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Re: Fonts WG Charter feedback

From: Tab Atkins Jr. <jackalmage@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, 3 Jul 2009 19:00:56 -0500
Message-ID: <dd0fbad0907031700p14093290tfca3a9aedd6c1ab9@mail.gmail.com>
To: Thomas Phinney <tphinney@cal.berkeley.edu>
Cc: Aryeh Gregor <Simetrical+w3c@gmail.com>, John Hudson <tiro@tiro.com>, Håkon Wium Lie <howcome@opera.com>, Thomas Lord <lord@emf.net>, Chris Wilson <Chris.Wilson@microsoft.com>, Sylvain Galineau <sylvaing@microsoft.com>, "www-font@w3.org" <www-font@w3.org>
On Fri, Jul 3, 2009 at 6:21 PM, Thomas Phinney<tphinney@cal.berkeley.edu> wrote:
> On Fri, Jul 3, 2009 at 4:06 PM, Tab Atkins Jr.<jackalmage@gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Fri, Jul 3, 2009 at 5:18 PM, Thomas Phinney<tphinney@cal.berkeley.edu> wrote:
>>> On Fri, Jul 3, 2009 at 2:41 PM, Aryeh Gregor<Simetrical+w3c@gmail.com> wrote:
>>>> so foundries will be forced to go
>>>> along with whatever common format is agreed upon no matter what, at
>>>> least to some extent.
>>>
>>> There you are completely incorrect.
>>>
>>> There's demand for $10 blu-ray players, too.
> ...
>> Bad analogy.  We don't have $10 Bluray players because no one's
>> figured out how to make them that cheaply.  It's physically impossible
>> to sell them for that low and make money currently.
>>
>> Fonts, on the other hand, cost $0 to reproduce.  Any price you charge
>> will recoup the price of a copy.  (The fixed costs of creating the
>> font are a different matter, but they have nothing to do with
>> reproduction of the font file.)
>
> Sure, the marginal cost of a copy of a digital font is zero. That does
> not mean that there is a viable market at any price, however, nor that
> lots of people will "rush to fill the gap" with equivalent goods at
> any price.
>
> To wit: digital fonts have been out there as retail items for desktop
> use for a couple of decades, and although there are a wide range of
> prices and qualities available, there is actually a fair bit of
> convergence on pricing for what I would consider "good quality" fonts.
> The market is fairly stable there, and it's tough, but possible, to
> make a living.

I'm not saying that pricing is an issue, however - font foundries may
very well have found a stable point where people are willing to pay
the asked price for the given quantity.  We're talking about
distribution, where "not allowing web use" is functionally identical
to "charging infinity dollars for web use", in which case new people
can come in and scoop them.

The details of why they won't allow it aren't all that important under
this argument.  If they don't want to distribute, they don't want to
distribute, but I'll bet on the free market that someone *will* want
to distribute, they'll make money, and then everyone will start
distributing (why miss out on the proven revenue stream, after all?).

>>  Anytime someone big gives up a niche, there are ten
>> others who will gleefully fill it in now that there's no competition.
>
> You think there's a niche there in the sense of an economic
> opportunity. Most font vendors do not agree.

And that's fine.  They don't have to agree.  I believe that virtually
*every* economic niche will be filled by *somebody*.

>> I'm curious as to exactly what *would* really happen.  To use the old
>> comparison, the recording industry was dead-set against allowing their
>> music to be sold online, let alone in mp3 format, because they thought
>> they'd die from piracy.  Nowadays mp3 is the dominant format, and
>> every major store sells bare mp3s online.  That's just where the money
>> was - the companies that didn't sell their music online saw the money
>> they were missing, and the stores that refused to sell mp3s in favor
>> of encumbered formats saw their profits eaten up by the mp3-sellers.
>
> That's a great comparison, but not the way you think.
>
> Font vendors are already selling completely non-DRM fonts online and
> other ways, and many have been offering retail desktop fonts via
> online download for over a decade. They're just saying that they don't
> want users to put those fonts up on web servers in the same
> widely-usable format. *Some* also see this as an opportunity to
> license font files already processed into a less-directly-sharable
> format, but that's by no means the general desire among font vendors.
>
> It's like record companies objecting to peer-to-peer file sharing of
> commercial music files, if they were already making the non-DRM MP3s
> available and had always been doing so.

Not quite, though. Analogies are hard.  ^_^

Right now, you can't easily use fonts online.  This is roughly
analogous to the days before mp3s and online distribution, when you
had to go to the store and buy a plastic disc to listen to music.

Font-sharing in the current context maps more closely to people
ripping and then reselling CDs, but without any online distribution.
Font copyright infringement is absolutely nothing compared to music
copyright infringement.

Webfonts then are roughly akin to streaming music - one person buys
the file, then many people benefit from it.  Nothing compares to
filesharing except, um, filesharing.

I'm... not really sure where this analogy is going at this point.

Anyway!  I have no objection whatsoever to multiple formats being
supported.  TTF/OTF, EOT, some hypothetical future consensus format,
it's all good.  As other have said, we have multiple formats for
displaying images on the web, and this doesn't hurt anything because
all of them are interoperable.  We can similarly have multiple formats
for linking fonts on the web.  TTF lets us use fonts with an absolute
minimum of bother, EOT lets us use fonts and have them be viewable by
the older IE browsers, and a hypothetical future format offers
unimaginable wonders.  Font foundries can then just make it part of
their license agreements that fonts purchased from them must be in
Format X to be allowed on the web.  Simple and easy.

Is it still *possible* for an author to link a font in TTF when his
license doesn't allow that?  Sure!  Of course, EOT doesn't enforce
font licenses either, and can be stripped off of a font (well, there's
at least one eot->ttf converter, according to google).  The other
proposed formats don't enforce the license on the author either.  And
right now, an author is *forced* to link a font as ttf (and eot) to
use it on the web.  If this is a fear, even when an appropriately
limited format *does* exist and is interoperable, then there's really
nothing anyone can do.  You're dealing with abject irrationality at
that point.

~TJ
Received on Saturday, 4 July 2009 00:01:53 GMT

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