The Digital Print Revolution Marches On
A relevant question, indeed.
As if the times weren’t tumultuous enough, the world of print music has experienced a technological revolution that has some surging ahead with the tide, while others scratch their heads on dry land. Clearly consumers are running the show. That said, all the publishers interviewed for this roundtable know the brick and mortar retailer remains key to the future of music making in general and print music, in particular (whatever form that may be), so including them is a priority.
“Clicks and Bricks”
Hal Leonard can claim bragging rights in the world of digital print, and Morton points out they were the first to launch a worldwide interactive sheet music system, called sheetmusicdirect.com, in 1997… “five years before iTunes,” he says. From the beginning, they’ve offered in-store and affiliate programs, something that is still part of the mix (he calls it “clicks and bricks”): “In 2006, we went the next step, offering digital management servers which were revolutionary.” This offered all retailers who took advantage of it the opportunity to piggyback Hal Leonard’s digital catalog onto their site. “We have two dozen companies offering our titles under their name, and the consumers purchasing and downloading from them don’t know we’re behind it. We just deliver the content.”
Sheetmusicdirect.com has over 100,000 songs on it, though that’s still just approaching 50 percent of the company’s total catalog. Titles released before advanced note writing programs like Finale are a little more complicated, but luckily OCR technology has advanced so much that scanning older titles into digital versions is now economically viable.
Alfred, too, has been working with advancing technology since the dawn of the revolution.
“Right now Alfred has 90,000 SKUs [of product] available in some digital form or another,” says Bryan Bradley, Chief Operating Officer. “Not all are available for iPads and Kindles.” Currently it’s easy to make new music products available in both digital form and traditional print. “It’s now just an added step. If someone on our keyboard team wants to make something they are publishing also digitally available for download, that’s simple. What gets more complicated if we also want to make it available for iPod and Kindle.”
And what about their back catalog? The process of determining what gets made available digitally can be challenging, he admits. “It’s a balance between demand and what makes sense, and the expense and effort involved to make an older title available digitally. IT director Doug Fraser leads this initiative and does a good job determining what is worth doing and what is not.”
The name Lauren Keiser is well known to the print music world. He was an executive with Alfred, Cherry Lane, and then Carl Fischer before launching Lauren Keiser Music after the acquisition of St. Louis-based MMB Music. The company also acquired Norrurth Music, and the focus is on living American composers. Hal Leonard distributes their titles, and GM Joe Derhake says they offer downloads, but it’s just for demos. “When someone is interested in a score, but not familiar with it or sure they can purchase it, it’s quick and convenient to download it,” he explains. Some may print it out, or just look at it on screen. “It enables us to do more marketing. We’re able to get the digital scores out there and then in most cases, they order it. Then we print, bound, and ship it.” It’s not always purchased, however; sometimes a score is rented. Most of their clients are professional orchestras and symphonies and university and high school directors.
Mendy Varga, director of publications at Kendor, says their jazz, concert band, and orchestra music began going digital in 2002 when they started working with J.W. Pepper’s e-print service. Today they have about 500 titles available. “Since then, we have licensed our digital music with FreeHand, SheetMusicNow.com, and Musicnotes.com. Our initial concern was how to deliver the music securely to protect our copyrights. Also, many of our products are used in state contests and festivals, and we had to be sure that these digital copies would be accepted by judges as legal copies.”
Chuck Sher of Sher Music says they offer a special digital Real Book, which includes 650 songs from their various fake books bundled together in three groups. Individual songs are available as well. But for him, “there’s a lot of licensing issues,” explaining that just because he has obtained the print rights doesn’t mean he automatically gets the digital rights, as it’s a completely separate process.
But his digital products are, “Selling reasonably well, but not great. Singers seem to like buying digital versions of individual songs as opposed to buying an entire book. For musicians, the whole book is valuable to them.” They have 16 instructional books in digital form available for iPads, Kindle, and download versions. “The three Mark Levine books are doing especially well.”
And all of the digital products are actually handed through FreeHand Music and O’Reilly Media. “Freehand are everywhere and they are excellent [see sidebar], and O’Reilly is a big deal in the digital world. They have hundreds of books in digital form, not just music books.”
