Would you pay for tabs?

Back when I closed down the site in 2006, I was in touch with the Dylan folks to try to get some kind of an official status for the site. It stranded because the licencees for the sheet music sales didn’t like the idea.

My guess is that these “licencees” are just some branch of the Dylan corporation, but be that as it may: Might they be pacified if there were money in this?

So I was thinking: what about some kind of iTunes-like arrangement? A moderate subscription fee — small enough to be negligible in most people’s wallets, but enough to generate some income for the licencees? Perhaps a two-level thing: official album version available for free — everything else (outtakes — such as the NY BOTT tabs — live versions, covers, etc.) available to members?

How many of you would pay for that kind of arrangement?

What’s in it for me?

For me, there would be huge benefits. First and foremost, I could run the site without having to be constantly on the alert for the cease-and-desist letter — I could be more official about it whenever that would be an advantage.

I would also be able to dedicate myself more whole-heartedly to the undertaking. If the pace of the updates has declined drastically, it is partly because I’m basically done with the official albums, partly because I’m not as enthusiastic about his live achievement anymore, but mostly because some of the fun went out of it the more I looked over my shoulder. Much as I admire the courage of the pirates and the wikileaks folks, I’d rather not be one of them — at least not in this particular area.

And I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t add: the possibility of making, if not a living, then at least generating some revenue out of something that I believe to be of some value.

What’s in it for you?

More frequent and consistent updates, obviously. But I might also think of other benefits: a closer and more active circle of members, free access to extra material, either from me or from the licencees, etc. And, perhaps not least, the feeling of having contributed — Everybody must give something back for something they get, ya know.


Just to be clear: this post is not a warning that dylanchords is going to turn pay-per-view any time soon. I have no such plans, and I have not discussed this with Dylan or Jeff Rosen. It’s just that I’m way past sixteen, and I’d love to be legal…

So it’s purely a probe: IF dylanchords had an official seal of approval and a subscription would get you access, say, to extra material (every outtake, my newly revised tutorial, backstage tour pictures from the Dylan folks); would you —

a) consider it; and/or

b) consider it a sell-out to commercialism and a nail in the coffin of the free internet?

I’m curious to know. Please write and comment.

35 thoughts on “Would you pay for tabs?

  1. I’d be fine with it. But than again I’m a wacky libertarian.

    Note, however, that any “unofficial” Commercialization would make legal battles much more likely. If I remember the 2006 fiasco correctly, those evil tab sites were taken down because they made MILLIONS of dollars by STEALING from the poor record companies and rights holders. Your site never even had advertisement.

  2. I have never paid for any tabs or sites, the main reason being that there’s always someone somewhere else doing the same thing for free. However, with dylanchords.info, this is absolutely not the case. I would gladly pay money for you to keep this site going officially. The licencees for sheet music sales are idiots. This is guitar tabs, not sheet music. I’ve also spend alot of money on Dylan chord/tab books which I’m presuming are from these licencees and they don’t come close to the accuracy of your site, so I think they’d be fools not to join forces. So, there’s my roundabout way of saying yes I’d pay. Also, thank you so much for all your work. You make a young guy in Ireland very happy playing a few Dylan tunes.


  3. I’m a frugal soul by nature but would gladly chip in a few bucks. This website is a treasure. Thank you for the effort put into this.

  4. For run of the mill tab sites, I’d be hard pushed to see a reason to pay.

    The level of scholarship you’ve brought to this site is wonderful however, and in my opinion certainly worth something to the wider community. If Sony/Columbia/Dylan got behind your body of work here in an official capacity, it would be a very special thing indeed in my opinion.

    Sadly I suspect the licensing arrangements will put paid to any such venture, but I wish you the very best with it.

  5. I would happily pay a subscription fee, so long as it remains affordable. This site is like a Dylan bible to me. When I’m sitting idly at the computer with my guitar, I inevitably find myself at Dylanchords, browsing around for some particular song that I might have wanted to learn at some point. If paying money would help support you and therefore the community, I’m all for it.

    One hitch, though: many people (like myself) have probably already downloaded the .zip archive, “just in case.” You would need to have a steady stream of new or revised content to justify it for these folks.

  6. yeah, i think it would be another nail in the coffin to free internet, and like other commenters, i’ve never paid for a site subscription in my life, but the product is of such great quality that i’d say i’d subscribe so long as you still had the same level of freedom to be honest and share your views on the music. i’d hate to see it just become another marketing venue of bobdylan.com, though.

  7. Hey!

    This is the best site on the internet. It is a place I come to cheer me up, to bring me down, to laugh, to doubt and tear my insides out.

    That said: I would not pay a site subscription. I’ve never paid to look at a website before and I’d be highly reluctant to do so in the future.

    Of course, I would feel very sad that I’d lost access to the site, but I’d gladly accept your reasons and wish you the best.

