Sunday, April 13, 2008

Old Publishing/New Publishing

An old topic on this blog has been the obsolescence of traditional music publishing for composers of new music. I believe that there is and will continue to be a niche role for traditional publishing houses, but only when,

(A) at a minimum, the publisher offers these three services:

(1) Promotion of the composers' work.
(2) Production and editing, at the publisher's own expense (and not charged against future royalties) of adequate scores, parts, and other performance materials for perusal, sale or rental.
(3) Management of the timely and convenient distribution, rental, and or sale of those materials, including internet distribution of materials in the form of electronic documents.


(B) the composer:

(1) doesn't have the time, patience, or desire to do any of the above.
(2) is willing to give up half their performance and mechanical royalties in return for the services.
(3) is willing to trust a publisher to provide the above services over a sustained period of time and in a fashion appropriate to the composer's own interests.

Traditional publishing does continue to carry a certain caché -- it is indeed cool to be able to claim the same publisher as Brahms or Stravinsky, and many a young academic composer facing a tenure decision will be told that they need to get one of their works printed by such a house. But that status has little or nothing to do with the actual tasks of getting music played and heard nowadays, and the current interests of traditional publishers have moved significantly beyond traditional practice.

Take, for example, the case of Boosey & Hawkes, one of the best old firms. In a press release dated Friday, we learn that B&H has been sold by its current owner, HgCapital, to IMAGEMMUSIC,* the music publishing fund of All Pensions Group (APG) and CP Masters BV. This is real success for HgCapital, which paid 75mGBP for B&H in 2003 and now sells it for 126mGBP. Moreover, we learn that, in the past four years, B&H has been significantly restructured, "executing a transformation of the business from a traditional classical music publisher into a 21st century music rights group", and that it has "outsourced a number of non-core activities such as printing and distribution and developed a series of new revenue streams. In particular it has developed a strong presence in the market for music in advertising and film, where revenues are currently growing at approximately 30% per annum." While it is likely that some composers will benefit from this restructuring, it is far from clear that this will be the case for the majority of classical composers, whose interests will necessarily be seen as even more minor within the context of an ever-larger concern.

The alternative is of course, self-publication, as a solo effort (the Stockhausen Verlag or Tom Johnson's Editions 75 are good examples) or in some cooperative arrangement with like-minded musicians (Frogpeak Music, Thürmchen Verlag, Material Press are some examples). The advantages are control over the services provided, retention of royalties by the composer, and direct communication between performers and composers with regard to materials and performances. Electronic publication of scores is a perfect fit both for self-publication and for a musical world in which prospective players want materials now, if not sooner. In a few cases, composers have even been able to give up their day jobs, or have even had to hire help to run their publishing activities. The disadvantages are costs in terms of time and energy and, perhaps, the loss of that caché of being carried by a famous name.

* IMAGEMMUSIC was itself formed in February 2008 when a number of music publishing assets of the Universal Music Group (UMG) were purchased by the Dutch fund ABP, the world's third largest pension fund, and CP Masters BV, an "independent" music publisher.

1 comment:

Gavroche said...

Very interesting post! Do most of a modern composers royalties come from the publishing side?