While publishing assets may trade at high multiples, net publisher's share (NPS) is not the sole criteria used in deciding to make an acquisition, according to music publishers on a panel at the Billboard Music & Money Symposium.

"You need to look at how often a great song catalog surfaces for sale," said
Sony ATV Music Publishing chairman CEO Marty Bandier. When Sony ATV looked at the Leiber and Stoller catalog, it "offered some of the greatest songs of the 1950's. There are things that you can't duplicate. You are buying the pillars of rock 'n' roll."

Likewise, "When we acquired Famous Music, we paid a lot of money for it, but acquired every song that ever came out of a Paramount movie," Bandier added. "That's also hard to duplicate."

Other factors that come into play is whether the buyer has a collector's mentality and whether the buyer sees a way to enhance value, panelist said, with one reminding that great catalogs acquire activity.

Peermusic chairman/CEO Ralph Peer offered another consideration to justify paying a higher price: whether the catalog fits into the structure of peer's song collection. "Also, if you can grow the catalog through superior administration, reach or passion, maybe you didn't over pay," he said.

Moreover, sometimes a pricey acquisition comes with a benefit that only certain publishers can capitalize on. For example, Bandier offered, Universal may have made $2.1 billion to acquire BMG, but in addition to the song catalog it aqcuired, the deal also gave Universal another advantage. It moved them from being the third largest music publisher to being the first. Every digital site has to go to them first when looking to do licensing deals, Bandier said.

But another aspect of that deal baffles Bandier. "We are in a life and death struggle for new mechanical and digital rates ...with what the future will look like, with the record companies on one side and the publishers on the other," Bandier said. "Universal just paid $2.1 billion for BMG publishing and yet asked for a reduction in the mechanical rates. Now, that's a head scratcher to me."

Often, record companies and publishers are not necessarily in an adversarial relationship, but they do have different view points.