The state of things for composers (part 2)

As soon as I made yesterdays post, I received some comments via Twitter and Facebook about self-publishing. An interesting blog post from Clay Shirky also popped up on my Twitter feed at the same time.

I think Clay gets it right when he says, “Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.”

In tackling the 5000/yr model that I mentioned yesterday, Dr. Shirky correctly identifies the issue. “Now publishers are in the business not of overcoming scarcity but of manufacturing demand. And that means that almost all innovation in creation, consumption, distribution and use of text is coming from outside the traditional publishing industry.”

So, we are all being encouraged to self-publish. I recall about 10 years ago having an email exchange with Stephen Paulus. He said, “Kurt, you need to just self-publish. The distribution isn’t as wide, but you make so much more per copy.” I thought, well, yes, but you’re Stephen Paulus. So, I went the more traditional route, until I began to get frustrated with the industry.

I’ll address some of the practical problems of self-publishing soon, but for now, let me address what I see to be the most pernicious aspect of it. Haig Mardision, who thinks and writes about many of these same issues for the American Organist (a fine composer in his own right) wrote to me and ended saying, “Tricky thing is to reclaim the juried standard.”

Haig nails the core issue. The internet is a bathroom wall. Anyone can write something on it, and oftentimes it is pornographic and lewd and not worth the time you spent investigating it. There is no question that the industry is changing, and publishers (at least as we know them now) may not survive the sea-change.

In the interim, we are in a phase where being a “published composer” still carries weight in many circles. I’m not sure that it always should - considering what some of the companies are willing to print. At the same time, I’m a little reluctant to go to the “give your stuff away for free” model that some are pushing right now. The composers that I know that are using that model have never really made much money from writing.

The most successful and least successful all say to self-publish. That leaves those of us who might be called moderately successful in a strange spot. I’ll talk more about some of the practical aspects of that in the next post. Ironically, I had a conversation about that with one of our countries more successful composers this week too.