Boxing clever: how important is packaging?


Here’s a little question for you, dear reader, to close the week. We’re always evaluating our product packaging, both in terms of its effectiveness in helping prospective customers make a purchasing decision, and also in its impact on the environment.

At the moment, a new copy of Sibelius is packaged in a sturdy cardboard box, glossily printed with a beautiful design on the front, and text outlining the benefits of the product on the back. The box is large enough to contain not only the software disc itself, but also the Sibelius 6 Handbook and Sibelius 6 Reference book (in some versions).

This box looks good on the shelf in a shop, but it comes at a cost. A smaller box would be cheaper to produce and cheaper to ship around the world, and a less glossily printed box could use more recycled materials. With environmental responsibility something that we all value more and more highly, how much emphasis should we be placing on something that is opened once and then discarded? The box is not the product, after all.

So I’m curious about your experience of purchasing Sibelius and the part that the packaging played in your decision to buy. Did you see Sibelius in a shop, pick up the box and look at it, feeling its heft in your hands? If you did see Sibelius in a shop before you purchased the product, did the box play any part in your decision to buy? Can you remember anything that the box said on it? Please answer the question below, and feel free to leave a comment below to share your own experience. Thanks!

[polldaddy poll=3181895]


  1. Andrew Cleaton

    Interesting points! I must admit, I used to love packaging! In days gone by (and now I sound really old) I used to buy album from record shops, books from book shops and software from, well, software shops and music retailers. I would cherish the physical aspects of the material, proudly displaying empty boxes alongside books and CD jewel cases.

    Maybe it’s a sign of old age (or maturity as I prefer to call it) but these days I’m simply not interested in the physical artefacts – and I speak as someone who remembers 12 inch gatefolds with some affection. It’s content I care about. A significant proportion of the software I use – and the media I consume – on a daily basis is app-based or at least downloaded. Packaging for physical media gets trashed – or preferably recycled – pretty much straightaway. As long as I have access to well indexed, searchable manuals and help files, YouTube tutorials and the like, I don’t even mind the demise of the paper manual.

  2. Scott Rollins

    I must confess that my first reaction to seeing the packaging when my copies of Sibelius have been delivered was that it was ridiculously large, and I really wondered whether I was over-paying shipping costs because of that size. Cost may be prohibitive, but I wonder if there would be any reasonable way to produce two “editions” of the packaging: one for use in retail stores and another for use when purchased by mail order.

    I don’t recall how updates are packaged, but I would hope that they use the absolute minimum possible.

    1. Daniel Spreadbury

      Upgrades are packaged in a screenprinted polythene bag, containing only the required DVD-ROM and a small booklet outlining the new features, how to install, and so on.

      For future versions of Sibelius we would like to arrive at a single, environmentally-friendly approach to packaging our software that will work both for mail order and retail – after all, copies that end up in retail stores have to be sent to those stores by mail or courier delivery in the first place.

  3. Tobias Escher

    Nice question :)
    I bought Sibelius online from the German distributor, so I never saw the packaging before. When it arrived I was pleasantly suprised of its beauty. In fact, I was a little bit disappointed that the update to Sibelius 5 did not come in such a beautiful box.
    I understand the need for smaller packaging, but as a collector of nice boxes, I would sorely miss the nice big box.
    But for the sake of the environment, I’d even ditch the CD. What about sending users a nice envelope with their serial number and a download link to the application files? If you’d make a beautiful Sibelius-branded envelope and maybe throw a Sibelius sticker in, than this would make a nice impression, too.

  4. Patrick O'Keefe

    I’m strongly in favor of reduced packaging. I’m always irritated when I open a box to find mostly empty space or unneeded packing material. The container should be big enough to contain and protect the contents; anything more is just waste.

  5. Ken

    I would be happy with a totally digital product, or something with minimal packaging.

  6. Steven Schuster

    I liked Sib. 4 packaging when I first got the program, because it contained the full printed manual (If memory serves). Updates haven’t, and I have now adjusted to the idea of plonking down $30 more extra dollars for each update. But there was an adjustment period of resentment over this for me. I guess I understand it, but it still requires mailing/shipping a separate heavy package, so the extra boxes don’t seem a virtue, or a sin, but almost an irrelevancy.
    The product is so good, I’d be happy with the packaging in any form.


