Sibelius Users: A Pressure Group

Interesting activity going on here at sibeliususers.org.  From their description:

Please join us in convincing Avid that it is in everyone’s best interests for them to sell Sibelius.  This will still ease its cash crisis, but will ensure Sibelius lives on in safe hands.

A few salient points for further discussion:

  • Sibelius likely is not making enough money to support the larger staff that it has enjoyed since being acquired by Avid.  Doing a little back-of-the-napkin math based on the acquisition press release from 2006, Sibelius had 180,000 users back then.  Let’s divide that number by 5 years, (36,000 users per year) times the average price of a copy of Sibelius (let’s say around $100 since there are a lot of upgrades and Ed discounts in there).  This gives you about $360,000,000.
  • BUT WAIT – Sibelius was acquired by Avid in 2006 for only $22M.  So obviously the user base number was either a) inflated; b) a guess; or c) accounted for everyone who pirated the software as well as paying users.
  • By 2012, I would assume the paying user :: pirate ratio has probably gotten worse.
  • However, I doubt that’s the only problem.  In the time between the acquisition and the sell-off, I can anecdotally say that Sibelius is being used less by creators of content than arrangers, and other scribes and copyists types in the music world.  DAW-style apps have become the de-facto creative standard, while notation has become a necessity for those who need it (hint: composers no longer “need” it).  I admit this is a blatant opinion, and not something I’ve researched.

A few more points regarding Avid’s earnings:

  • Right before the sell off, Avid reported revenue of $152.1 million, with a net loss of $15.6 million.  They originally paid $22M for Sibelius, and not only can they not make this money back, but they are losing nearly the same amount just based on operating.
  • Avid is one of the only publicly traded media software/hardware-only companies.  The only other one I can think of is Adobe.  Everyone else is either a giant (e.g. Apple, Sony, etc.) or a private single-focus company (e.g. Ableton, Propellerhead, Aja).  This puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the company to remain profitable for its shareholders’ interest.
  • The main focus of their sell-off seems to be to strategically shed businesses they aren’t totally sure about.  For instance – the Education market (one of the original targets that made Avid want to acquire Sibelius in the first place) is changing very rapidly.  No longer is it mandatory to buy something like Sibelius to teach music in a lab.  In fact, some would argue that notation software is unnecessary altogether in a K-12 educational environment.

These lead me to a conjecture: If Sibelius was spun off back into an independent company, it could no longer stand on its own.  A company cannot simply retreat to pre-crisis levels and maintain modernity.  Since 2006, Sibelius (while apparently not generating much profit) had grown into a multitude of educational products, and integrated into somewhat an appendage of Pro Tools.  These projects require more programmers, more QA, more salespeople, etc.  The group (save Sibelius) seems fixated on saving the main UK office, but ignores the reality that Sibelius has changed quite a bit since growing out of that office.

Between this, and the possible hostile takeover possibility happening with MakeMusic, the notational software market could soon be in trouble.  But remember people, this is what drove you to Sibelius in the first place – you didn’t like Finale.  Now close your eyes and imagine an app that integrates notation smartly into the modern music making workflow.  Who will make it?  Does it already exist as a small niche product or is it yet to exist?  Will Finale or Sibelius figure out how to survive this decade?  I don’t know.  All I can say is that I stopped using both programs a long time ago.

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.

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