Self Publication - A position paper

by Barry Drogin

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Why Self-Publication of Classical Music in the 1990's is not "Vanity Press"

Crafts people, painters and sculptors "self-publish" --- they acquire the materials, provide the final product. Some sell the works themselves --- from their studios, on the street, at fairs. Some join other artists for group shows, some are represented at galleries. These are the marketing and distribution aspects of the business, not the production aspect.

Choreographers form their own dance companies --- they "self- publish." Independent film makers form private companies to raise funds for each project --- often they make deals with distributors, not film companies. This is "self-publishing."

No one would accuse any of the above of operating a form of "vanity press." Yes, the artists are taking a financial risk, investing in themselves, but this is the norm in their field. Sometimes the artists mentioned above do not "self-publish" --- a fine-art work is commissioned, a choreographer is a guest with another company, a film company produces the film maker's next project --- but these are not the norm.

Herewith, some thoughts to show that the classical music industry and book industry are sufficiently different that self-publication of music in the 1990's is not the same as vanity press:

1. Source of income: An author's primary source of income is royalties from sale of editions of the book. Book promotion (readings, signings, interviews) is usually not income-producing. Sale of subsidiary rights (film, TV) are rare, but a valuable source of additional income for best-sellers. Composer's, on the other hand, derive most of their income from commissions and performance royalties. Publication is intended to enhance the possibility of performance; in addition, some income might be generated from educational use.

2. Form of publication: No one will buy an author's manuscript --- the work must be typeset and bound into hardcover or softcover. This is the service a "vanity press" offers. Contemporary classical music works often use new notation systems that make typesetting difficult --- facsimile scores (copies of hand-inked (autographed) scores) are now standard in the 1990's, and the self- publisher does not need to go to a "vanity press" to produce the raw product to sell: Diazo prints, offset or xerographic copies of hand- or computer-made scores are now acceptable.

3. The business: Typeset books and music scores are run off in a first printing in numbers that will pay back the start-up costs. The product is then warehoused and inventoried until distribution or remaindering (out-of-print). A self-publisher of music can keep a small inventory, and run off extra copies to meet demand. The work never goes "out-of-print."

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007