Users petition Avid to sell Sibelius music software arm

SOS: Save Our Sibelius. Users of the popular British music notation program are trying to get its US-based owner, Avid Technology, to sell it to another company following the closure of the London development studio.
Written by Jack Schofield, Contributor

Sibelius software users have launched a petition asking Avid Technology to sell the music publishing program to another company. Avid closed Sibelius's development studio in Finsbury Park, London, at the end of last month, and users are concerned about its future. They are conducting a campaign via a Sibelius Users website, a SaveSibelius Facebook page, and a petition, among other things.

Sibelius is a musical notation program widely used by composers, professional musicians and students. The latest 64-bit version, published in 2011, features a ribbon-style interface. Its main rival is Make Music's Finale, which dominated the US market before Sibelius was launched there.

Avid is going through a difficult period, and is retrenching to limit its operating losses. It has sold off some of the more consumer-oriented offerings -- including M-Audio accessories, acquired in 2004, and Pinnacle video editing software, acquired in 2005 -- to concentrate on its core professional products. These include the Pro Tools audio workstation software, acquired in 1994.

In a letter addressed to the Sibelius Community, Avid audio vice president Martin Kloiber wrote: "It’s important to note, music notation software is firmly seated among those areas of concentration at Avid. That’s why the Sibelius brand and product family remains with Avid."

The response from the community, expressed in 200 comments, appears to be that without Daniel Spreadbury and his British development team, Sibelius is doomed.

Following what he called "the outpouring of concern on forums and social media," Kloiber followed up by saying: "I want to personally give my assurance that Avid is deeply committed to developing Sibelius moving forward. Our plan is to integrate Sibelius development more closely with the rest of Avid's audio development teams in California, and I’m confident we can leverage our innovative development teams and continue to raise the bar in the future."

To which John Murdoch responded in a comment: "Who among your audio development teams in California has experience generating PostScript Level 3 code? Don't know what that is? Sibelius is far more of a desktop publishing application than an audio application."

At Slipped Disc, composer and anti-Avid campaigner Derek Williams wrote: "Sibelius is currently we believe turning over $18 million a year. So now, with no overheads of development team and offices, for Avid that becomes clean profit as Sibelius is slowly killed off over the next 3-4 years. To Avid’s Wall St mentality, that is smart business. Run on empty, make your fortune, then leave the carcass behind to hunt for the next pot of gold."

Sibelius was developed by British university students Ben and Jonathan Finn for the Acorn Archimedes computer running RISC OS, and released in 1993. With the Archimedes failing, the twins released versions for Microsoft Windows (1998) and the Apple Macintosh (1999), reaching an international audience.

In 2006, between Sibelius getting a Queen’s Award for Innovation and the two Finns getting OBEs for services to software technology, they sold the company to Avid Technology.

When Sibelius 5 was launched in 2007, there were still only seven developers. Spreadbury said: "They do amazing things, they are really a wonderful team. Other programmes of similar complexity have hundreds of developers. It's extraordinary how our team works and produces these features."

While the final size remains unknown, it seems equally extraordinary that a company the size of Avid, with a 2011 turnover of $678 million, couldn't sustain such a tiny operation.

Following the closure announcement, the Finns said in a comment at Sibelius.com: "we have been quietly trying to do everything we can to change this situation, including twice offering to buy Sibelius back from Avid. However, Avid has declined. While they haven't given a reason, we assume that Sibelius is a substantial source of profits to them, so they don't want to sell it to anyone."

Avid Technology has been making operating losses -- $70m in 2009, $36m in 2010 and $21m in 2011 -- and bleeding cash. However, in its latest financial results, published on 30 July, Gary Greenfield, Avid's chairman and CEO, said: "Our results for the second quarter were encouraging with 5% year-on-year revenue growth for our ongoing business and a $10 million sequential increase in our cash balance. This performance reinforced the strategic direction we took earlier this month and we are excited about our prospects for the second half of the year."

Avid's share price peaked at $66 in 2005 but has since fallen by almost 80 percent to $8.63 today.

Sibelius 6 First Screenshot
Sibelius 6 Screenshot from Avid Technology
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