The User Generated Font Community

from the challenging-business-models dept

It's often amazing to see the larger struggles of one industry reflected in a very similar situation in a much more narrowly focused industry. Obviously, we've had tons of stories about major media operations, from television to radio to newspapers have suddenly struggled to compete in a world where there's also user-generated content to compete with on all levels. Certainly, most of that user-generated content is not very good, but that's missing the point. Some of it is quite good -- and the good work tends to get noticed and float to the top. Basically, the old guard no longer has a monopoly, and that can require a major adjustment in terms of both product and business model. And the same thing is happening in much more narrowly focused markets -- such as fonts.

A few months back, we wrote about how one font company got so upset that one of its fonts was found on a file sharing network that it sent a huge bill to the guy it believed was responsible, and then increased the price on the font, along with a huge rant about people "stealing" their fonts. This is like the RIAA flipping out over file sharing -- and rather than recognizing that the unauthorized file sharing was actually a sign of people wanting a more efficient market -- trying to resist that market.

Then, compare that to this wonderful story in Slate about an online service called FontStruct that lets anyone create and share their own fonts. Suddenly, a large group of folks who didn't even have the means before can now make their own fonts. They're certainly not as good as professional fonts in most cases, but for many people they are good enough (and some of them are quite good). As the article notes: "FontStruct is the Casiotone keyboard of font-making. Maybe you can use it to bang out a credible pop song. Beethoven? No way."

But just as user generated content has changed other businesses, it also impacts these smaller businesses. Now some (and I'm sure the font company we discussed earlier would agree) will bemoan this situation, complain about the "amateurs," insult the crappy fonts and insist that it will hurt the overall market. But that's the wrong way to look at this. What we're seeing is more fonts available, and more people even being aware of font possibilities. The best work bubbles to the top, thanks to a rating system. A good font designer can use a program like this to highlight and promote his or her works -- and then sell the ability to do custom work as well, or additional design work. It becomes a win-win across the board. More fonts are available, it's easier for the best designers to promote themselves, and more people who would never consider paying for a font learn about what's possible and available.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
    identicon
    mykl, Jun 10th, 2008 @ 11:52pm

    Font software

    There has been software available to turn your own writing or printing into a custom font available for several years. You write or print on a sample sheet and then scan it. Presto, your own personal font.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2008 @ 12:38am

    Actually, its like the Desktop Publishing of the late 80's and the "web design" of the late 90's. Everyone with a computer thinks they can do it, and the market gets flooded with crap. This in when the real artists and professionals start to stand out. The good stuff floats to the top, and people realize the value of the good stuff. They also become more willing to PAY for the good stuff. And usually the good stuff is by the same people who were doing it before.

     

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  3.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Jun 11th, 2008 @ 4:09am

    Are Fonts Copyrightable?

    I seem to remember discussions years ago, possibly on comp.fonts, lamenting the fact that fonts were not copyrightable. It might be that the particular representation of the font in a file is copyrightable, but the actual outline design is not.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2008 @ 5:14am

    Re: Are Fonts Copyrightable?

    But they can be PATENTED. It is a design after all.

    Possibly it may be "trademarked" instead.

    Either way, as long as its not for anything commercial you can use it as you will I believe. The second money is involved, watch yourself.


    BTW 35 counts of impeachment on Bush. Time to go find a political forum to troll...

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2008 @ 6:53am

    Or you can just open any commercial font in Fontlab studio and tweak, then resave with whatever name you wish, this is by far the fastest, and gives you quality fonts that work in any prepress situation. Or for that matter you can convert mac fonts to windows or visa-versa

     

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  6.  
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    Vincent Clement, Jun 11th, 2008 @ 9:07am

    But Mike, why should content providers have to work to earn a living?

    It's just better to lobby the government to extend the term of copyright, introduce laws that prevent people from getting around digital locks and make it a crime to move content from one format to another and apply fines that have no relation to the value of the content.

    /sarcasm

     

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  7.  
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    MLS, Jun 11th, 2008 @ 9:48am

    "Infinite Goods"

    The company noted in the linked article comprises at least three people who are apparently graphic artists and cater to businesses having a need for its font products. It does not perform custom design work, though its website does note that two of the people are available to do such custom work on their own time and separate from the company.

    The graphic design of high-end, scalable fonts is no trivial task. It involves hard work. Anyone suggesting such graphic artists should have to "work for a living" is plainly uninformed.

    Yes, once one of its designs has been completed and ported into digital format its marginal cost for reproduction does tend to "zero". Even so, I fail to see why its business approach is "doomed to failure" as has so often been stated. Is it "doomed" because once it has provided a specific font to a customer its business approach breaks down because some will choose to ignore their contractual obligations and upload the font for unlimited file sharing? Should we simply shrug our shoulders and somehow ignore the breach of both the contract and copyright law? Note that this company is not DRM'ing or DMCA'ing its font products. Its customers are in no way limited from using the fonts they have purchased. All they are required to do is not share them with others in a manner that allows the fonts to be replicated by a third party. Is it really too much to ask to expect customers to live up to their legal obligations? In this case I think not.

    Now, its business approach may be precarious in the sense that it relies on the good faith of its customers, but this alone should not be a reason to call it a "buggy whip" business. It is providing a product its customers obviously want, notwithstanding all the freebies one can find perusing the internet, and they appear quite willing to pay for it under the terms associated with a sale. Yes, while it may be an "infinite good" as defined by economic theory, the simple fact remains it is inherently "scarce" and is in demand by customers.

