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e-Printing - why so expensive?

I have been purusing octavos online at JW Pepper and a question came to my head. Why is the e-print option the same price as the published and mailed octavo? It is my paper, my ink, my computer, and my time.
 
The only thing I can think of is that the e-print option takes additional work to set up and regulate (X copies per purchase limit). But, that should honestly be quite simple.
 
Is there another reason I have not considered?
Replies (18): Threaded | Chronological
on February 25, 2016 3:19am
Well, the simple and cynical answer is that they charge so much because (a) they can, and (b) it's profitable. But there's more to it. Their primary business depends on selling paper copies, and they don't expect that to change for some time. That business depends on employees and contractors (e.g., printers), and, of course, the employees and contractors depend on JW Pepper's continuing activity. So, as they see it, they have to keep those people happy. They have to keep up sales of printed paper, and they don't want their digital sales to undercut the print sales. Besides, the bean-counters don't like anything that reduces the book value of their stock of printed music.
 
None of that applies to publishers whose primary business is in selling you digital scores to print yourself. You will find that their prices are more reasonable. Of course, that's only useful if they sell music that you want to use, but it's worth checking their catalogues to find out.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on February 25, 2016 4:10am
How about greed?
on February 25, 2016 5:52am
I"m in publishing.
 
Most of the costs of a publication are in what we call the "first copy." This includes the work needed to contract with the composer, editing, making sure the editing is OK with the author, checking on copyright and clearing rights and permissions to use the text (if needed), getting it typeset, cover art, sales and marketing, office staff, editorial staff. Those are all fixed costs. The actual printing costs to produce each copy aren't that big a percentage of the total cost, and remember that when ordering print copies of something you're also paying shipping and handling fees, so the cost IS higher.
 
These days, the print copy and e-download copy mostly come from the same source file, this is less true of older materials where there can be a one-time cost to digitize from a print copy.
Applauded by an audience of 6
on February 25, 2016 7:05am
My understanding is now that composers can use high-quality music notation software such as Finale or Sibelius they are required to submit highly-polished and already copyedited and proofread "camera ready" works to many (most?) music publishers, so this part of the pre-publication work has been offloaded to the composer, thus reducing a music publisher's production costs at least somewhat.  They are also encouraged or required to obtain permission to use texts themselves.  Am I wrong?
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 25, 2016 6:55am
The same question is often asked about the cost of traditionally-published e-books, about which as an author I know a great deal.  For example, the price of a new traditionally-published e-book available for sale through Amazon is often only a dollar or so less than a paper copy of the same book, if it is discounted at all.  Readers naturally ask why, as they correctly view digital files as being much cheaper to reproduce and distribute than paper copies (paperback or hardcover).  However, consumers are completely ignoring the cost of producing the CONTENT of the digital file: the time and effort the author (or in the case of choral music, the composer) spent to create a particular work, not to mention the cost of all the education and training that was incurred in order to be able to produce an appealing work in the first place.
 
However, does the person who actually created the work financially benefit from a traditional publisher's decision to keep the cost of digital files relatively high?  In the case of traditionally-published e-books, the answer is sadly most often an emphatic "No."  I have no direct knowledge of royalty contracts between composers and traditional music publishers, so cannot comment on their fairness when it comes to the royalties set for digital file sales, but I suspect the situation is very much the same.
 
The world of publishing anything--books, music, artwork, etc.--is undergoing a huge sea change, and from my perspective the individuals who are faring the worst during the transition are the creative people who actually produce that which others may wish to use and enjoy.  Traditional publishing houses (whose profit margins are actually quite small, by the way, at least for paper-based publications) are desperately trying to stay alive and relevant, and to do so must maximize their income.  The content producers (writers, composers, photographers, graphic designers, etc.) are fighting for much more fair contract terms especially regarding digitally distributed works, but often fight in vain, so more and more are choosing the self-publishing path which brings with it an entirely new set of problems but provides complete control over copyright, pricing, and distribution.  Consumers (readers, choir directors, etc.) are still demanding good-quality works but reasonable (read "low") prices, especially for digitally-distributed material.
 
So, the three sets of players in the traditional publishing game (creative content producers, publishers/distributors, consumers) are ALL fighting to maximize their income and minimize their outgo.  That, in short, is the answer to your question.
 
