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Upcoming changes

Posted: Sun Dec 27, 2015 7:19 am
by imslp
Hi all,

As some of you may have noticed, there have been a few changes to IMSLP over the past few days, including the new logo. In addition to those changes, there is one more major change that will be implemented shortly, and about which I would like to give a bit more background.

I've had some fairly extensive discussions with music librarians and IMSLP contributors recently, and I've been thinking about a few of the issues raised, especially with respect to preservation and sustainability. Librarians are growing increasingly worried about these issues, and after some consideration I agree with their concerns. In particular, as IMSLP grows bigger, more complex and more engrained into the fabric of the classical music community, it now seems necessary to think hard about the future and how we can sustain IMSLP for centuries to come.

This is especially true with respect to funding. I have so far largely avoided discussing this topic in public because the income we receive from various sources have been enough to maintain the site so far, but I increasingly believe that this level of funding is not sustainable in the long run. We are not, like traditional music libraries, bound by the service of a conservatory, university or publisher, but rather can do things that traditional institutions are not willing to do, because we serve only musicians and music lovers. But everything is a tradeoff - we also do not have the funding infrastructure these traditional institutions have, and over the past few years I've frankly exhausted my imagination in searching for new realistic sources of funding for IMSLP.

And so I will announce here that a subscription system for IMSLP will be put in place. But this will not be a traditional subscription model - in particular, no file will be blocked from access by the public. Rather, a subscription will permit a member to download files without having to wait a certain number of seconds, eliminiate some of the advertising on the site, and a few other benefits. I see this as a way to both preserve IMSLP's philosophy of open access and to secure IMSLP's future.

But IMSLP is a volunteer effort, and we recognize the time and work put into the site by IMSLP's most active and prolific contributors. For this purpose, all existing users who have more than a certain number of edits will be granted an automatic 10-year subscription, and new contributors who contribute a certain amount of quality work will also earn free subscriptions.

Please feel free to post any questions in this thread or by e-mail to


Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Tue Dec 29, 2015 1:42 pm
by dlewis1080
I have used IMSLP for many years, and, in the past, also made significant contributions to the website. I am deeply troubled by these changes.

We all recognise IMSLP requires funding to maintain the servers, and also recognise both how important the website is for musicians, and how respected it is by them. Because of this, it seems entirely reasonable that IMSLP is capable of sustaining a financial flow from donations. One needs only to look at Wikipedia, which maintains open access, yet still finds sufficient revenue to sustain their enormously (and wastefully, at times) high costs.

The recent changes to IMSLP significantly affect user experience to the extent that many will be deterred from using it. Fifteen seconds is not long to wait for a single file. The problem arises, though, in that users typically open multiple files per session.

As an example, if I am looking for a particular movement from a Mozart symphony, but cannot remember which, I would look through the IMSLP pages until I get it. I cannot see myself doing that any more. If I am listening to the Bach Orgelbüchlein and want to follow the score, do I want to wait fifteen seconds to load up each prelude separately? If I want to learn a Beethoven sonata, can I afford to take the time to wait for each different scan and edition to download so that I find the best?

IMSLP has had an incredible reputation, up to now, of being open-access platform hosting open-access files that is motivated by the joy of music, not money. These changes punish every user who does not donate (which will still be a large majority), and damage the reputation of the website. Indeed, waiting for a file is reminiscent of the virus-ridden, advertisement-heavy illegal download websites of the past.

We should also remember, despite contributors making significant efforts over the years, IMSLP's work has no protection. There is absolutely nothing stopping someone from making a mirror of the files on the site, either for their own benefit, or to take IMSLP's former place as the website of public domain music.

I am surprised, and disappointed, by the changes, given the focus of IMSLP until now. One might claim that keeping access open to all files is not problematic, but, I promise you, it is problematic when access is made so frustratingly difficult. In this respect, the website now feels little different to those websites that copy IMSLP's work and attempts to charge users for it.

I urge you to reconsider these changes. There is an obvious and generous audience prepared to make donations, but not if IMSLP changes from an open provider of public domain music to a subscription based provider. Users should be encouraged to donate by being reminded of the work of IMSLP contributors, not by being forced into doing so.

Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Tue Dec 29, 2015 5:45 pm
by amdevereux
I am also troubled by the recent changes made to IMSLP. While I am nowhere near a prolific contributor, I am a frequent user of IMSLP. Days where I do not look at least one score on the site are few and far between. In addition to its value to performers, many musicologists like me, as well as composers and conductors would not be where they are without free access to scores. For these reasons, I immediately bought a subscription to IMSLP when prompted to.

