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PDFs: Fixed rate? Adjustable rate?

Good Day, 
I am working with a 'traditional' hard-copy publisher who only now is getting ready to sell music in PDF format. His client experience has persuaded him that he should charge a set amount for PDFs, based on the hard-copy selling price. There would be unlimited copying allowed, presumably restricted to the the choir purchasing the music.
I have always shied away from this approach, preferring to request conductors to tell me how many copies they need, and so set my total price by multiplying a percentage of the hard-copy price by the number of copies to be made. (As an aside, I am considering asking for the choir name and website URL on the order form for my own desk-top published works; in this way I can - if I am at all 'suspicious' - check out the situation)
I find the 'one size fits all' approach discriminates against smaller choirs, trios, quartets, etc. It also can mean lost sales, for instance, in the case of overseas choirs (who do not know how long it will take to receive hard copies), in the case of significantly large choirs, and in situations where a conductor of a smallish choir suddenly discovers a piece that he/she feels needs to be obtained quickly but is not cost effective. 
What is your experience and advice with respect to this situation? Which practice do YOU follow in your own publications, and – if you work with them with PDFs – which practice is followed with any traditional publishers of your music? Do you have strong feelings (as I do!) about all this?
Thanks very much,
Replies (11): Threaded | Chronological
on March 21, 2014 12:52pm
Seems to me that a fixed fee for the pdf preparation, with a specific user license imprint, and a per-user fee for the number of copies makes sense.  Composer Abbie Betinis, who has a nice website (disclaimer: I like the website, but know nothing of her music) introduced me to this concept. 
William Copper
on March 21, 2014 2:54pm
I prefer to have a set number on a download license.  I often like getting music as a PDF because of the speed I can get it.  More organized conductors seem to like a printed octavo or "Choral" as they are calling it now.  
If you try selling me on an unlimitted license because I can replace damaged copies,  don't.  If I make the copies, of course I'm going to replace them. Photocopies of a PDF do not last through a single rehearsal/performance cycle.  I also feel we should consider the price of a single digitally downloaded recording when considering price for a PDF download.  If people are used to getting a track from iTunes for $.99 I don't see charging them $3.00 per digital print copy.  
Some people charge by the length of the work.  If the piece is a single movement work, I think that is a mistake.  When I am struglging with budget issues, I am not thinking about whether a piece is 3 minutes or 4 and a half minutes long and don't feel I should be paying more for a slightly longer work.  
I checked out Abbie's website mentioned above.  I do like how she handles the whole tamale. Click on the "Order Sheet Music " button in the upper right corner of her site.   William, check out her music, she is very good and currently enjoying a lot of performaces with high school choirs. 
Just my 2 cents.  
Applauded by an audience of 1
on March 21, 2014 4:32pm
I want to echo the other praise for Abbie's approach, and looked for her thorough and thoughtful comments in a past Choralnet discussion - but it looks like she has left choralnet and the comments are lost! However, thanks to the Internet Archive you can read an archive of the thread here:
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on May 9, 2014 11:49am
Hi Jed, Jack, Donald and (my new friend) William -- thank you for your kind words about my pricing model.  It's still working for me!  Loving it, actually.  And yes I'm still happily lurking about here on ChoralNet!  (Jed, message me if you still don't see my comments on previous posts... they're showing up for me.) 
Here's a link to my comments, some of which are on pricing and self-publishing:
on March 21, 2014 5:52pm
Hi, Donald,
My $0.02: I think choirs purchasing your .pdfs should definitely be charged per copy they intend to make, and not granted a blanket license to make as many copies as they wish.
For what it's worth: when customers buy digitally licensed copies of a piece from my site (, I charge usually half of what a print copy would cost, and make each sale on a per-copy basis.  When customers buy digital versions of my scores, my website has users create an account and input an email address where they will be e-mailed a link to download the file after the purchase is complete.  Buyers can only download the file one time (for security reasons).  
The site automatically prints the terms of a license right into the .pdf a customer buys.  The license basically says [Ensemble Name] is hereby granted a license valid for one year from [purchase date] to make [X] number of copies, that the file from which the copies are made may not be transferred, sold, etc., and that the license must appear in each copy printed from the original file.  I don't have to do any preparation myself of the .pdf's or the licenses; it's all automated by my website.  The license is printed in fine print in the margin of the first page of the score and (if I recall correctly) the margin of one other page.
Certain traditional publishers are catching on and realizing that .pdf distribution of scores is no longer the way of the future -- it's the way of the present.  Lots of choirs are doing it this way now, with singers reading from tablets.  ECS stands out as a model in this way -- if you call them up and ask for a digitally licensed .pdf, they'll sell you one.  Truly excellent service.
Good luck!
All best,
Joseph Gregorio
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on March 22, 2014 8:49am
Hi Donald,
I charge a set amount for PDFs, and allow purchasers to print as many copies as they need for the use of the choir they've bought them for. I have text under the title stating which choir this PDF has been purchased for.
