Is Printed Music the next to Disappear?

Unless you’re living on a deserted island, with no cell phone service, you know by now that printed publications are disappearing.  Newspapers are growing smaller in both size and substance, magazine publishers practically give the printed versions away, in order to keep distribution numbers and therefore, ad revenues up.

In a world where you can download coupons to your phone, receive targeted sale ads in your inbox, and download books into a reader, printed publications are moving from necessity to luxury.  Could printed music be next to go?

Jon Bruner is a data journalist who was data editor at Forbes magazine. He is now editor-at-large for O’Reilly Radar, an online publication which “spreads the knowledge of innovators,” offering “insight, research, and analysis about emerging technologies.”

Bruner says traditional publishers rely on selling music by composers such as Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms to enable them to publish music being written now but, unlike the established masterworks, do not sell in quantities large enough to keep them in business.

The biggest impact on the publishing world comes from the International Music Score Library Project.  IMSLP is self-described as “a community-built library of public domain sheet music.”

According to it’s website it is an “extensive collection of original scores scanned to PDF.”  Extensive indeed which includes

  • 67,990 works
  • 239,945 scores
  • 24,302 recordings
  • 7,676 composers
  • 226 performers

One of the most prominent performers I have seen use electronic scores is Christopher O’Riley. If you look carefully in the video above, you’ll see his iPad in hand and the electronic score at the piano.

Watching the recent program recording in New Albany, my first reaction was to wonder what happens when the computer crashes or the battery fails?  In the radio world, we face a similar situation with more and more of the material we use in the studio is on computer.  Convenient, yes, but a little unnerving when the screen goes dark.

I don’t know where the music publishing industry goes from here, nor have I had the opportunity to speak extensively with musicians to get their take on playing music from an electronic display.  I look forward to exploring this more.

Read: The Future of Classical Music (O’Reilly Radar)

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