The “s” word: Subscription

Scoring Notes
Scoring Notes
The "s" word: Subscription

Subscriptions are a fact of life. In return for making an ongoing, regular payment, we get something of value. But that’s also true when we make a one-time payment.

Software is sold both ways. So when we pay for music notation software, which method is better for the people that use it, and which method is better for the people that make it? Can there be a way to provide software so that works for everyone?

On this podcast episode, Philip Rothman and David MacDonald ask that very question. We take a look back to how notation software used to be sold and trace the recent history that led up to the current situation, and then offer our suggestions on how to change the business models that might make more people like — and subscribe — to future notation software upgrades.

Also: We announce “Scoring Notes Live”, a video presentation in partnership with our good friends at MOLA, the Association of Music Performance Librarians, for their 2021 conference. Join us on Monday, May 17, and register at the MOLA Conference web site.


  1. Pedrito López

    I know that I will open a can of worms with my comment, but for many long time users of musical software this suscription systems are pushing them against the wall now, and because of that they are now downloading and using counterfeit (cracked) versions. Also the short sightedness of corporations such as Avid that took over small business as Sibelius used to be, as well as the visible deterioration of software development and customer service also give arguments to abandon the legal and fair use of such software.

  2. Ben

    The essential difference between subscription and ‘standalone’ payments is that the latter can be made at a time of my choosing. Income in the Music business is ‘variable’, as we all know, and there can be feasts and famines.

    Paid updates are inevitable to keep things up-to-date or compatible. But with standalone payments, I get to choose when to make the payment. So if I get a load of work coming in, I can splurge on some software. But when times are lean, I haven’t got the fixed cost of a subscription adding to my bottom line.

  3. Mike Philcox

    The biggest incentive to subscription pricing for software vendors is increased revenue. Unfortunately, after Avid’s took over Sibelius they introduced subscription pricing and fired the development team at virtually the same time. This makes it difficult for Sibelius users to feel confident in a reasonable balance between Avid’s interests in their notation needs vs. their pocket books. The complications of Sibelius subscription pricing do little to dispel such concerns and one can only hope for changes that signal a positive change of approach.

    1. Philip Rothman

      The news of Avid firing its developers was announced in July 2012, with that team departing in stages through October 2012.

      Subscription pricing, and the annual upgrade & support plan for perpetual licenses, was announced on June 18, 2015.

      It’s likely that those plans were made well in advance of the announcement, and possible that the subscription strategy was devised coincidentally, or soon after the personnel moves were made. But in terms of when each of these items was publicly announced, they were nearly three years apart.

  4. David

    For many of us a subscription only service is a brick wall. I have no subscriptions and haven’t the ability to subscribe in the future. A one time payment I can sometimes finagle out a plan for. I saved for the past year for StaffPad and an iPad. If it was a subscription service, it would remain out of reach.

    1. Justin Tokke

      I’m curious why this is? Instead of saving up for a year, the subscription would chop up the price into smaller chunks. If anything it would get your the software quicker.

  5. Ricardo Matosinhos

    Finale means the end, Ultimate means the end. For sure a lot of people changed from Sibelius to Dorico when Dorico was released; and more and more people when Avid decides to follow the subscription path. Big companies like Nokia or Palm made wrong decisions in the past. Avid should learn from their errors before it is too late. It is their ultimate chance to do it

  6. David from Toronto

    I used Sibelius from version 1 to 8. I switched to Dorico when it came out. A couple years later I wanted to update my old Sibelius just to have it, though it didn’t use it much at all. I looked into the pricing and was so confused, I didn’t like the options so I just abandoned it. I know I made the right decision. I’m very happy with Dorico, it’s features, continuing development and it’s pricing structure.

    I exported all my hundreds of Sibelius files to XML so I don’t need the program anymore. I still save Sibelius 8 and all the sounds. It’s hard to get rid of because it was such a big part of my life back then, and I loved the programme, but now I need the hard drive space. Goodbye Sibelius.

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