SELF-PUBLISHING AND MUSICOLOGY:
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES, PROBLEMS,
By Michael Saffle
Since the invention of movable type more than ﬁve hundred years ago,
the terms “publishing” and “self-publishing” have meant quite different
things at various times and to various individuals. Although publishers—
once known as “congers,” “stationers,” or “undertakers”—have existed for
centuries, publishing as an activity has never been altogether synonymous
with duplicating and distributing the written word. In seventeenth-
century England, for example, the Stationers’ Company contained a few
individuals “who did not actually practice any of the skills associated with
paper and printing”1; instead, some of them collected licensing fees.
Another deﬁnition involves the transmission of facts and attitudes as well
as the duplication of texts: publishing is “the making of information and
ideas public and the arts, craft, and technologies involved therein.”2 This
applies, whether the technologies involved are virtual or real. In the last
analysis, however, publishing is about judgment. Publishers are “the per-
son or persons ultimately responsible for deciding that a document will
be produced and for what purpose.”3 It is almost entirely for this reason
that self-publishing remains a dubious scholarly activity.
Can musicologists be their own publishers? Have they been? Should
they be? The present article examines the evolution of self-publishing
especially (but not exclusively) insofar as musical scholarship is con-
cerned. It also evaluates some of the problems involved with musical self-
publishing ventures of various kinds, past and present, and it very brieﬂy
considers some of the self-publishing possibilities currently available to
Although methods of producing and distributing information continue
to evolve at breakneck speed, attitudes in musicological circles toward in-
novative publishing venues remain reactionary, even antiquated. Books,
Michael Saffle is professor of music and humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Human
1. Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1998), xix–xx.
2. Ann Cowan, “From Writing to Publishing: A Model for Program Development,” Book Research
Quarterly 6, no. 1 (Spring 1990): 48.
3. James R. Kalmbach, The Computer and the Page: Publishing, Technology, and the Classroom (Norwood,
NJ: Ablex, 1997), 12.
Self-Publishing and Musicology 727
for example, continue to be privileged over periodicals—and this, in
spite of the importance of professional journals in many areas of re-