In addition to having a painfully slow turn around speed during the publishing process, the traditional publishers are slow in other areas as well.
Despite my best efforts, sometimes I make mistakes.
I had a contract to publish a piece that I wrote in memory of my wife's grandparents. You can give it a listen here. The fabulous Tampa Bay Children's Chorus premiered it, and I'm excited to have a commission to write a new piece for them soon.
I sent the score off to the copyist, and he sent me the proofs. I went through them carefully, and the piece went to print. When I finally got a copy, I was horrified to see that the text was missing in a line of counterpoint for one of the voices. I went back to the proof and found that the copyist had made a mistake. I had approved the copyists mistake, and it went to press.
Publishers usually do runs of 500 copies. The piece started selling pretty well, so I asked them if we could fix the error for some of the future runs. They said no. It wouldn't be financially viable to make a new set of "plates". It is important to understand that even though they use the word "plates" (like the old engravers), the "plates" of modern times are simply a set of pdf files. The publisher just doesn't want to pay a copyist to re-set the score. It would be about two hours of work for any decent copyist to add text to four bars of music. In order to keep the same amount of pages, you would probably have to re-set a few pages.
Unfortunately, that is not a financially viable option for the publisher. So, the work continues to sell. People do it in its printed form, and not as I intended it. It is my fault for not catching the mistake at first. I have no ability to change it because I don't own it. Allowing me to make a revision is not in the financial interest of the company.
I know of very few artists that don't revise their work at some point or other. In an age when we are using computers and not hand engraving real plates, shouldn't we be able to revise a work and have it be available immediately? Welcome to the 1990s, music publishing industry!
That's one of the things we are trying to build at MusicSpoke. Publishing should now be a dynamic platform where a composer can hear from a conductor, revise a work, and have it immediately available for download. Visit the MusicSpoke site, sign up, and help us build something new.