I was also equally likely to donate to the project, perhaps even for more than the cost of a subscription, if asked to in an upfront manner. There was a time when the news box on the front page did not simply recount milestone numbers of contributions, but rather contained actual site news. Users were not even notified beforehand of these huge changes to the site on the front page. As only a user of the Iibrary, I am not aware of IMSLP's financials. If it was made clear to users, upfront like Wikipedia, what IMSLP's financial straits were, I am sure that others like me would gladly donate.

I wholeheartedly agree with the other comments made about the recent changes. I think that 15 seconds per file will drive users to other sites that simply copy IMSLP for free and then profit off of it.

Please reconsider these changes,
Alexander Devereux

Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Tue Dec 29, 2015 7:20 pm
by imslp
Thank you for the feedback. Unfortunately, there are several orders of magnitude difference in scale between Wikipedia and IMSLP, and as I mentioned, I've tried many different ways of funding with very limited success.

Also, I echo again what I said in my initial post - I was actually not the one who first pushed for this change. In the recent international music library conference I attended (IAML/IMS 2015 in June), I was grilled by librarians from several national libraries (France, Germany) about our funding, because they know how hard it is to fund music libraries - they are not the most popular destination for grant money to put it mildly. And they were incredibly disappointed (and made sure I knew they were) when I had no good answer. We couldn't even afford to hire one single person on a minimum wage. Given how many musicians depend on IMSLP, such a state of affairs is really an insult to the classic music world.

Yes, I've tried asking for donations - you may have noticed that every 50th download you click on will show a popup asking for a donation. But how many of such popups do people actually respond to? Most people would just click the "X" on the upper right without even reading the thing, which is to my knowledge exactly what happened judging from the meager numbers. Unless I make people actually stop and think, the number of people who donate will be too few - not all are as thoughtful as you. Again, Wikipedia manages because of the vast difference in scale (and even so, they had to put up that incredibly annoying banner that took up 1/3 of the page).

If you asked me six months ago whether there will be a subscription feature, I would have dismissed it out of hand. But what was said at IAML 2015 weighed on me, and in talking to some of the senior contributors here (who are not financially interested) I understand they have a similar sentiment (I never brought up money before, so I didn't know).

I now understand that the way I have run IMSLP is disrespectful to the classic music world - I've been too casual in running the business and really cannot ensure a sustainable model. It is putting up a paper house and praying the wind doesn't blow.

But we are certainly eager to reward contributors to IMSLP - our guiding principle in implementing the subscription model is that we only want to require membership for people who don't contribute back to IMSLP. If you've contributed significantly to IMSLP in the past and would like a contributor membership, please contact with "Contributor Membership" in the subject and your username in the message. We've already granted several hundred contributor memberships.

Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Tue Dec 29, 2015 9:18 pm
by Bruckner8
Sadly, I knew this day had to come.

Is a charity? Are there any tax form 990s filed under's name?

So far, I can only dig up the fact that is owned by a private company, Project Petrucci LLC.

Are there any public tax filings, or balance sheets? I'd really like to get to the bottom of the costs involved with running a simple upload/download website, lol.

Bob Higgins

Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Tue Dec 29, 2015 9:31 pm
by dlewis1080
Thank you for your detailed response. I am still concerned, though, that you do not recognise just how much these changes will damage the website for users at the expense of IMSLP's reputation.

You wrote that your previous approach to IMSLP was disrespectful to the music world. I beg to disagree. The whole ethos of IMSLP is that it is a simple platform that allows volunteers to upload and catalogue public domain scans. It does not need a large hierarchy of executives, nor does it need administrative staff being paid the minimum wage (and I would certainly not donate if I knew my money is going towards this). All it needs are reliable servers. Everything else happens through our incredible group of volunteers and music lovers.

You mentioned you only require subscriptions for users who do not contribute to the website, but you must realise this is a vast majority of users. Unlike other websites, contributions to IMSLP are technical in nature. If anything, volunteers are motivated by knowing they are helping other musicians. I certainly have little motivation for the website in its present state. If I were able to remove my previous scans following this change, I think I would.

There are alternatives to making access frustratingly difficult, and I urge you to consider them. If you do not, it will not take long for musicians to see IMSLP as a generic commercial website that offers a substandard quality of service to all users without subscriptions.

Openness and honesty is vital for donations. A simple and effective approach would be to include a box on the page saying how much you need to raise this month for server costs and how much you have raised so far this month. If users realise they can make a difference, they will do so. If users know IMSLP needs $2000 from them over the next four weeks to stay functional, the money will be raised. I shall admit to feeling reluctant to donate if I do not know where my money is going or whether it is even needed. The current approach is even worse than being vague: it is punishing every user who does not pay.

Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Wed Dec 30, 2015 1:46 am
by amdevereux
The fact that it is considered an "insult" to the music world that IMSLP does not have financial stability shows the importance of IMSLP, importance that one should be able to leverage for donations. Again, nothing as far as I can tell is known about IMSLP's financials. If you, Edward, could not even provide other people in a similar field who were grilling you with any financial information, why should I as a user trust my money to you and donate it in the first place? (I am not actually this cynical and did buy a membership immediately, but I am now having my doubts). If IMSLP's financial status is presented in an upfront and to the point manner on the main page at least, I am sure more donations would come because people would see what the need is and what the money is being used for. The pop-ups do not give, nor link to, any specifics as to how the money will be used and how crucial it is for people to donate right then and there.

I agree that the changes that have been made will probably drive away users to sites that profit off of all the volunteered work done on IMSLP. It will also change the ethos of the site that made it so successful in the first place. Also, these changes were not made known in an obvious way beforehand. As much as it would be an "insult" for IMSLP to go dark, it is an insult to current users that there was no notice of these changes beforehand. Perhaps people would have donated more if they knew that it had come to this.

Many organizations that literally save lives also depend on donations, there is no reason that IMSLP could not as well. Perhaps if financial statements were made public and further tries for garnering donations failed, different funding strategies could be discussed and implemented. Until then, IMSLP should behave like all other similar organizations. Organization is not the exact right word to use for a privately owned company. For the same reasons I don't donate to my grocer, I would not ordinarily donate to any privately owned company. What is the reason that IMSLP is not a charity?

Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Wed Dec 30, 2015 7:18 am
by coulonnus
I think the Membership Q&A should state how much money imslp has and how much is needed. Not everybody is aware that storing data somewhere costs something.

And the present forum topic will have to be summarized into this Q&A page. A link to it is not satisfactory because the membership Q&A will be translated in other languages.

Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Wed Dec 30, 2015 8:25 am
by aldona
I agree with the concerns expressed so far in this thread. I'm not as articulate as many others, and I don't know much about how the financial side of running IMSLP works, but I would love to know more, even if it's in the simple format of "$X needed to cover costs for this month - $Y already raised."

I have contributed files in the past when I had more access to a scanner, and I dabble in editing/ creating composer pages/ importing files from Sibley when I can, but I feel that my contributions are a humble effort compared to some of the more experienced and knowledgeable members, and it feels all wrong and icky trying to figure out if they "qualify" me to email you and ask for a contributor membership. :oops: Kind of like asking a charity store for a discount because I have donated stuff to them in the past. (No, this is not a sneaky or passive-aggressive attempt to ask for a contributor membership. I am still deciding whether to go down that path or whether just to pay for a subscription.)

But overall I agree with those who describe the changes as punishing those who do not contribute, and I think it is a sad day and a huge step backwards for IMSLP and its reputation. :(

Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Wed Dec 30, 2015 10:52 am
by imslp
First, I just wanted to clarify that all users who made more than 100 edits automatically received a 10-year contributor membership (which I just checked includes coulonnus and Aldona, of course).

Someone a long time ago said that the first rule of a forum thread is that nobody will be able to convince anyone else in the thread. Nevertheless, I will offer a few observations here.

I think some of the discussion in this thread is a bit over-simplified, but that is understandable given you have a different point of view. I'm in a strange position in that I know about the personal lives of some of the top contributors on IMSLP. I've had relatives of contributors write me angry e-mails saying how the contributor is broke and without a job, but still spends most of his/her time on IMSLP, and demand that I pay the contributor (and to this day I don't think the contributor knows I've been indirectly trying to help his finances). I've had to listen to crying over the phone because a contributor cannot pay his/her bills. The fact of the matter is, being a high-level contributor on IMSLP requires a very specialized skill set and much dedication - otherwise IMSLP would not have nearly the quality and consistency it currently has. Unfortunately, people with such a skill set are usually in financial trouble - it's just the way the music world works I suppose.

But I don't think that's fair. Why should these contributors be in a such a condition when other people download from IMSLP as if it is their entitlement? One of my top priorities is to use the income from the memberships to hire some of the top contributors on IMSLP to work full time. I want to make IMSLP into an institution where some of the top administrative contributors can have sustainable jobs. New file submissions are of course greatly welcome (that's the reason for contributor memberships!), but there is a whole world of administrative and janitorial tasks that nobody wants to do but someone has to. Unfortunately, IMSLP is no longer at a point where people are willing to do such tasks just because it is new and interesting - witness how we technically have two dozen copyright reviewers but only one is currently active (do you want to help out by reviewing several dozen files a day? serious question).

That said, I don't have a principle against disclosing some of IMSLP's finances once the dust settles. However, I think there are more considerations involved than is implied in this thread. For example, in a small community like IMSLP we need to consider privacy (e.g. how would you feel if your salary was made public and subject to public debate on whether you are paid too much?) Also, I frankly don't think disclosing financials will increase donations by any substantial amount as some of you believe. In any event, I'm not a fan of impulse decisions, so I will need to think about this, but I do hear your point.