    I consider myself lucky to have found this site and have often passed it onto friends. One of whom did learn the guitar from here. I’m lucky to have got so much from this site in the past; I’m grateful for that.

    And if ever I needed a tab in the future, I’d get it from some shoddy tab site somewhere else. It wouldn’t be nearly as good, but it’d do.

    All the very best for the future; I hope you find a way to be legal and free at the point of access.


  8. I, judging from the other’s comments, am relatively new to this site. I have been traversing it for about a year. It has managed to become an invaluable and indispensable resource whenever I want to play a Dylan song. And just recently I discovered other sections of the site, namely the tunings page and I plan to delve more into it on the near future since I am extremely eager to start playing in different tunings. In conclusion, yes I would pay to have access to the site and to any additional features the subscription might include ( as long as the fee is reasonable that is)

    Just a final note, if a fee is eventually decided could you add your thoughts comments on more of Dylan LPs?

  9. I use this site at least 2 hours a day after university. It has filled many hours that would have remained blank. I would be willing to pay a small fee, as mentioned I am a student so I am not loaded down with money.
    Great site!

  10. I use this site about once a week, and have been doing so for many years. I have it on my hard drive, originally as a defense against it going away, but now for convenience; it doesnt matter if its up to date, to be honest.The tabs are so good, and the collection and research so comprehensive (and Dylan so prolific) that my life will surely end before I have a chance to visit all of the songs in any depth.

    I consider this site like wikipedia–one of the few good things left about the web. And for that reason I’d be happy to pay to keep it going, for the common good.

    But I think getting some sort of official stamp of approval would ruin it, and I would not want to be a part of that.

    PS. Eyolf, I have a game of chess every morning, and though I am not very good, I (for some pervserse reason) love the game also.

  11. As others have said: the level of detail and analysis you’ve put into this site deems more than deserving of a small subscription fee.

    I would by willing to comply to this with the promise of extra features and frequent updates.

    Though my only fear is the site being bonded in a contract with these ‘licencees” and the eventual death of a respectable, independent site.

  12. Just saw his blog entry E and yes…I would gladly pay should such a situation ever arise. Even though I’m no longer an internet rockstar, I still use this site every week and always will.

  13. Mr. Ostrem, I consider your site to be the best resource for tabs to Dylan’s work. The hard work and effort you put into both creating the tabs and maintaining the website is to be commended. It’s a shame that logistics and finances have become such an obstacle, but these are the times we live in.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think switching to the pay per view system would work. While other tab sites may not be as accurate or up your high standards, I imagine that most people would simply go to a free site to find the tabs for the songs that they would pay for here. Since your tabs have been widely available and downloadable for such a long time, people may could put up your tabs on the free sites and taking any kind of legal action to prevent this might prove costly and futile.

    That having been said, I think there is still a way to make money from your site. It may take more hard work and perhaps more set-up costs, but I think you might make some money if you were to keep all the tabs free but offer video tutorials of select songs or online guitar class of some sort. Who better to teach these songs other than Dylan himself (not sure how much he charges for lessons) ? There are a couple of options to go here. You can pre-record instructional videos that people can pay to see or you can hold online webcam guitar lessons via skype or whatever webcam hosting vehicle you prefer or you can do both. Perhaps for a premium price, customers get a live online guitar course, and for a more moderate price,customers can watch a pre-recorded instructional video.

    The other ting you can do is self-publish an ebook with everything the tab, your blogs, essays, or any other content, however , this is more of a gamble because you don’t know that everyone would necessarily buy it.

    I’m sorry to hear about all the difficulties you’ve encountered. I’m not a person of very much means otherwise I would help. You’ve provided a service to musicians everywhere with your hard work and dedication. Thank you.

    1. Jack: thanks for your suggestions, which I think are good. Maybe I’ll do something like that some day. One problem with the “cheap” version you suggest, is that there are so many tutorial videos on YouTube already, that I don’t really know how many people that option would be appealing to. The online guitar course, on the other hand, might be something to look into. I’ll think about it.
      One point, though: when I asked the question “Would you pay for tabs?” it was not meant to find a way to make money from this, at least not directly, but as a probe for a possible way to make the site fully legit.

  14. Thanks for responding, and for taking my suggestions into consideration. If I come up with any more ideas, I’ll let you know.

    I think you undersell yourself if you think people would not pay for a pre-recorded instructional video of you teaching select songs. Yes, random people have youtube videos to teach certain songs, but to watch a video from you would be something unique that I think people who use this site would pay for. I’m sure you can find instructional videos to the more popular songs on youtube, but you can delve deeper and conduct it in a more organized and efficient way. Both this and the online webcam guitar course idea I think would be things that people would want from your site if you’re able to accommodate it and I think asking a fee for these features would be very reasonable.