  7. Paul Mellors

    I have to admit being a sucker for Apple’s hardware packaging, but software packaging is often a burden due to the increased carriage costs.
    I am in favour a totally digital purchases. Recently a student wanted to buy Auralia & Musition bundle but has been put off due to the very high shipping cost. I did try to source another supplier in the UK but the 3 I tried didn’t have stock. The student has now spent the money on something else, whereas a download version would have resulted in a sale

  8. John

    The packaging is irrelevant to most of us. It MIGHT be a point-of-sale factor in retail stores, much as I hate to admit it, but if we order on line it is meaningless. We’re buying the product, not the packaging. And since the Reference has to be ordered (and shipped?) separately, making the basic box big enough to hold it makes no sense. No, I don’t remember a single word that was printed on the box. What concerned me was instructions on how to install and set it up, and I DID have questions about that as I recall. Use recyclables AND point out on the box that that’s what they are. It will gain you brownie points!

    And by the way, your first two choices in your mini-survey are actually identical and interchangeable, and I would have checked them both if I could have, so you might as well add those scores together.

    1. Daniel Spreadbury

      I disagree that those two options are identical: there is a difference between somebody who did not see the packaging before they purchased (e.g. because they purchased online) and somebody for whom the packaging played no part in their decision (e.g. they walked into a shop to buy Sibelius, but they already knew they were going to buy it before they saw the box). It also helps me understand how many people in this admittedly unscientific survey actually bought from a shop, and how many bought online.

  9. Hector Lee

    I wouldn’t say that packaging isn’t important. I voted that it didn’t affect my purchase decision. But I would say it would affect how people felt after the purchase. Some developers strip packaging and remove a printed manual to reduce costs and have ‘cost-savings’ for the user but that doesn’t help the user at all. I’ve seen some really smart packaging that compacts the product but still provide all the materials required. A good product designer would be able to pull that off.

  10. David

    Ever heard of the term: “tilting at windmills?”

    I’m not sure packaging of such a specialized software product makes a difference. It would seem that anyone purchasing a heavy duty music notation software package has probably done their homework. If they are just taking a store clerk’s advice or trying to find a nice looking box on the shelf– heaven help them!

    I do like the minimalist packaging for the update, though I would be happy with digital downloads.

  11. Andrei

    I’d be in favor of download only coupled with registration info by mail. Reference manuals could be ordered by user as needed (Lulu print-on-demand?). I venture to guess most users buy Sibelius directly from Sibelius other than retail shop…

  12. Fritz Feger

    Forget the poll. What it says is that like 94% of all voters *would love to be* indifferent towards packaging with regard to their buying decision. Apple, for example, is extremly aware of the importance of packaging. I’d pay considerable attention to packaging and spend big money on that, but make very clear to the designer that size matters ;-). I personally am fine with a pure download. And if the customer is informed, I think it is all right to sell the handbook separately.

  13. Maria Lj

    I think it was in 2001 that I first heard about Sibelius. I had seen demos of two other notation programs (Finale and Notator) that were then (and much earlier, respectively) used at Swedish universities, and was curious about a third (Igor) that I hadn’t tried but read about on the net and a mailing list. I used a sequenser program (Cubasis) at home for notation and midi compositions. So I visited the local music store and asked them what programs people used for computer notation of music these days? They gave me a price on Finale Allegro – and maybe they had it in a box, or maybe not, because small music stores here don’t expect to sell many copies of notation software to random visitors… However, they told me that there was something called Sibelius, too, and I should maybe check out that before I decided to buy anything. So I got a little piece of paper with a handwritten url to a website (wrong spelled – I had to guess what it should be!) for a computer music company who by then were the distributors of Sibelius in Sweden. Somehow, after looking up the website, I found my way to the Sibelius Help Center and concluded from reading a dozen threads in the forum that users seemed to be fairly happy with the program and that the support online was helpful and comprehensible. A few months later, early in 2002, I happened through the arrival of a new term’s student loan to have the money needed for ordering a copy of the program, and went to the music store again. A week or two later I fetched the big blue box with Sibelius 2 – cd and manual – in it. I think the box had “only for Windows” printed on it.

