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
    Nasch, 11 Jun 2008 @ 10:16am


    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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