The Extinction of Guitar Method Books
In 1999 I self-published Vertical Truth: Chordal Mechanisms for the Guitar. I originally intended to sell books only to my own students, but soon other teachers began to use my books unsolicited by me, and so I began to grapple with how to manage the situation.
I rejected a publishing deal with Mel Bay because they required everything to be tabbed out. They informed me that any other publisher would require the same. I confirmed that with several musician friends who have published with major publishers. Tab is required. Tab sells. Back in 2010 I stated my position on tab.
Tabbing out the book would sabotage one of the main purposes of the method, which is to gain a complete knowledge of the neck. Reliance on tablature short-circuits that process. I was unwilling to compromise the method for the sake of a publishing deal.
In the interest of functioning like a real publisher I had a website built (MasterGuitar.com) to market and promote my books. I created a teachers subscription program whereby other guitar teachers could buy books at wholesale and sell them to their students at retail - or discount from retail and show their students what a nice guy they were!
By the early 2,000s I had a nice little business going. A small pyramid with me at the top! Not even close to a living but a nice little income stream to add to my other activities, mainly my own teaching and gigging. I was selling books through other teachers to students that I didn't have to teach. Sweet. Plus, I was teaching many of the teachers, demonstrating how to apply the method to their students, making sure the teachers understood the approach, etc.
But the fat bank (relatively speaking) didn't last long. Piracy became an issue almost immediatly. Somebody in Singapore was printing up bootleg copies and selling them. Also, I found a website where someone was selling Vertical Truth merch; ball caps, coffee mugs, bumper stickers - all with my logo!
After coming to the conclusion it would take more than it was worth to go after the culprits, I decided to consider it free advertising and let it be.
But there was a more ominous and fatal decline on the horizon.
CD sales peaked in 2002. Since then they have fallen over 80%. The same thing that killed CD sales - the rise of the internet and the concurrent development of digital and streaming technology - also affected book sales.
By 2010 it was apparent that the book sales were eventually going to peter out to almost nothing.
In 2013 I built MasterGuitarSchool.com and by 2016 was selling rewritten, reformatted Units of Vertical Truth as PDF downloads.
The original books were not designed to be "self-teaching" - an oxymoronic concept if ever there was one. They were more like outlines that required a qualified teacher to expand on and apply them to each student.
So I couldn't just reformat the books as PDFs and put them out there. They had to be rewritten with the internet environment in mind. They had to be as self-contained as possible, with textual explanations, fretboard diagrams and demonstration videos.
This is a major undertaking and I'm devoting most of what spare time I have to it. I've launched several units and am currently working on Unit 6 (out of 10).
Within the last year I had a couple of physical book sales that, because the buyer was overseas, cost me more to ship than I made on the sale!
That was the kick in the pants I needed to punt the physical books. I discontinued book sales as well as the subscribing teacher program in April of 2020.
I've deleted the physical book sales pages and all my online infrastructure that enabled physical book sales.
I still sell books to my personal students, which was the original intent anyway.
One of the benefits of the subscribing teacher program was that the teacher had a free page on my website and I would refer inquiring students that lived in his area. There is a page still up that lists subscribing teachers and their locations. Much of the information is outdated. Some of the links go to the teachers' website, some of the links go to teacher pages on my website, and a lot of the links are no good. One of the subscribing teachers, who was a good friend, has passed away. It is difficult for me to contemplate deleting his page.
Due, I suppose, to general nostalgia, I have procrastinated deleting the Find a Teacher page as well as the individual teacher pages on the website. If you want to, go have a look at it before I delete it; I will delete it, and all the teacher pages, as soon as I can bring myself to do it.
In the meantime, perhaps from a reluctance to let the books go completely, I have preserved them in PDF form and buried them in an obscure location on the website. If you go check it out, look at all the qualifiers I put on the page to sabotage the sales!
Nevertheless, for a very narrow niche market, they might be useful. But 10 or 12 years ago I realized...
The internet is an extinction event. Physical books are going the way of the dinosaur. Digital downloads = the rise of the mammals.
Check out Master Guitar School!
Sign up as a Master Guitar School site member - it's free! - and get access to dozens of free site-based lessons, a monthly newsletter that contains a brand-new free lesson, and DEEP discounts on lesson series downloads - plus more!
Leave a comment &/or share through your social networks using the links below!