    In my view this is one instance where a business is being castigated for being uninformed in economic theory in order to once more create a strawman for striking down (or at least significantly scaling back) copyright law. It makes me wonder if situations such as this are being noted primarily for the purpose of using economic theories to eliminate a body of law that some seem to find inconvenient. If so, the facts of this particular case make for a poor example in support of anti-copyright factions.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Nasch, Jun 11th, 2008 @ 10:16am

    Re:

    Anyone suggesting such graphic artists should have to "work for a living" is plainly uninformed.

    So... they should not have to work for a living?

    Even so, I fail to see why its business approach is "doomed to failure" as has so often been stated. Is it "doomed" because once it has provided a specific font to a customer its business approach breaks down because some will choose to ignore their contractual obligations and upload the font for unlimited file sharing?

    It is questionable (doomed might be too strong) because somebody is going to offer a competing product for less, probably zero. Even if nobody breaches contract and the specific fonts are never available publicly, how many people are willing to pay a premium for that specific font when others are available for free? A few probably, but enough to base a business on?

    Yes, while it may be an "infinite good" as defined by economic theory, the simple fact remains it is inherently "scarce" and is in demand by customers.

    Did you notice that you just contradicted yourself in the same sentence? A good is either infinite or not. In the case of digitally rendered fonts, they're infinite: they can be copied infinitely with zero marginal cost. The time and labor required to create a font is what is scarce.

     

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  9.  
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    MLS, Jun 11th, 2008 @ 11:03am

    Re: Re:

    "So... they should not have to work for a living?"

    My comment was in response to the comment at #6.

    "A few probably, but enough to base a business on?"

    The availability of free fonts notwithstanding (they have been around for a long time), this company has apparently managed to establish a customer base for its products that produces income sufficient for its needs.

    "Did you notice that you just contradicted yourself in the same sentence? A good is either infinite or not. In the case of digitally rendered fonts, they're infinite: they can be copied infinitely with zero marginal cost. The time and labor required to create a font is what is scarce."

    Not a contradiction given my use of the word "scarce" to signify that the digital good is released under license to the company's customers. Fonts available as freebies are certainly not scarce given how I use the word. The same cannot be said of what the company sells, assuming, of course, that a customer adheres to his/her contractual obligations.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2008 @ 8:48am

    Re: Re: Re:

    """
    "A few probably, but enough to base a business on?"

    The availability of free fonts notwithstanding (they have been around for a long time), this company has apparently managed to establish a customer base for its products that produces income sufficient for its needs.
    """

    actually, there is no indication of that, can someone find any reliable source on how this company is doing?

    """
    "Did you notice that you just contradicted yourself in the same sentence? A good is either infinite or not. In the case of digitally rendered fonts, they're infinite: they can be copied infinitely with zero marginal cost. The time and labor required to create a font is what is scarce."

    Not a contradiction given my use of the word "scarce" to signify that the digital good is released under license to the company's customers. Fonts available as freebies are certainly not scarce given how I use the word. The same cannot be said of what the company sells, assuming, of course, that a customer adheres to his/her contractual obligations.
    """

    the license DOES NOT MATTER. fonts are infinite. slapping a license on it to make it scarce makes it artifically scarce, which pisses your customers off because they realize they are being denied the ability to use this infinite good as an infinite good, which is the point.

    to be clear:
    YES I agree with you, this companies customers are legaly obligied to obey their contractual obligations, which restrict them from from making copies.
    HOWEVER it is a BAD IDEA to apply a license to this good, because it makes the product less desirable, and customers will buy competing products, san license, instead of yours.

    to be even more clear:
    YES they are within their legal rights
    NO, this is not a good business idea, they will piss off their customer base

    Follow?

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    MLS, Jun 12th, 2008 @ 9:39am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "actually, there is no indication of that, can someone find any reliable source on how this company is doing?"

    All you have to do is contact the company "Letterhead Fonts" and ask. I recall from posts it made in the linked article that it was financially sound, but was concerned that those "gaming" the system were believed to potentially negatively impact its income stream from sales.

    "the license DOES NOT MATTER. fonts are infinite. slapping a license on it to make it scarce makes it artifically scarce, which pisses your customers off because they realize they are being denied the ability to use this infinite good as an infinite good, which is the point."

    You seem hung up on economic definitions. Even if it costs wirtually nothing for the company to send a digital copy to its paying customers, the fact remains its digital products are only made available on a PAYG basis and are licensed in such a manner that seems to suit all of its customers needs for using the fonts.

    "HOWEVER it is a BAD IDEA to apply a license to this good, because it makes the product less desirable, and customers will buy competing products, san license, instead of yours."

    This does not seem to particularly bother its customers since customers are free to use the purchased fonts withoult any material limitation other than not sharing them with third parties who have not paid for copies. How this makes it products less desireable in not at all clear, and the company's existing stable of customers appears to show this limitation is a significant consideration in whether or not to purchase its products.

    "they will piss off their customer base"

    By this logic software users should be up in arms with software companies who try and meet customer preferrences by offering their products in both DVD/CD formates as well as electronic files. I prefer the latter because when I want a piece of software I usually want it now, and not some days later when a DVD/CD arrives in the mail.

    The majority of my high end apps (and many of my low end apps) were purchased for download, and I could not be happier whenever I am provided this option.

     

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