(N.B. The Google searches referred to in this post were conducted on Sunday 10 July 2011, using google.co.uk. Your mileage may differ.)
This post began as I was conducting some background research for writing an entry on the composer Rebecca Saunders for the Oxford Dictionary of Music. Saunders is still young enough that most of the reference books that I have to hand are not much use, so I turned, as you do, to the internet. And when I searched for “Rebecca Saunders” on Google, it didn’t bring up her publisher website on the first page of results. In fact I couldn’t find it on the first five pages. I know it’s there, which is the only reason I clicked even this far, but I decided to change tack rather than wade any further.
I know who Saunder’s publishers are, so I could have gone straight through their website I suppose – but why try to remember that URL when Google is almost always quicker. Yet even more remarkably, a search for “Rebecca Saunders Peters Edition” also didn’t score a page 1 result. In fact Saunders’ page at Peters didn’t appear until halfway through the second page of Google results. (And then it is the German page at http://www.edition-peters.de.) Even setting aside the unbeatable page rank of Wikipedia and Facebook, a search so specific for a composer’s publisher website should yield better results than this, surely?
And the problem isn’t confined to Rebecca Saunders who, let’s admit it, has a relatively common name: although she is the dominant “Rebecca Saunders” on Google, several hits on the first few pages of my search concerned other people entirely. But how about Brian Ferneyhough?
Incredibly, much the same thing happens again. The first Peters hit for a search for “Brian Ferneyhough” is on page 3 of the Google’s results, and is for a pdf of their life and works brochure for the composer. Very useful, but not the page itself. On page 8 we find a pdf of Ferneyhough’s programme note for Allgebrah. Finally, at the top of page 13, we get there: Ferneyhough’s page at Edition Peters USA.
Unless artists choose to represent themselves online – which is of course fine –publishers should be their first line of public representation. The publishers are, after all, the managers and promoters of that composer’s output, and thus responsible for their front of house presentation. Anyone who might have heard Rebecca’s music and is intrigued to find out more can do so through the internet, but is going to have to pass the attractions of many unauthorised sources (Wiki, blogs, YouTube, filesharing forums, etc) before they reach the authorised information put out by the publisher themselves. (Assuming they get that far at all.)
I don’t know if this is a problem exclusively confined to Edition Peters. I’ve done a few tests with searches for composers of other websites with mixed results. But Ricordi and Boosey & Hawkes have to be pretty pleased with this first page from Google:
So despite the relative weight of YouTube etc, it can be done (although Wikipedia seems undefeatable on almost searches these days). The question is, if publishers really do want to do the best for their composers, shouldn’t they be doing better at this? Some urgent instruction in SEO may be needed. As things stand, publishers risk losing Google ground – and therefore authority – to unmanaged, unauthorised and even unlawful alternatives. This doesn’t serve either them, or the composers they represent, well.
Update, 20 July 2011: Marc Dooley of Edition Peters responds: “Firstly with regard to SEO – we know, it’s broke. We have already been working on a fix and I hope you’ll see better results soon.” He’s been good enough to expand much more in the comments below; do read.