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Re: The other party in all this

From: Tal Leming <tal@typesupply.com>
Date: Mon, 6 Jul 2009 12:31:08 -0400
Cc: www-font@w3.org
Message-Id: <949C24CC-49B8-47C5-ACC9-D0B77B068890@typesupply.com>
To: John Hudson <tiro@tiro.com>
I'd like to follow up on what John has said. I am a type designer who  
licenses fonts to end users. There has been a lot of discussion about  
the business model and economics of this practice on this list. As  
someone who has been in this business for 10 years, I'd like to offer  
some insight.

The truth is that there is a font business model that works. In fact,  
there are few business models that work. They have worked for about  
500 years now. As Håkon put it, "They have a font model, it works, but  
now we're changing it"[1]. For the purposes of fonts on the web, we  
are mostly talking about the model that brings fonts into the open  
market. That model generally follows these steps:

1. The designer has an idea.
2. The designer spends a lot of time to turn that idea into some  
fonts. (I've never released anything that didn't take months of work.  
Most take at least a year. Some have taken a decade of work.)
3. Users license the fonts for particular types of use.
4. The designer hopes to sell enough of these licenses to cover the  
expenses incurred during steps 1 and 2.
5. The designer hopes that if step 4 happens, more licenses will be  
sold to help cover the costs of developing the next font.

This is, essentially, an investment model. The designer makes  
something in the hopes that it will generate income at a later date.  
Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. It isn't a highly unusual  
business model.

There have been numerous experiments with pricing since digital fonts  
arrived around 25 years ago. Some have worked and others haven't. Just  
about every possible scenario has been tried. Donation based pricing?  
Tried. Free fonts with a request for payment? Tried. Exclusive, vetted  
licensing with high costs? Tried. Lots of stuff in-between? Tried. As  
it is today, fonts are priced anywhere form $0 to several thousand  
dollars. The price is calculated based on the number of likely users,  
the general usefulness of the fonts and the expenses incurred during  
the development of the fonts. The fact that the files are infinitely  
reproducible has no bearing on the pricing because it is irrelevant.  
There are only a small number of font buyers out there.

We fully recognize that there *could* be significantly more buyers of  
fonts when fonts are available for use in browsers. But, the fact is,  
we simply don't know what is going to happen. No one does. This is why  
you see concern about raw OTF/TTF fonts as the web format. If raw OTF/ 
TTF as the only browser font format doesn't work out as people hope,  
the business model I outlined above, our main business model, is in  
jeopardy. I've heard the "You don't have to license your fonts for web  
use" argument. That's not our point. We *want* to make our fonts  
available for web use. Our point is that we are being told to take a  
huge risk. The browser makers have made it very clear that they are  
unwilling to do anything that exposes them to any risk, DMCA or  
otherwise. All of the risk is on us. The overwhelming feeling among  
the type designers I've talked to is that we are at the mercy of  
large, well-funded corporations and organizations. It's not a fun  
place to be right now.

In any case, I hope this will shed some light on what it is that we  
type designers do and ease some of this speculation and hypothesizing  
about how and why we do it.


[1] http://www.w3.org/Fonts/Misc/minutes-2008-10
Received on Monday, 6 July 2009 16:31:50 UTC

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