Lastly, a serious request from me - does anyone have the Wikipedia financials for 2014/5? I've been looking around for them (as a reference) but the latest I could find was from 2011/2.

Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Wed Dec 30, 2015 11:25 am
by Choralia
imslp wrote:does anyone have the Wikipedia financials for 2014/5?

The Wikimedia Foundation provides financial reports and plans:


Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Wed Dec 30, 2015 1:29 pm
by Humphry
Your suggestion of a subscription makes perfect sense. I have used IMSLP extensively over the years and as well as providing a means of discovering and sourcing a huge range of music, and thus increasing one's knowledge of the repertoire, it also saves a fortune by being able to download sheet music and send links to fellow musicians.

Those siren voices who complain they will no longer be able to use this service because they may have to wait a few seconds - poor things - have the remedy in their own hands - buy a subscription. All we need to know is how much?

The answer can be found at At $22.80 per year it's a snip, cheaper than many a single printed copy from a music publisher. Let all us players praise IMSLP.

Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Wed Dec 30, 2015 3:37 pm
by rquantz
First I want to echo other commenters in saying that these changes may be disastrous for IMSLP's reputation. The "wait to download" model is used by spammy file sharing sites and will remove the aura of trust musicians currently have for the site.

I play with dozens of small orchestras and ensembles in the New York area, and they often save money by having their musicians print their parts themselves from IMSLP. Which is to say, I am largely not a voluntary user of this site, and charging me to use the site means I'll be making incrementally less money from gigs that already don't pay well enough.

It seems to me a better target for fundraising would be the orchestras that are saving by not having to rent parts. Orchestras also use IMSLP by pointing applicants here rather than providing audition materials for preparation. They could either be guilted into an "organization membership," or perhaps offered additional tools that make their orchestra-running tasks easier.

Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Wed Dec 30, 2015 4:28 pm
by vinteuil
I'm not sure I understand what all the fuss is about the wait period. Imagine if you were instead shown a 15-second ad—then it would be completely in line with Youtube, Hulu, Spotify, etc.

Re: Upcoming changes

Posted: Wed Dec 30, 2015 5:18 pm
by dlewis1080
The changes in the business structure above are hugely concerning, if I am honest. Why would I want to donate to a commercial organisation with paid employees? I feel extremely uncomfortable that my hundreds of previous scans are no longer there for the joy of musicians, but part of a business asset. My work is being sold without my permission and the money goes elsewhere! It is fundamentally against the principles that once were the basis of IMSLP.

I suggest you take the time to test the website without the current blocks in place. A couple of 15 second wait periods are no problem. The problem comes when browsing through multiple different files, which is so frustrating it becomes essentially impossible. Youtube and Spotify certainly do not include an advertisement before every single video or song, no matter the length. If they did, few people would use them. Try logging out of your account and browsing through a collection of pieces.

About financials, are our donations currently paying salaries? I was under the belief they were going towards server costs, as they should be. I am alarmed to think otherwise. A shared resource like this should make clear how much it costs to run (the cost of servers) and how much is still needed to meet this cost. I contributed my scans to IMSLP because I wanted to help other musicians, not for any kind of salary.

Complaints from unaware musicians are already coming in from Twitter:
"World collapse: IMSLP - $1.90 per month..."
"OMG imslp now makes you wait to access music unless you donate :("
"Is IMSLP seriously starting to try charging? These scores are PUBLIC DOMAIN"
"IMSLP plans to begin throttling downloads or enacting a waiting period à la former sites such as RapidShare to promote paid memberships"
"IMSLP not working and I really feel like practicing- tchaik 5 for reh week of NYC tour- no practice parts either :("
"Whoever thought this was a good idea needs to get their head examined for insanity. #imslp"
"this gave me a heart attack. I depend on this resource being free or close to it."
"It's not the amount of money that's the problem but the fact that IMSLP did not appear to try to raise funds in other ways before this"
"No public discussion or announcement, then boom - nuclear option. It raises serious concerns about the credibility of IMSLP's administration"

Can you realise how bad this makes the website look?

I forwarded this to Norman Lebrecht, the influential music critic and writer, who has published an account on his website: ... s-pay-for/
It is wonderful to see here, and more sparingly on Twitter, so many musicians pledging they would be prepared to donate to keep IMSLP running. Mr Guo, there is a market here to capture these donations whilst maintaining the previous reputation as the open-access, free library of public domain scores. Compare this to what you are attempting to reach, a commercial website that pays employees, not voluntary contributors, and actively hinders a large majority of users. I am apprehensive you have already made your decision, but I hope you might listen and reconsider. The future of IMSLP depends on it.