Applauded by an audience of 3
on February 25, 2016 3:13pm
I assume there is also a shrinking market, with fewer people attending religious services and fewer students involved in school music programs due to budget cuts, increased testing, and competition with AP courses.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 25, 2016 6:48pm
Bart, I was going to 'applaud' your comment, but the content of it is too true and too sad. I can only afford to purchase one set of choral octavos per year for my modest elementary choir in our public school. I tend to arrange my own public domain music and use text book material (along with previous years' octavos) for our choral concert. Many of my teacher friends use one of the 'music classroom magazines' (I think there are three different ones published) to supplement their concert repertoire. I have self published my own arrangements with Sheet Music Plus (who ONLY do e-prints of self-published works - no paper copies at all.) and have been very discouraged to find that, while I get an occasional bulk order, a majority of choral purchases are 'single copy' purchases. SO.... even though I get a very good percentage of those self published pieces, I still only receive what I believe is a sliver of what I would be paid if every musician was honest and really bought the correct number of copies that they eventually made.
 
Greed of the publishers - yup. Greed of the composer - sure. But mostly, it is the now-institutionalized and accepted greed of musicians who decide that they can get away with making as many copies as they want from that one $2.00 electronic copy. ( And then some of them complain - not here, but in my music ed. circles - about how expensive choral music is!)
Applauded by an audience of 2
on February 26, 2016 5:35am
Kristine,
 
I can't speak for everyone, but I often order just one copy (either paper or e-version) simply to have the music "on hand" when considering future programs. Also, in certain genres such as jazz choir, the life span of a work in terms of printed availability is much shorter than in other genres, esp. with the major publishers. If I see/hear an arrangement that I may wish to consider using at some point in the near or distant future, I'll snap up a single copy immediately, as it may not be available later.
on February 26, 2016 6:36am
If a piece for jazz choir (or any other piece of music), only one copy of which you "snapped up" as soon as you saw it, were unavailable for purchase (out of print) when you really wanted to use it with your group, what would you then do?
 
on February 27, 2016 4:43am
If the piece goes POP, you contact the company to request permission to make copies (for which you pay a fee), which is almost always granted. But you need to have a single copy. However, I've rarely ever had to do that - it's essentially the last means of recourse and generally a concern only for pop/jazz music, where I've seen many fine arrangements go POP less than 10 years after they were first published.
 
As I stated earlier, my primary reason is to have the music immediately available when considering concert programs for the upcoming season. It saves a lot of time. It also makes it very easy for me to remember all the new pieces that I'm interested in - otherwise, I'd forget about them, or be stuck making a long list of potential new music, or worse, keeping all the catalogs and printed information about them, possibly for many years.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 27, 2016 5:40am
You write the publisher for permission to copy/perform. You sign a contract a pay a flat fee PLUS a. Per charge charge. Of course, the copying expenses are incurred by you as well.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 26, 2016 6:25am
"How about greed?"
"Greed of the publishers - yup. Greed of the composer - sure."
 
I must take exception to anyone labeling any individual or business as "greedy" simply because the cost of something they produce and sell is higher than one would like to pay, or can afford to pay.  When teachers ask for, or go on strike for, better pay and benefits, are they being greedy or just trying to make a reasonable living and cope with the rising costs of housing, insurance, health care, etc.?  When a publishing company sets prices higher than consumers would like to pay (or are even able to pay), are they being greedy or merely trying to stay in business in the face of radical changes in the industry?  It is not reasonable, I think, to consider our own efforts to maintain or improve our standards of living to be completely necessary and justifiable and not at all "greedy," but consider others' efforts to do so as always an evil manifestation of greed.  We ALL try to maximize our income and minimize our outgo because it is the sensible, rational, financially prudent thing to do to survive and try to ensure our childrens' survival in a very cold, hard, unpredictable world. 
 
Now, all that being said, I DO believe that traditional publishers (of anything) are being greedy when they set truly unfair and non-negotiable contract terms that are clearly more financially favorable to themselves than to the creative content producers, without whom they would not be in business at all.  And musicians are clearly being greedy (and breaking the law) when they purchase only one copy of a piece of music and then reproduce the work themselves at a lower cost than that required to purchase an adequate number of original copies for their needs.  (See many fairly recent discussions on ChoralNet regarding copyright issues to get an idea of how musicians justify their illegal behavior to themselves.)  As you note, the illegal photocopying of copyrighted music alone by far too many musicians increases the cost of choral music for everyone else.  Whenever a person or organization tries to maximize their income and minimize their outgo at the expense of someone else, then yes, that is being greedy.   
 
