The following story is going to incite rage in certain circles.
KQED reports that Apple doesn’t pay artists that perform in its stores. Instead, it gives them AirPods.
For a Black History Month installment of the event series Today at Apple, Oakland playwright Ayodele Nzinga and a handful of other artists read spoken-word poetry and discussed Oakland’s musical history. Roughly two dozen friends and family members gathered around, and shoppers passively listened as they played with Apple gadgets.
“The art was an economic driver,” Nzinga said at one point, describing the resilience of Oakland’s African-American community amid systemic racism. “It was a way to take yourself out of poverty, or at least maintain.”
And yet, Apple didn’t pay any of the artists who performed or spoke that night—at least not in cash, Nzinga says. Instead, they were given Apple products.
Nzinga isn’t the only local artist Apple has booked for their Today at Apple sessions in San Francisco without paying a flat fee. The event series has taken place at Apple stores across the country since 2017, and is marketed as an opportunity for customers to hear from “world-class creators.” Eleven artists with whom KQED spoke, either on the record or on background, confirmed that Apple didn’t offer monetary compensation for performances, panels and workshops, instead paying them in their choice of an Apple Watch Series 3, AirPods or an Apple TV.
Many are going to be outraged at this, and I can understand why; Apple has several hundred billion dollars in cash lying around. (And do you know how Apple piled up all that dough? By squeezing their contractors, of course, just like they are squeezing the creatives that perform in Apple Stores.)
Note that I did not use the verb “screw” in the previous sentence; the performers did agree to Apple’s terms. It still rankles, though, that one of the richest companies in the world won’t even consider paying for the services provided to it.
And to make matters worse, Apple isn’t even offering a decent value in trade for those services. Giving someone a $159 AirPod or a $149 Apple TV for an evening’s work is, frankly, insulting; that’s what you might give a member of the wait staff, not an artist with years of training and experience.
Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that happens when there is such a steep power differential between any two parties.
In the Bay Area, Apple operates in an economy where paid opportunities for artists are scarce. Meanwhile, influencer culture sells up-and-coming artists the idea that getting one’s work in front of enough eyeballs will eventually lead to monetary income. Conditions are ripe for exploitation in this climate, and it’s common for corporations to ask ambitious, under-resourced creatives to work for low or no pay in return for “exposure.”
But working for low or no pay devalues creative labor as a whole. Rather than setting up artists for paid opportunities, unpaid and work-for-trade gigs become the norm, making it easier for companies to take advantage of the next hopeful.
I don’t see this changing without state or federal regulations, do you?