Music Sales has taken the innovative step of launching the first
ever Web site selling sheet music. This commercial venture uses
quick-browsing technology, a system to protect copyright interests and
inbuilt security measures to safeguard purchasers. Carrie Rose looks at
the company’s strategy to bring sheet music to the world.
Web site: Sheet Music Direct
Publisher: Music Sales
Those living in the Outer Hebrides can now have instant access to sheet
music from Oasis to Elgar - provided they’re on the Internet. This
month, Music Sales, European market leader in sheet music publishing,
launched its latest venture together with its US partner, Hal Leonard
Sheet Music Direct is the first worldwide, 24-hour service providing
commercially copyrighted printed sheet music via the World Wide Web (at
Sheet music thus joins a growing list of products that can be ordered
over the Internet, from books and CDs to groceries and t-shirts. The
distinction is that, in this case, it is actually delivered over the
This calls for some interesting technology. The front-end employs the
latest quick-browsing system, so customers can run quickly through the
online catalogue. It is designed to offer rapid recognition of in-demand
items. The browser was built by Thought Interactive, which also manages
Customers are invited to download MusicPage, a specially designed piece
of free software. This enables them to download the music in a few
seconds, view it and print it. But because of the need to protect
copyright, each file can only be printed once, and within a specific
Chris Butler, Music Sales’ general manager, has some concerns about the
security of shopping over the Net, as well as the need to ensure that
the material can’t be pirated. Currently, Sheet Music Direct uses the
joint technology of BT and Barclays, which allows the user’s credit card
details to be securely encrypted and transmitted, and the card itself
verified online and in real time.
In terms of payment security, Butler feels that the Internet is such a
big opportunity for credit card companies they will spare no effort to
ensure fraud isn’t an issue.
Music Sales represents the print interests of firms such as Sony and
Polygram and individuals from Eric Clapton to Michael Nyman. It boasts
the controlling share of a UK market worth pounds 35m to pounds 40m
annually. Its output is about 500 books a year (an average of two every
working day), supplying music from the past 70 years, from music hall to
pop, classical and jazz.
However, Butler explains: ’We’re keen to be involved with the latest
innovations. As a small company we can be very nimble in our reactions.’
Its 1995 launch of Music by Fax, which won a 1995 Marketing ’new
channels to market’ telemarketing award, is a case in point.
’At that time, the fax machine was the fastest-growing domestic
appliance in terms of market penetration, so we jumped on the band-wagon
into a highly successful, award-winning venture,’ says Butler. ’But now
the fax doesn’t have the power of the home computer and is limited in
its application, whereas there’s an explosion in usage of PCs in the
The new Internet venture is being marketed primarily through banner
advertising on the Web search engines, and advertising in Internet
journals. As it is an electronic service, the main pitch is to those
known to have Internet access.
Music Sales will also use its printed publications to introduce their
Internet site. This is a powerful advertising tool in its own right.
During the autumn, 30,000 to 35,000 units a day will be sold, all
carrying references to the Web site.
’I’m keen to propose Sheet Music Direct as a complimentary service to
our existing business, rather than as a replacement,’ Butler says. ’We
think of it as a parallel opportunity and don’t want to alienate our
customer base, which is a middle man selling on to the end user. Sheet
Music Direct obviously sells direct to the end user.’
Music Sales believes it is the only European company currently providing
this service. As Butler says: ’We have a track record of being involved
in new areas. Also, there’s no point investing the sort of money
required if you’ve only got three or four songs under your belt.
Consumers want to be able to go on site and buy the broadest range of
The company’s best-selling music is contemporary pop, followed by
classical/easy listening, jazz and country. But it covers everything
from gospel to brass bands.
In marketing terms, Music Sales sees itself as reactive rather than
It relies on others to create the next superstar, then it is up to the
company to respond quickly to make the music available.
Music Sales’ strategy is directed at publishing a huge amount of
material, creating compilations and repackaging. But it is always
looking for new openings. Butler says: ’As soon as the next opportunity
manifests itself, we’ll get involved - whatever it is.’
This article was first published on Marketing