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.
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Filed Under: community, fonts, user generated content

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  1. identicon
    MLS, 11 Jun 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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