Applauded by an audience of 4
on February 27, 2016 4:55am
"Whenever a person or organization tries to maximize their income and minimize their outgo at the expense of someone else, then yes, that is being greedy."
 
In my opinion, that is exactly what publishers are doing when they charge the same price for an e-copy vs. a hard copy. I challenge campanies to produce hard figures showing otherwise. If so, I'll change my thoughts on the matter in a heartbeat. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for them to produce such information.
on February 27, 2016 7:10am
I completely agree that digital sheet music should cost less than hard copy sheet music to those consumers who have to then spend time, energy, and money to make paper copies from digital files for ongoing use.  However, a substantially lower selling price might not even come close to covering a publisher's "fixed costs" as James Mouw outlined above, whether the publisher is of the traditional variety or is a self-publishing composer who must bear ALL of the costs of creation, publication, marketing, and distribution.
 
If traditional publishers lowered the selling price of digital sheet music to reflect the subsequent additional costs which the consumer must then bear, a move which would most likely result in considerably lower payments to their composers with antiquated royalty contracts, I can easily envision many or most of those composers -- especially the ones who are already well-known "hot sellers" -- simply deciding to self publish future works and retain all of the proceeds of their creative labor, while keeping their works "in print" essentially forever.  This is already happening in the book publishing industry, and to a lesser but increasing extent in the music publishing industry.  
 
Which leaves traditional publishers...where?  So many sheet music publishers and distributors have already gone out of business or been absorbed by larger entities who themselves are hanging on by a thread since the most recent recession (which is not over by a long shot for many industries).  Consumers don't have the time or energy to wade through mountains of self-published works of varying quality, and still depend on traditional publishers to do the initial sorting (vetting) for them.  On the other hand, many interesting, appealing, and well-crafted works submitted to traditional publishers are rejected because the traditional publishing industry no longer has enough financial cushion (or is willing or able to accept even lower profits) to take a chance on any work they don't believe will be an instantly big enough seller that will provide a high enough return on their investment.
 
