There are so many things wrong in this piece by David Pogue that it is hard to know where to begin.
1) Yes Patelson’s may have closed, but the assertion “New York City doesn’t have an independent store that sells classical music scores.” is dead wrong. On the contrary, Frank Music on 54th Street is still operating.
2) Neither Pogue nor the commenter he extensively quotes seems to understand the difference between scores that are in the public domain, and scores that are under copyright. To make downloads available of copyrighted scores is to facilitate theft, pure and simple.
3) The commenter who gave a thumb drive to participants in the Van Cliburn competition filled with 15 GB of music says that it “blew their minds”. What probably blew their minds was that they couldn’t understand the point of such a thing. Professional musicians usually require urtext editions, free from the emendations and fingerings that appear in the corrupt editions commonly used in downloaded scores. Quality control doesn’t exist in the downloading world. Furthermore, pros usually consult more than one edition of the score, seeking up-to-date scholarship regarding editorial details. Lastly, professional performers often don’t want to deal with 8.5X11 printouts of loose sheets. (True, there are exceptions here, as anyone who has observed the pianist at a song recital can attest. (Let’s hope that accompanist photocopied a score he paid for.)) The nice bindings on the Dover reprints of PD material are one of their selling points.
4) Both Pogue and the commenter he quotes are clueless about the role of sales of older music in making the publication of music by living composers possible. The royalties Boosey earns on Copland, Strauss, and Britten help make the publication of works by less prominent composers possible. Beyond publication, Copland’s royalties go to the Copland Fund for Music, which has financially supported myriad recordings and performances of new music.
5) In reference to his 15 gig of scanned scores, Pogue’s commenter says that “Basically, every significant piano piece is in the pile.” The contemptible idiocy of this statement is obvious. There is no piano music still under copyright that is significant? (I am giving this commenter the benefit of the doubt – that his thumb drive contains only PD music, not stolen goods.) There is no significant piano music yet to be written?
6) People who favor theft of musical scores or other “content” like to say things such as the following from Pogue’s commenter – “As slippery as digital rights are, the fact is that digital publishing probably gives people more ways to make more money and reach far wider audiences than the paper-based music publishing racket ever did.” But folks who make comments of this sort rarely offer substantive suggestions for how this might happen – because it can’t happen.
“Paper-based music publishing” is not a “racket”. Stealing copyrighted sheet music is.