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Guide to Music Publishers' Catalogs: What Is a Music Publisher's Catalog?

How to find music publishers' catalogs in the Music Division and why they are important for research. Guide by Bob Kosovsky.

What Is a Publisher Catalog?

A publisher catalog is a list of works that are available for sale by the publisher.  While today we may think of a publisher as a major corporation, in earlier times, publishers were often one-person or family operations. Publishers' catalogs can be varied.  Small publishers might issue anywhere from a single page to several pages, while major publishers could issue a hefty pamphlet or even a modest-sized volume resembling a book.  No matter the size, the intention of a publisher catalog was to list the works available for sale.



What Is the Significance of a Publisher Catalog?

The history of history of music is intimately tied to the history of publishing and printing.  One can not fully understand the social, cultural, commercial and historical context of musical works without understanding composers’ relationships to music publishers.

  • Marketing:  a form of advertising what they have, facilitating potential purchase.
  • Business/corporate history: The evolution of publishers and their firms can reveal business tendencies.  Prior to the 20th century, many publishers were family-based firms.  The inheritance of firms among family and their evolution can shed light on the evolution of music.
  • Influence: Publishers had the ability to wield power over the music (and occasionally non-music) ecosystem of the location and time periods in which they were based.

How Can a Publisher Catalog Be Used for Research?

  • Dating: Until the advent of modern copyright, most published scores (with exceptions) do not indicate the year in which they were published.  Publishers catalogs have proven to be invaluable guides to dating music.
  • Trends: One can discern information about a publisher's interests from what composers and mediums they sell.

Selection of music publishers' catalogs on the shelf

A portion of the Music Division's publishers' catalogs

Music Division Reference Librarians

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Music Division & Recorded Sound Reference Librarians
40 Lincoln Center Plaza (65th St and Columbus Ave)
Third Floor
New York, NY 10023
(212) 870-1625
Subjects: Performing Arts