It will be interesting to see where the traditional publishing industry is in five or ten years, although "interesting" may not be the right word.
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 27, 2016 10:50am
I don't know that the charging of the same price for e-copies is being greedy. It is realistically charging the same amount of money for a slightly different set of advantages. One of my teacher friends ONLY uses e-print, because she's a bit of a procrastinator and doesn't always make a final choice of repertoire until the weekend before rehearsals start. She is willing to pay for 'on-demand' printing, and the school provides the copy machine, toner and paper. She gets what she needs when she needs it, and the school is willing to pay the negligible amount for printing copies on average quality paper. She is not being taken advantage of - she is using a service that fits her style of purchasing music. I believe she is also paying for the correct number of copies from her budget. Win-win, all around. When I choose my one, new choral piece per year, I purchase an octavo. I make the decision about a month before we begin rehearsals so I can initiate the process of school purchases that takes about two weeks. I have to include the price of shipping in that purchase and wait for about three weeks to get the actual copies, but that's worth it to me, because the students enjoy getting to use their own colorful copies of 'real choir music' and I collect those copies back after the choir season for my choral music library. I choose to pay the shipping cost and make decisions earlier because 'real choir music' is important to my little elementary choral program. I have used e print services for things like last minute special music, funerals, traveling musician left music at home (3 hours away) and other things where the advantages of having instantly available music was worth far, far more than the cost of that music. The reliable connection and ability to pay with my credit card were absolutely worth it to me, and if that means I pay the same price for e prints as physical octavos, so be it.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on February 27, 2016 8:50am
Perhaps a paradigm shift is in order. I am not going to address this as a published composer, but as a consumer of choral music (church music, specifically). I do not look at the digitial option as a means by which to save on the cost of newly purchased repertoire. I see it as a wonderful convenience. When I discover a new edition that I want to use for my choir, it is "instantly" available. OK, there may be the (slight) additional cost of in-house duplication, but isn't there a savings on shipping (especially for panic orders that one needs by next week)? And as it has been pointed out, a goodly number of digital houses and self-published composers do take the delivery method into account when setting their prices. In the end, if you think the digital price is unfair, order the hardcopy. 
Applauded by an audience of 4
on February 28, 2016 7:28pm
This discussion has been very interesting, with a lot of very pertinent points raised. But for me, "on-demand" is also very valuable, and something I will pay for. And so I also agree with Bob Moore. I just now purchased 16 copies of "Ah, Holy Jesus" by Don McCullough for our little country choir for Maundy Thursday. Don has priced these very reasonably ($1.40 a copy) and I have the master tonight, and can photocopy them tomorrow. Yes, I would prefer to have real octavos, but I am grateful that Don has solved a problem for me so easily!
Applauded by an audience of 4
on February 29, 2016 9:07am
The charge of “greed!” is a facile one we’re used to throwing around (mostly related to Wall Street,) and which certainly does not reflect a realistic understanding of today’s music publishing system which is, despite what you’re thinking, built on very narrow margins. Most publishers today have small staffs on meager salaries in small offices. Perhaps I can offer some points that will help clarify your thinking about what is actually taking place:
  1. The public has expectations which affect costs.  Such as:
  1. Everyone wants a professional recording of their piece. And rightly so because these days, hearing can equal selling. There are costs involved in recording and in the technology to make the recording available to the public, along with a visible sample of the music itself and reviews, recent performances, and a complete description and to make these searchable so that the consumer can easily find and access this music and all the information about it. Then customers want to order it and pay for it quick and conveniently, and have it shipped to them expediently. In the case of digital music, many of these costs don’t change—the music still has to be “delivered” to you, and this is not without cost-- and moreover the delivery method has to be quick, foolproof, and reassure the composer regarding possible copyright infringement via stamping or some sort of accountability. Failing that, a higher cost for a digital product may simply reflect the very real concern that someone may buy something digitally and then make twice the number of copies of it.  Of course, you personally would never do that.  Other people do. In other cases a higher cost reflects outright permission that you may make such copies for as long as you own the music.
  2. Buyers have high standards in terms of legibility and appearance. Publishers may start with the composer’s own engraving but generally have professional editors and engravers take over from there. The cost of this does not vary whether the product is physical or digital.
  3. Publishers spend money on websites, catalogs, reading sessions, and sending review copies to influential people here and abroad.
  4. Convention attendees rate the Exhibit Hall fairly highly as a place to access and see new music. They want this sort of service when they attend a convention. Yet the costs of presenting these events are staggering, and have risen at a much faster rate than the actual cost of the music itself.
  5. A clear majority of music is purchased through a dealer who receives a substantial discount on the music they purchase from a publisher.  Customers say they don’t want to see these dealers go away. They represent a centralized place to peruse products and capitalize on the dealer’s expertise.  Yet other customers are quick to claim they can or want to save 10%-20% by ordering digitally or by some other method.  But you can’t have it both ways, you either want dealers to do well enough to stay in your town, or you do not. The choice is yours, but do not make it unaware.
  1. Publishers used to count on a certain amount of revenue from the commercial recording of their pieces. But because of shifts in the way Spotify, Pandora, YouTube.. etc… have affected the music industry, this revenue stream continues to drop. That income used to help keep the cost of sheet music lower. So now there is more pressure to break even from the sales of the sheet music alone.
  2. These days, time is money. With a traditional publisher, someone else has put in a certain amount of time on your behalf. Time in seeing and evaluating thousands of manuscripts per year, winnowing out for the best quality, appropriateness, creativity, usefulness.  Filtering things so that you can have confidence in choosing that publisher’s end result.  Naturally, you may not agree with the end result.  But that doesn’t change the process itself, nor the investment of time (and therefore money) that has gone into it.
Of course things need to constantly change and improve with the changing times. Traditional publishers know that and are making every effort to keep pace. But asserting that there is merely one factor on which you’ve built your perception of the industry (i.e. greed) is, frankly, uninformed.  The work of today’s publishers is based on mutual respect and strong relationships with composers, dealers, and consumers, all of whom are trying to do their best  to enrich the cultural life of our world.
Applauded by an audience of 6
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