The savvy business sense of its founder, Klaus Heymann, is no longer seen as a liability; it’s enabled him to keep the company making money despite the fact that the classical recording business is changing so fast that every time I’ve talked to him over the past 10 years, Naxos has had a different primary source of revenue.
“We can’t live off CD sales anymore,” says the German-born Heymann, 75, speaking by phone from his base in Hong Kong. When Naxos began, Heymann proved that you could make money selling tens of thousands of copies of works nobody had ever heard of; as CD sales gradually declined, the company has variously relied on proceeds from digital downloads, audio books, and other ventures. Today, it looks to YouTube, where a tool called Content ID crawls the site, figures out how many of a given company’s videos are illegally posted, and – rather than removing the videos – calculates that company’s share of advertising revenue. “That’s become an income stream,” says Heymann, estimating that it covers about 75 percent of his recording budget.
“iTunes, Audible, SiriusXM,” he adds. “Wherever there’s a source of revenue, we squeeze it out.”
Twenty years ago, this kind of talk branded Heymann as a miser, a businessman exploiting artistic talent. Today, he’s often heralded as a visionary, a businessman using practical means to keep a valuable artistic resource afloat.
“Klaus is a heroic figure in classical music,” says Joseph Horowitz, the co-founder of Washington’s Post-Classical Ensemble. Horowitz has served as a consultant for Naxos’s American Classics series, which focuses on otherwise neglected works by American composers, past and present. The Post-Classical Ensemble has also released two recordings on Naxos — DVD reissues of classic 1930s documentaries with scores by Virgil Thomson (“The Plow That Broke the Plains”) and Aaron Copland (“The City”). It’s just one of a number of ensembles in the greater Washington area that have found in Naxos a platform and a step to larger international attention — from individuals such as the pianist and composer Haskell Small, who teaches at the Washington Conservatory of Music, all the way up the food chain to Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.