Music has certainly survived. Last year Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith all put out albums that broke the 1m mark. No doubt, there has been a steady decline in sales, but thirteen years after man first pressed install on an iTunes application, the world of sound is surviving. However, that could be set to change: strong-armed by a piece of EU legislation, iTunes has started to offer refunds with no questions asked.
Think about some of music’s most recent disappointments – Lady Gaga’s Artpop, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, most stuff Nas has released since Illmatic. The new rule means the listener can return disappointing records, which could affect sales figures in a monumental way. For example: if Kreayshawn released her debut record in 2015, the grand total of copies sold might be zero, instead of the 3,900 she inexplicably managed.
However, as Popjustice pointed out, the refund system has one glaring fault.
Peter was remunerated the 99 pence he spent on “Unapologetic Bitch”, but there’s no explanation on how he should return the track. Statistically – based on my experience with humanity – lots of the 800,000,000 people who use iTunes will be terrible, untrustworthy people and receive the refund without returning the music, choosing to live precariously in negative karma. The initial two-week return period is also “extended to a year if a business fails to properly inform consumers of the return period”.
If you were a band you’d be pretty pissed off to learn that Apple have effectively sanctioned the free downloading of your album. It’s a weird situation. So I posed as a slacker-rock band who sleeps on the floor and eats pizza (basically my life) and sent Apple an email to find out what happens to the music after it’s been refunded.
I sent this email to their customer services department:
Hey Apple, I noticed there's a new EU ruling that allows customers to receive a refund on any product purchased from the iTunes Store up to fourteen days after purchase. I've got a couple of questions before I upload my latest jazzwhore record to the iTunes Store.
What happens to the song after a customer refunds it?
How should I inform my legion of fans that they can get a refund? Would a tweet work?
If I upload my music and 100 people download it and 90% get a refund, does that mean 90 people have essentially been given my music for free? I don’t want iTunes to give away my precious art.
Three days later I received this, from a Mr Jody who calls himself a Senior Advisor at Apple. I'll be the judge of that.
In your email, you outlined that you are experiencing an issue with the new EU ruling and have some questions about it. I completely relate and I know if I was going to sell my music online that I would want this looked into due to this new EU ruling. I would like to assure you that I will be here to work with you to resolve this matter to the best of my ability.
Apple is currently working toward a resolution for what you have reported. You will receive an email after the matter has been investigated and further information is available.
Great, thanks Mr Jody!
It seems like Apple don’t have an answer; the world continues to spin and fans can refund any music they want. What does that mean for musicians though? If the public can get their money back - even after it’s reached the artist’s bank account, been rolled into a cylinder, and placed in a stripper’s butthole - then who ends up footing the bill?
Right now it seems like no one has quite worked it out yet.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanBassil