Options for new type designers?

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Comments

  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,006
    “ Passive income is better than fee-for-service, no matter how hefty”

    I don't see how that can be true for all possible values of x and y as you seem to be saying here. If the passive income is minuscule, and the fee for service is a kingly sum, then surely the latter is better in that case.

    Don't get me wrong, I agree that passive income is a fine thing. Just not that it is better regardless of the sums of money involved. :)
  • David, there are customers who see the "here is a font you can get any time for free and pay to fix"? offer and open their wallets. I'm not saying that this will become the dominant form of type business, I'm sure it will remain a niche, but the fact is that if you want to make libre fonts and earn money you can do it.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,536
    David, there are customers who see the "here is a font you can get any time for free and pay to fix"? offer and open their wallets
    Would you please elaborate with some examples of what kind of “fixes” people have paid for? I would like to know if people are paying to better the design of typefaces or if the fixes consist of additions such as language support, weight range, and small caps.
  • Jay LanglyJay Langly Posts: 33
    edited August 2014
    When the font market reaches a point where the quality of libre fonts get so good and quantity become plentiful that the more and bigger (potential) clients start using free fonts instead of paying type designers, either with commissions or even licensing: where will the money to be earned by anyone then?
  • As someone who has been sitting on some fonts for over 7 years...this is a very helpful thread. My main interest with eventually releasing are 1) retaining ownership of my designs* and 2) getting enough eyeballs.*

    I've been out of the loop so long that a few of the independent foundries I would have loved to be a part of have been bought up by the majors.

    Anyone with experience selling through distributors have recommendations for the above criteria? (*ownership and eyeballs)
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,074
    With most, you keep ownership and can walk away if you want. "Eyeballs" is tricky. MyFonts can boast a huge number of page views to their site but have nothing to show you for your individual fonts. With that kind of a service, they don't care if your particular font sells. They just care about overall sales.
  • "Would you please elaborate with some examples of what kind of “fixes” people have paid for?"

    It guess it can't be done. Custom fonts, I think, are about "extension" and "regranulation", not "We wonder what it would look like if it was fixed." A font one can get any time for free and pay to fix is not based on practical experience with type development as far as I know, and as it's not of help to young talented designers, or customers, I wonder if conditions will ever develop for that to be a viable route.
  • Would you please elaborate with some examples of what kind of “fixes” people have paid for?
    I don't think its proper for me to publish details of people's private businesses. I'm sure they can post on this thread if they want to.

    One designer has deals for Cyrillic extensions on a couple of his Latin sans and script fonts, for a physical goods manufacturer.

    Another has closed deals with publishers for variations of his serif text family.
  • I know of a number of these cases. Basically they are not bug fixes so much as extensions and occasionally customizations.
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 520
    edited August 2014
    Bugs are fixed for free when time allows. Urgent fixes, customizations or extensions are extra :)
  • Would you please elaborate with some examples of what kind of “fixes” people have paid for?
    The one time I was paid to modify one of my libre fonts, the client did not like my Arabic combining marks and the placement choice for a particular combination of them, so he paid me to modify the font to his liking. But that was the only time someone offered to pay me to do that kind of change, most of time people would just suggest a change or report a problem and just accept if I'm interested in addressing it or not.
  • I was being dead serious. It’s not my view, but I do think that many young designers–particularly those working in web and UI/UX design—look down on font designers who don’t give fonts away. They’re too callow and inexperienced to understand why the same open source business model that can work for Wordpress or MySQL doesn’t work for type. And they’ve grown up lazy. These are kids who think research begins and ends with Google, that shopping is only something one does online, and are hooked on instant gratification. The idea of thinking about font licensing, much less negotiating to buy a license, is anathema to them.
    As one of those designers I have to agree with a good deal of that statement – not very many of us take the time to really research type before designing with it. When we do it's sometimes based on superficial decisions without understanding all the work that's put into type.

    It's also product as service though, right? Most designers as users don't want to think about font hosting, licensing, let alone negotiating buying a license. Developers are generally more concerned with reliable CDN's and page weight. With personal shops having something as simple as a convenient, clear interface for buying fonts could mean the difference between users purchasing a license or moving on. I've seen sites where the flow to get it working live on a project takes a lot of effort – so that seems like that's a key target for any sort of personal shop looking to appeal to a wider audience.
  • why the same open source business model that can work for Wordpress or MySQL
    Why not?

    Also still curious to hear thoughts about this. It seems like eventually this is something that can happen…
  • Personal opinion only :)
    When the font market reaches a point where the quality of libre fonts get so good and quantity become plentiful that the more and bigger (potential) clients start using free fonts instead of paying type designers, either with commissions or even licensing: where will the money to be earned by anyone then?
    Jay, I'm sorry I didn't reply to this sooner - I remember wanting to but, ahhh, the summer holidays :)

    You are asserting that typefaces are what economics call 'substitute goods'.

    Designers be like, "I want one and roughly any one will do."?

    This is nonsense.

    Exhibit A: There are half a dozen versions of the design most popularly named Helvetica floating around for a long time - the original one, the really original one, the really, really original one, the remake, the pretty one, the global one, the USA stolen one, the USSR stolen one - ah no, this one is legit, myfonts says its "A spin-off from Encyclopedia-4 type family of the Polygraphmash type design bureau"! :) - the German stolen one, the post modern one, the cool one - and all the while the Apple computers come with a lot of it pre-installed, and yet all these continue to sell. Well, except the one which actually improved the design and was soon banned, haa!

    If you study behavioural economics, you'll learn that people are entirely irrational and that substitution isn't a strong factor.

    Designers be like, "I want that one! And that one! And that one!"

    There will always be a demand for more and more type, because instead of being substitute goods, typefaces are complementary goods.

    That's why we design new typefaces in the first place. There will never be enough, and the more we have, the more we want.

    The market is growing, and that is BECAUSE of libre fonts, not despite it. You can thank me later.

    The market for type is growing, but it isn't growing fast enough to give full time work to each and every one of the several dozen elite-class type designers that graduate from KABK and UoR and all the rest every year, every year.

    There are simply too many type designers now. Send the pitchforks to the design schools, please.
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 246
    Your paragraph on Helvetica is full of uninformed myths. Read up on history.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 932
    edited September 2014
    The truth and lies of grotesque type history is beside the point.

    Anyone of us could provide a similar list for any flagship type design - say, Myriad. Oh no, wait... - with as much historical accuracy as we like to put the time in for. You could just as well lasso some of the peaches from your ATypI presentation with Watch Sans, El Frankenfont and some more, I'm sure.

    The point is: Does each of those exemplary samples of originality and progress in type design continue to sell, or do they all get smothered by the $0 Apple supply?
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,006
    edited September 2014
    I will disagree with Dave on this. There is certainly a significant substitution effect for type and fonts, and the price and availability of fonts impacts the demand for other fonts.

    We saw this in the early 90s when the sudden surge of bundled fonts and availability of cheap font packs caused a dramatic reduction in demand for the other, existing retail fonts at their existing prices. Adobe laid off half their type dev staff after the market semi-collapsed.

    Yes, no doubt, SOME of the demand is for specific fonts, and indeed, some customers are eager to be different and willing to pay for it. But there are also a significant number of people who will happily work with libre fonts because of their zero cost, as long as there is enough variety and/or quality for their needs.

    For Dave to be correct, the substitution effect has to be infinitesimal or offset by some sort of increased demand due to increased awareness that is caused by the libre fonts themselves. I'm not seeing this so far, and we are significantly into the curve of libre font growth now.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 932
    edited September 2014
    First I want to apologies to Indra and you all; while I was intending to be jocular, clearly this has annoyed you and Jackson and others, and I can see that my tone wasn't respectful. I'm sorry. I also apologies to Jan and everyone for boorishing droning on about copyright as a monopoly right. We are meant to aim for thoughtful discussion at an adult level, and I'll try harder for that going forwards.

    Thomas, when Adobe was selling Type 1 fonts for US English at $500 a style, and URW had private tennis courts and dozens of staff, the total size of the market was much smaller than today. Those cheap font packs caused a dramatic reduction in demand for the existing retail fonts at their existing prices, but they came along with a dramatic increase in demand for type and typography overall.

    To say the market semi-collapsed sounds really weird to me, because the overall market massively expanded with the founding and growth of all the foundries that are now the old guard. FontFont was the punk-y revolutionary, which is part of why people have been sad this year to see it acquired by The Establishment, I think.

    And the really old vendors like DTL and TEFF have continued to sell licenses at very high prices long after Adobe stopped doing so.

    The economic fact is that if a good is available to everyone in the world for free or cheaply, that's a desirable thing for some people (especially those who want to pay little to nothing) and an undesirable thing for others (those who who value the distinctiveness of a particular design, and want goods that are available on a limited, exclusive basis - ie, the people who do actually pay for proprietary fonts.) In the extreme these are called 'Veblen goods'.

    Now you are right that the number of people who are happy with cheap stuff is, of course, gigantic. But they wouldn't pay for anything anyway. And eventually they become dissatisfied, they refine their tastes, they go from loving Lobster to ridiculing people who use it... the total number of people who are not happy with the stuff everyone else has is only growing.

    In tandem, the print media is dying and the web media is growing. And detecting commercial unlicensed use of proprietary fonts is far easier on the web than in print media. That's not just a benefit that accrues to the biggest vendors (who can run web crawls looking for that kind of thing at scale) but something that any 1-person foundry can do: they can supply their customers with a tracking CSS just like the one that MyFonts uses, and conveniently note when someone who already paid for the fonts went beyond the terms of their license agreement. Jackson said he has a laundry list of these kinds of things, and I'm quite sincere that you and people just starting out will all benefit if you teach each other what the options are.

    So if you are just starting out, the number one thing I think you need to have it: the ability to articulate why you are designing new typefaces in the first place. There are already a lot in existence, so what is the justification for yours?

    If you have a good answer to that, then I think all of several avenues are open to you: you can build your own sales channel as Jackson has where you get 100% of the revenue, join an existing small distribution channel like Type Together, Typotheque, Typofonderie etc (who will want to distribute your font if you have a good answer) where you get a cut probably bigger than 50%, or you can go with one of the several Monotype channels where you get 50%. As your answer is better, those options become worse for you, I'd say.

    However, the volume in the Monotype channels is highest, the volume of the smaller distributors is lower, and if you build your own sales channel then you start with keeping 100% of zero.

    So if you have a good answer and want to go your own way, how can you grow the volume in your sales channel?

    A common marketing technique is to make some other things quickly and cheaply - ie, something where the answer to 'why?' is less clear - and give them away for $0 (or pay-what-you-wish) to bring attention. The 2nd step in this common technique is to gather the leads this generates - "pay with your twitter handle / email account / facebook like" - so you can follow up with other 'direct' marketing on the higher-grade stuff (like custom type projects.)

    Type Together tried this with Abril and Bree Serif, making the Abril Fatface and Bree Serif Regular styles available gratis and libre.

    This can probably work well for people just starting out, too.
  • Even in a devastated war zone, there's always a success story. In the latest issue of The New Yorker, Dexter Filkins tells us about a successful internet entrepreneur and a building boom in Kurdistan—this happening at the edge of the ISIS invasion and despite the fact that the province (and would-be nation), cut off from oil revenues, has not been able to pay anyone since early this year. Dave Crossland mentions a libre fonts author, perhaps two or three, who has been hired by a commercial client to do custom work on his type; Amazon tells us about a few who have had success publishing ebooks under their banner, a counterbalance, they claim, to the whining publishing houses who won't agree to their pricing. The other side of the story—the vastly larger side—is that most everyone involved with these models is miserable, living on hopes and prayers. A few may emerge as winners, but most everyone else will fall by the wayside. The relationships themselves have no future.

    How successful are these success stories, anyway? Will the ebook author who earned $200K over five years (barely equivalent to U.S. minimum wage) receive a livable advance from Amazon for their next book? Will Google Fonts offer the "successful" type designer more money for their next libre font? I think not--it's not the business model. In these two situations, there's no real relationship between the creator and the outlet, and no assessment of the quality of their work being worth more than any other work. It's marginally better than the lottery.

    A young creator might ask, "What else am I to do?" I think some better alternatives have been suggested here. In each of them, there's a possibility, albeit remote, for growing a relationship that might benefit both parties, whereas with the Googles and Amazons of the world, neither have any skin in developing creative relationships, except at the level of exploring (for a while) new product lines or cutting expenses. Below that, it's the Borg.
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 520
    edited September 2014
    Will Google Fonts offer the "successful" type designer more money for their next libre font? I think not--it's not the business model.
    Scott, I hope you don't mind a small correction:
    You guess is uninformed. You will be happy to know that they have been increasing payments each and every year. Hence the inclusion of projects developed by experienced type designers like John Hudson's Slabo, Mota-Italic's Vesper, and many more to be released soon by reputable and experienced designers.
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 246
    Pablo, would you mind repeating your comment? Somehow the system says “Page not found” when I click the link.
  • Hi Indra, what link? my comment was plain text, did not include any link.
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 246
    Never mind, all good. Your comment disappeared for a bit but now it’s back up. Sorry.
  • Pablo, have the payments increased across the board, given out equally to all, or are larger payments being given to the designers whose work has been deemed more successful or is considered more necessary? If the larger payments are going to designers whose work is considered more successful or necessary, can you tell us the criteria by which the success or necessity has been measured? Also, can you share with us the amount of those payments before the increase and now, and and what rate, in your experience, the amount might translate into an hourly wage?
  • have the payments increased across the board, given out equally to all, or are larger payments being given to the designers whose work has been deemed more successful or is considered more necessary?
    A bit of both. A general increase for all new projects, plus a bigger increase for the successful ones.
    can you tell us the criteria by which the success or necessity has been measured?
    Analytics, they are publicly available at https://www.google.com/fonts/#Analytics:total
    Also, can you share with us the amount of those payments before the increase and now, and and what rate, in your experience, the amount might translate into an hourly wage?
    I can't go into such level of details, so you will need to just trust me on these.
  • $200K over five years (barely equivalent to U.S. minimum wage)
    That's way above minimum wage in the U.S. by a factor of at least two. Did you mean living wage?
  • Thank you, Mark. I did intend to write "living wage." I found a good summary of the term here:
    http://livingwage.mit.edu

    Pablo, it was interesting to see that a number of the top fonts available from Google Fonts were created by people employed by type foundries (e.g. Steve Matteson at Ascender Corp.). I would that such corporate positioning (as described by David Lemon in his ATypI talk) is quite different from a lone font designer looking for recognition. Not that I don't trust you, but the figures I asked you about will be telling, I think.
  • Alexis SamsonAlexis Samson Posts: 11
    edited October 2014
    Interesting to note that many of the designers comissioned for Google font library are living in countries where cost of living is much lower than U.S. cost
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 520
    edited October 2014
    Alexis, there are people from all over the world (Including many living in the US and Europe). And, AFAIK, payments are related to expertise level and scope of each project on an individual basis, not place of residence.
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