  14. Katie Wardrobe

    Hi Daniel – I think Apple does what they do really well – they use minimal packaging but it still retains an air of quality. Being a user/trainer of a large number of software programs means I need to be ruthless about throwing out boxes, so after the initial “oohs and aahs” of experiencing a beautiful box, it is unceremoniously tossed in the recycle bin. I’m always happy with digital downloads, but I do think that there needs to be another option for those with slow (no??) internet access.

  15. Ron Pearl

    Make it a virtue – going green, less packaging, recycled paper for the manual, download options, etc. I know a musician who self-records-produces his own Cds, and his “jewel case” is recycled cardboard. People are drawn to any enterprise that genuinely thinks about its impact on the earth. Big boxes are nice – they make us think we are getting a lot for our money. But there is a reason we stay with a good program: the quality of the product, not the shimmer and sizzle. I’d be curious to know what percentage of new customers come from people coming across Sibelius in a retail store, as opposed to some online venue.

  16. Peter Roos

    I bought my copy of Sibelius 5 and the 6 Upgrade online and frankly don’t really care about the box they ship – it’s about the product, not the packaging. I kept the original boxes and all the packaging materials however and they are now sitting on a shelf next to all my other software and VST plugin boxes (lots of them). I think it’s nice to have a hardware copy of the software and the upgrade just in case something goes horribly wrong and I have to reinstall everything. Interestingly there’s been many discussions like these on the soundsonline forum (the Eastwest libraries are known for their excellent sonic quality but also for the huge and shiny boxes they are shipped in, even if it just one single DVD). See eg here: It’s a topic people love to argue about ad infinitum.

  17. Michael Horton

    I ordered my copy of Sibelius 4 before I ever saw the box. Once I got it, I was very impressed by the quality of the printed manual, and I’d hate to see that go – but the PDF is so convenient that I last opened the physical one months back.

    The box has become convenient because it now holds DVDs and upgrade manuals for versions 5 and 6, and I look forward to squeezing Sibelius 7 in there. However, that won’t sell it to new customers. It’s also the newest box on the shelf – it shares space with Microsoft Office 2003, EndNote 4.0, Acrobat 4.0, CorelDraw! 3 and the Quest for Glory and King’s Quest series. So, I reluctantly have to concede that beautiful, huge boxes are a quaint relic of the 20th century.

    I’d still like upgrades on DVD – here in Australia, broadband quotas are quite claustrophobic. As long as I get that, I don’t mind how thin an envelope it arrives in. For retail, I agree with the suggestions above about matching Apple’s tiny software boxes.

  18. Simon Drew

    Avid is selling the ‘state-of-the-art’ notation software, and it has never been exactly cheap. Part of the user experience lies in the purchase of the product, and quality packaging inevitably plays a role in the user’s evaluation of value for money.
    Clearly, the world at large is moving away from physical products to digital services, and I can see Sibelius doing the same in the near future. Digital things are not easily grasped by the general public. But Sibelius has a reassuring history of strong branding, backed by good quality artwork and documentation (thanks, Daniel!) When the user experience is exclusively delivered through the computer screen, and users no longer have any physical artifacts to relate to, they will lose this reassurance.

    1. Daniel Spreadbury

      Just a quick note to add that Avid’s web site has been updated with some information about its various green initiatives, including those that affect product packaging and documentation.

  19. James Bergman

    It depends on what I buy, but I think the packaging is key to making an item marketable. The point of the package is to let me know what is inside and make it look as appealing as possible. Think about it, would you buy a box of chocolates that came in a brown cardboard box, or the one sitting next to it with pictures of the chocolate on the front? When you get down to it, I think we put so much emphasis on packaging because we want to know that what is in the package is worth the extra money to package it nicely.

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