A counterpoint to yesterday’s post by Philip supporting John Mackey’s argument (posted on Whitacre’s blog) that self-publishing is a better deal for composers.
The counter-argument is, that if a publisher can sell 1,000 copies and you get 10%, you’re better off than if you keep 100% of 12 copies sold through your website. The publishers have marketing departments, existing relationships with retailers, name recognition, and are supposedly experts in selling music. Of course it’s debatable how effective that is, but I get the impression that the only composers who are really successful at self-publishing are those who have achieved name recognition of their own, usually via conventional publishers. I’d say it’s pretty obvious that the economic situation is pretty different for Eric Whitacre (or even John Mackey) than it is for Joe Choral Composer.
Furthermore, being successful means doing a lot of work on the business side: promotion, maintaining a website, handling payments, doing paperwork for ASCAP and other organizations, contacting resellers, fulfilling orders, filing for a DBA [something which Mackey seems to have overlooked], watching for copyright violators, and generally running an independent business. You’re getting paid more for doing more work, which is fine, but wouldn’t you rather be composing?
As I’ve written before on this blog, finding music via composer self-publishing websites is very time-consuming and frustrating. Most of it is bad (at least publishers do a first pass on filtering the crap), many composers don’t know how to use their notation programs properly, and it takes forever. So putting your own self-publishing website would be, for most composers, a ticket to permanent obscurity. You get to keep 100% of your obscurity, for what that’s worth.
Finally, it’s pretty rare for composers to make enough to live on; most of them have day jobs as performers or teachers or whatever. Given that, which is more important: to optimize your income from composing, or maximize the number of people who get to enjoy your music? If going with a conventional publisher leads to more performances of your music, wouldn’t that be worth the lower income? Not every composer would answer that the same way.