    I know you’ve been doing this for years out of passion and commitment, and not to make profit so I’m sorry if my first comment made it seem like you were just “out to make money from the site.” If this was about making yourself rich, you would have given this up and pursued something else a long time ago. I hope you figure out someway to achieve the things you want. I’m not sure how possible full “legit” status is or what the current logistical obstacles you might be facing. I just know that you’re site has help myself and many others learn to play guitar and learn to appreciate our favorite Dylan songs in new and exciting way. I wish you luck. Let us know what you decide to do.

  15. Hi Eyolf:

    I was thinking about this some more.

    I thought you should check out this Grateful Dead site:


    On the top right hand side of the home page, there’s “Video Instruction Link.” These videos are free, but perhaps you can do something similar for http://dylanchords.info/
    only You can charge a nominal fee for access to something similar. Maybe unlimited access for $5-$10 a month or $1 per video (just a suggestion – you would know better what kind of pricing guidelines suit you best).

    There can be a part of your page where you can also advertise private personalized live guitar lessons via skype, which would incur a more of a premium fee. Never tried this but perhaps you can do one on one guitar lessons for the most expensive price, or for a slightly less expensive option have a scheduled class that meets once a week made up of maybe 3 or 4 students. There are guitar schools here in nyc that do guitar lessons via skype. Here’s one I found: http://www.nycguitarschool.com/
    There’s phone numbers and contact information on there and perhaps they might be willing to consult with you about the technical logistics of teaching guitar via skype. Maybe it’s possible to have a class of 3 or 4 or more students and conduct a class that way or maybe it can only be one on one. I’m not sure.

    Anyway, I just thought I’d follow up about these things. I hope this is helpful information.

  16. Eyolf, I’ve loved this site for years, and basically taught myself to play from it. Yeah, a subscription would be worthwhile. If you were to extend an olive branch to the Dylan camp (or whomever), then might I suggest publishing a spiral-bound book version of the site? Yes, there are official releases of fake books out there, but your tabs are far and away the best ones available, for any artist. The book thing would be great for me as a player (and while I’ve thought this for years, how much more stuff can Bob possibly put out?), and it’s already an established part of the publishers’ business model.

    Thanks, —D

  17. What you have now is a baseline. It’s valuable but it’s free so putting up a pay wall isn’t palatable. But expanding on it certainly would be.

    If the Sony suits gave you access to all the original master recordings and let you to tab out all the parts (kind of like the big white Beatle’s book…) that would be worth paying for.

  18. I would not have a problem paying.I have spent well over a $100.00 on licensed material. the only problem I have is that everything I have payed for so far, is hot garbage! everything at the music/book store is inaccurate and I am afraid that if the licensees get there greedy hands on your material they will change it. if you could buy all the accurate material in one book, they would not be able to sell any other books

  19. I’d have to agree with Heiner, Gerard, Chris, Liam, David, RC, Zepat, Larry, Chris, Konstantinos, Sean, tmw, Matt, and dcous, Dennis, and Jack with his ideas.
    That leaves 3 not with us.
    I’m suspecting Office Max and the like will start having a run on ink and paper due to the entire catalogue about to get downloaded. That’s what is so cool. We don’t have to print up everything. It’s just sitting here in our on- line library. may the god of chord changes be with Eyolf.

  20. Wouldn’t have a problem at all. Yours is the best site by far for getting the read off the songs and all the extra you put into it. (Even the personal stuff!) If it keeps you in his loop it is worth it. I came on the site because “the narrow” is a great song. You already had it up with some direction. Let me know.

  21. I’m a little late answering your question, but you can definitely count me in. Your site is a gem, and I would love to see it getting an official approval. Also it would be great if this allowed you to invest more time in dylanchords.

  22. Let me say…this site is and has been a treasure…yes…the content you have here is well worth paying for…that said…I’m generally not in the habit of either downloading music or paying for it…either one…it would be a change in purchasing habits for me…not altogether impossible…a capitalist at heart, I just wonder in what ways a profit incentive here might change this great site…and thank you again…

  23. I wouldn’t mind paying for your excellent work. I agree with you that having an official status would be very helpful both for you and the site… You deserve it.

  24. I haven’t been to Dylanchords for a while, so I’m just noticing this. But I have to say, I owe you a huge debt of gratitude for all of the free Dylan material I’ve derived from your site. I certainly have learned to play my favourite Dylan songs properly thanks to you, but I’ve also learned a lot about Dylan in the process. So, yes, I would gladly pay to be a member of this site. There are a lot of free chord sites out there, but most of them are frustratingly inaccurate; yours is the one site I trust implicitly–and is one of the best Dylan resources on the Web (next to Bob’s official site, of course….) Where do I sign?

  25. Absolutely, this is the best tab site on the internet (and my home page). I’d rather pay a one-time fee than an ongoing subscription, but I’d be willing to either way. Especially if it meant even more additions to the site. And you deserve to make some money for this amount of work.

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