Journal of Cultural Economics

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 403–420 | Cite as

Economics of music publishing: copyright and the market

  • Ruth TowseEmail author
Original Article


The paper argues that the paradigmatic shift from the sale of printed music to exploiting and managing musical rights that took place in music publishing during the early years of the twentieth century was due to the changing market rather than to changes in copyright law. On the one hand, copyright law was ineffectual in controlling piracy throughout the nineteenth century, and on the other hand, performing rights were ignored by music publishers for over 70 years; these points suggest that copyright was not the main reason behind the success of the industry. Rather than leading entrepreneurially (the current view of dynamism in the creative industries), publishers ‘followed the money’ and adapted their business models only when new streams of income from new forms of exploitation through sound recording, broadcasting and film became available as a result of exogenous technical progress. Publishers were locked-in to sales revenue as their business model, though when switching to the new business model of rights management took place, the costs seem not to have been greatly significant. The paper takes an historical approach to the development of music publishing viewed through the lens of present-day issues. The research has resonance for the transition from sales to licensing digital works that is taking place in the creative industries today and puts into perspective the relative significance of market forces and copyright law in the process.


Copyright Business model Music publishing Creative industries 



The research for this article was financed by a grant from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Board for the project ‘Economic Survival in a Long Established Creative Industry: Strategies, Business Models and Copyright in Music Publishing’ (AH/L004666/1) at Bournemouth University. The author is grateful to the Music Publishers Association, PRS for Music and the British Library for their assistance and to attendees at Workshops in 2015 on Music Publishing, Copyright and Business Models at Bournemouth University and at Birkbeck College, University of London, for their comments. Thanks also to Ronan Deazley, Richard Osborne and Derek Scott for reading and commenting on the draft of this article, and for the rigorous referee comments. The opinions and interpretations expressed here are the author’s own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CIPPMBournemouth UniversityBournemouthUK
  2. 2.CREATe Fellow in Cultural EconomicsUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  3. 3.TavistockUK

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