Not all are getting on the digital bandwagon. Jamey Aebersold, jazz publisher, doesn’t have a single title available in a digital format in the states. But it’s not because he doesn’t want too – he is having challenges securing the rights of the songs for digital versions. “I think it would help sales, and overall help more people play music,” he says. “Most people learning to improvise don’t have good rhythm sections. I want people to play quality music, and today more people are getting to explore jazz and digital downloadable music would help those people.”
Advantages & Disadvantages
The technology that allows for quick print music downloading has been especially popular with the long over burdened band director. Bradley says their most frequently bought and downloaded transactions come from them. “They need that extra trumpet part, or a student lost the tuba part, that kind of thing,” he says. Text books about music that don’t contain notation are the next most popular.
“What’s also selling well for iPads are our enhanced e-books,” Bradley says. When you buy a traditional Alfred book to learn guitar for example, there’s the book, the CD, and the DVD. You go to page nine, and it tells you to listen to track five to listen and DVD chapter six to watch. “But on the iPad, it all pops up right there. Click to hear audio, click to see the video. That approach is very popular for those users.”
Otherwise, not surprisingly, it’s driven by popular culture: “Over the summer the final Harry Potter movie came out, and all the music we published related to that was our number one bestseller for downloads,” he says.
At Kendor the big sellers are Wedding Masterworks (arr. Frank Halferty) and 10 Sacred Songs (arr. Arthur Frackenpohl). “These collection are available for solo woodwind and brass instruments with piano accompaniment,” Varga says. “FreeHand has broken the collections down to sell each tune individually. Since these are all ‘standard’ pieces for weddings and church services, people that need the music for an imminent performance have found these pieces very useful.”
For Hal Leonard, the e-books are a big part of their business, and the fake books and some of the guitar chord song books are selling nicely, both as downloads and on iPads and Kindles.
Sher, a prolific publisher of fake books, points that digital versions can mean that the jazz musicians “don’t have to take 15 books to the gig.”
“Our experience has been positive,” Derhake says. “A lot of times conductors need to make snap decisions, in only a week or even a few days, and I think their ability to sample our scores via download has done nothing but help. Yet some conductors still prefer a hard copy of the score.”
Bradley adds that the advantages of making print available on the iPad are similar to music’s relation to the iPod. “There’s less quality in the sound of the music, but then again, I can carry my entire collection in my pocket,” he says. “It’s a little harder to read and it’s not as nice, but the positive side is the immediacy. Say I’m playing at a wedding and somebody comes up and suddenly requests something the band doesn’t know. You can go find it and download it one minute.”
“It allows musicians to get our music now,” adds Varga. “In return for the immediate service, customers are willing to pay the same price that they would have paid for the quality 9×12 printed copy that we sell. Once the initial work has been completed to make the product digitally secure, there is no inventory and we can keep music in print without worrying about reprinting, etc. As less dealers are able to carry a variety of print music from all publishers, digital music allows our music to be available to the public.”
The technology is even more powerful in the classroom and Morton says what productions they offer through the retailer for the SMART Boards “is pretty remarkable.”
First, Hal Leonard has their Essential Element Band Method, and while the books come with CD and DVD Rom, and the student can also go to online and access more video and other material. But specific to the SMART Boards, “more and more music teachers are traveling, servicing three or four schools. Think of the tremendous advantage of working with the local retailer for the material, and being able to walk into the classroom with an iPad full of the material to share instead of all those books. It’s a lot of information and convenient for the teacher.”
But there are disadvantages to the technology, but in terms of sales for publishers and retailers and for the consumers.
“The downside to all of this is what is happening to audio,” Morton says. “People aren’t buying CDs of music, they are downloading that one song they want. We’ve done such a good job, that’s happening to us. Like the new Coldplay album: It costs $20 for all the songs, or you can legally buy that one song you want for $4.” So less money is being spent on the folio.
He adds that mixed folios, like Great Love Songs of the 1980s, are taking a hit for the same reason. “Our medium-to-larger books are less affected though. Our fake books, for example, are selling better than ever. Consumers still want that nice big bound book at a good price, which we’re delivering.”
“As great as technology is, there’s certain disadvantages,” Derhake of Lauren Keiser says. “A big score is hard to see on a screen. You can zoom up to it, but in generally, you’re not going to see that piccolo player part! [laughs] So it’s a trade off.”