This means that the choirs don't have to worry about how many copies they might need (especially important for choirs who may have varying memberships from year to year), and can reprint with a clear conscience, and I don't have to do any admin to check how many members are in the choir, or chase things up if it turns out they've only paid for 15 copies and there are 20 in the choir (a situation where it's clearly not worth taking court action, but nevertheless a ripoff has happened). I'm not sure how checking out suspicious situations benefits you, to be honest - all that's going to happen is that you get annoyed and possibly blacklist the choir in question, it won't improve your situation or theirs.
It does have the disadvantage that I can end up only paid £25 for a performance by 100 singers. But then again, that's 100 singers who now know my music and may become choir directors themselves, or suggest it for future choirs that they join.
I'm not yet aware of any situation where a small choir has found the price unreasonable, but I might add something like "price reductions are available for choirs with  less than 10 members". 
It might be worth charging "per copy" up to, say, 50 singers, and then having the price for 50 copies allow infinite reprinting. After all, the PDF has cost you nothing extra.
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on March 22, 2014 10:15am
I like the last paragraph.  If you use the unlimitted license as an upgrade, you are giving the choir director a simple choice, both of which make a sale.  However anyone big enough to buy more than 50 copies, probably can pay per copy. I'm not sure this would be a financial advantage for you. 
Consider festival choirs?  If my school district buys the music for the festival choir performance, there could be 250 singers but each doing the bulk of the practice at their own school.  Could they buy a 50+ license?  If we bought print music we would have to pay a per copy price which has been the norm.
on March 23, 2014 10:43am
Personally I'd be happy for a festival choir purchase to be for the use of the festival choir - if the director wrote and explained, I could do a PDF for each school which also included the festival choir. (That's assuming they wanted to do it as individual schools as well - if it was just for the festival choir, I wouldn't mind sub-choirs of that rehearsing separately.)
on March 22, 2014 11:10am
My Internet publishing concern is Picardie Court Publications: .  I compose, edit and engrave my own compositions and arrangements.  As naive as it may seem, my attitude is this: the great majority of people in music possess
enough personal integrity that I trust they will do the right thing by composers.  If a customer questions the price of one of my pieces, I inform him/her of what little profit I make, and what considerable profit my printer makes.  A "big time" commercial publisher buys thousands of copies to offset the price of printing.  Then why doesn't eveyone buy from such publishers?  Could it be that some directors want to do music that no one else has discovered?  Most choirs find a good piece; other directors hear it and also perform it; then others, etc., until audiences may tire of it.
If one of my works fails to please a director, s/he can return the clean copies for a refund; I will even pay the postage.  If a customer wants to do a world premiere of something, I may have exactly what s/he needs, or if requested, I can compose something for him/her that is appropriate for his/her event.  If s/he wants any changes in the pdf. that I send to him/her, I will adjust the master copy to suit that person before final copies are made.  If a customer expresses an interest in one of my pieces, I will send him/her the whole composition, not just a page or two.  If the person steals the piece, s/he will see a thief in his/her mirror every day, but I will have the satisfaction that my music has been heard and enjoyed.
The only time that I will consider selling a pdf. is when a director has a large choir and a very small budget.  In some cases, when the director has a small choir, I will give the pdf. music away for the promise of knowing when and where a performance is given.  When a person buys my music, it then belongs to him or her; so she may make the number of copies she needs with his/her promise not to give extra copies to some other director, i.e., unless I am informed of his/her intention. 
Many, not all, of my compositions have .mp3 files of actual performances.  What a "big time" publisher cannot provide, is a personal interest in every customer's choral activites; I can and will provide that interest.  Legal "this and that," to protect a composer from his customers is, to me, boring and unnecessary. 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on May 9, 2014 1:45pm
I missed the March discussion, but was glad to see Abbie Betinis' is still contributing here!  Her example as a businessperson (as well as composer) has been an inspiration for me.  Along with some others active on ChoralNet.
I've been charging a fixed per copy licensing fee for 10 years without complaints.  I do think the smaller groups appreciate it and I can't count the number of times a conductor has been delighted to have a printable score right away.  If someone had good reason to request a volume discount, I'd consider it, but no one has so far.  I don't put the license language in the PDF of the score.  Mostly, I suppose, because that seemed like a lot of trouble.  But I also don't think that would stop someone from making illegal copies; I figure you have to trust that most groups are honest and will do the right thing, especially if it's affordable.  My written license is separate, allows for replacement copies and has a provision for transfering the license if a group wants to sell the music onward.  I'm glad to see publishers adopting this distribution method too; I do think it's here to stay.  chris
on May 9, 2014 5:28pm
Thank you all so much for contributing your thoughts. I won't try to summarize what has been written, nor risk any written conclusions. You have – to a person – expressed your position convincingly, and that's what is important. There's more than one way to skin a cat. That being said, I'll state that my particular bias in this situations has been somewhat strengthened by your remarks, but then again– we tend to listen to the advice we want to hear! I think a number of conductors must have been sensitized to the issue, judging by the number of views, which is positive. 
Wally De Pue's closing phrase, though not directly related to the 'fixed/adjustable' issue really sums up the best way to approach the issue – actually any business issue – (my italics): "What a "big time" publisher cannot provide, is a personal interest in every customer's choral activites; I can and will provide that interest." When the customer's interest is there, and thought is given, I am sure each of us will find the most appropriate solution. To any business problem!
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