Monday, April 13, 2015

Why hasn't digital sheet music caught on?

The digital book industry has become exceedingly popular with the widespread availability of e-readers and tablets. Books have been available online for decades, but the digital book industry only became popular when digital books — like their paper counterparts — could be transported. The same characteristics of digital sheet music—cost, ease of transport and access—also apply to digital books. A study by Ricoh, a multinational imaging and electronics company, in 2012 published market research about the future of the book industry. “The Evolution of the Book Industry: Implications for U.S. Book Manufacturers and Printers” found the instantaneous download feature of ebooks trumps any user’s preferences for the sentimental features of printed book. In other words, they found that even most people who love the smell, feel, texture, taste and sound of paper books are more likely to download ebooks because they can be read instantly. Ricoh’s 2012 market research also predicted that in 2016 ebooks would capture 60 percent of the entire book market, which is unlikely because ebooks in 2015 only capture 30 percent of the market.  It may be possible that in all cases digital e-reader technology catches on more slowly than predicted.

Although printed music and printed books are quite similar, it should not be overlooked, however obvious, that reading words and reading music are quite different activities, and these differences may explain why digital sheet music is less popular than digital books. When someone reads a book ­– unless it’s for class – they will read through the book only once. Musicians often practice sheet music in anticipation of a performance, which means repeatedly flipping through sections of the score and writing notes about performance practices. Musicians often study the music they play, which makes the digital format more difficult to manage. Likewise, this may explain why digital are not as popular as printed textbooks.

            Characteristics of sheet music may preclude itself from being qualified as mass media. Although sheet music distributes information to a wide audience, it’s more of a “mass medium once removed.” Sheet music is marketed to a select group of people (formally trained musicians) who then translate the musical score into music consumed by the masses. Unlike books, which are directly distributed to the consumer, digital sheet music must be distributed to a performer before being consumed by listeners. This niche market of performers may explain why digital sheet music is less popular. The market for sheet music may be less receptive to technological changes, for example, because many performers are older.   

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