Economies of Paper Sizes

Recently, I had to produce a set of parts for my new ensemble piece, The Unanswered. The whole experience got me thinking about paper size and its effect on cost.

I had to format said parts according to the MOLA Guidelines for Music Preparation, which suggests parts with a staff size of no less than 8.5 mm printed on 10×13 inch paper. Also, “to avoid show-through of music from the reverse side, to ensure durability, and to stand up to on-stage wind patterns caused by ventilation systems” the paper needs to be 60-70lb.

What got me here was the 10×13 inch paper. What kind of a size is that? It’s a weird size that you can’t buy in a store and that’s not carried by everyday print shops like Staples or Kinko’s. According to this fairly extensive Wikipedia article, it’s not a standard size anywhere in the world. Some CMC offices carry it, but we are not all fortunate enough to live close to one (and I don’t think the stuff they carry is quite so heavy).

So, to get something like this printed in a smaller city like Halifax, you have to go to a professional print shop where paper can be cut to any size. For me to print my 52 pages worth of parts at such a shop would cost approximately $45 + tax (Etc Press).

What if you use the FAR more prevalent 8.5×11 inch paper? Simply reducing the whole part creates a staff size that is too small (only 7.0 mm), so you need to reformat somewhat. That adds about an extra page to each part. So, let’s make it 65 pages to be on the safe size. Because these parts can now be printed virtually anywhere, what does that do to the cost? Printed at Staples, which tends to be the cheapest, it would only be $11.05 + tax. Yes, that’s a quarter of the cost. The more specialized the product, the more expensive it is to produce.

My piece only requires 11 parts and it is only 8 minutes long. Now imagine scaling that up to an orchestra of roughly 100 people performing something longer. The price difference gets into the hundreds.

This is probably not a big concern for music publishers who print huge volumes. But what about an orchestra having to produce parts for a brand new piece they commissioned? A lonely composer forced to prepare parts without any support from the performing organization? It seems silly to spend so much more for the sake of convention, especially when the piece will likely get only one performance.

In an industry always complaining about lack of funding, why not break with some traditions and switch to the standardized and cheaper option? It’s one way to cut cost where the music won’t suffer at all, but the musician’s wallet might suffer a little less.

What did I end up doing? I printed the parts on 11×17 inch paper and trimmed them myself, one page at a time. I hope I never have to do that for orchestral parts.

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