“You’re tied to the device,” Bradley adds. “When I have a traditional print book, I don’t have to worry about it freezing up on the screen. A book is still very flexible and portable, and you don’t have to worry about remembering to charge it. iPads are great but you can’t print from it. I’m a jazz pianist, and I like writing different inversions of chords on the music and making notes in the margins, which you really can’t do when the music [is digital].”
The Dealers and Piracy
“Right now there’s a retailer participation program on almost all of digital products,” Bradley says. They make available all their music as a backend support to a retailer, so the customer can go to their website and not know it’s going through Alfred. “Or if someone walks in and they need that B-Flat trumpet part right then, the retailer can go online and print it out for them and charge them whatever they want.” No matter how and where a consumer buys a downloaded product, “there’s a retailer somewhere taking a margin of the sale.”
“Every digital initiative we’ve always done has had a retail affiliate option,” Morton says. “I will tell you that we’re releasing information at the first of the year about the extension of our digital program that will involve dealers with an app for their own digital network.”
Here’s a weird reversal: What if, if, someone buys that piece of music online, prints it out on his and her so-so printer … and then eventually goes and buys the real thing at a local music store. “Yeah, we have no hard numbers, but there is some anecdotal evidence of that,” Morton says. “How could it not happen? There’ something very intimate about a musician and the music, the organization of a book, that 9×12 page, the nice spread of notes. It has a value that will never go away.”
But Aebersold is concerned what this means to the retailer. “With digital print, you don’t need the music store as much. We tell everyone to buy from their favorite music store.” He’s also concerned about the problem publishers have had since the proliferation of photocopy machines, a problem exacerbated the availability of scanners.
“Pirating is still a big problem – nobody is protecting us publishers,” says Aebersold. “I’ve written to [my] Senator Lugar, and he agrees it is a problem but doesn’t know what to do about it. You have to pay someone eight hours a day to search these sites out and then have a couple of lawyers to stop them.”
Piracy has long a scourge on publishers, so this ability to get digital versions is only going to make that problem worse, right? Not necessarily.
“All out books have been scanned and put out on download sites already,” sighs Sher. “It’s a drag because it’s virtually impossible to shut those sites down. Yet we’ve seen less of them lately for some reason.” In a rare moment that gives one hope, it seems that allowing legal digital versions for sale are more popular than illegal versions of work. “The pirate versions seem to disappear because people’s first choice is to get it legally, and they will take the high road if it’s given to them. It’s a heartening thought.”
Don’t Throw Out That Printing Press Yet
There was universal agreement between all interviewed that the day when the digital version completely replaces the old-fashioned book will likely not come at all.
“There will be a day when digital sales are more significant, but they won’t completely replace books,” Bradley says. “There simply isn’t enough of an advantage to replace the format. It’s still cheaper and easier for a teacher to hand out books and rip out pages for homework assignments.” Look at audio, he adds: the difference between a song on a CD and a song you download is the same; you’re just trading digital formats. “Did Line 6 modeling amps get rid of the need for multiple guitars? No.”
“I see a day when most of our business is done digitally,” states Derhake. “But I’m not sure printed medium will ever go away. Technology has its moments but there are always bugs and glitches, and if you’re wanting to look at something but haven’t upgraded a particular piece of software… issues you never have with a hard copy.”
“I don’t think so,” says Morton. “There’s no question that in digital media terms, the iPads, tablets, SMART Boards in classrooms – that will grow. But there’s equally no question that we will continue to be in the book business because that is how people play music.”
Varga: “I believe that print music is going to go through a similar transition to digital that the recording industry has gone through. I think there will be a portion of our catalog that will be offered as traditional print and digital print, but many of our product will eventually only be available digitally. It will allow us to publish specialized music that wouldn’t lend itself necessarily to the mass market and still be able to offer the music without worrying about inventory and waste.”
“I’d rather have the book,” Aebersold says. “Maybe with a Kindle and you’re commuting, and you can practice with a little keyboard on a head set … but otherwise, it’s not me. I don’t think I’ve ever downloaded [print music] off the Internet. When I download news articles, I print them out and staple them!”
“I certainly hope not,” Sher says. “I could be wrong, but I can’t see that happening just because it’s such a beautiful thing a book. I’m Jewish and I’m of ‘the people of the book.’ I can’t imagine a world without books.”