User-based licensing

As a fan of good type, I'm curious as to why more designers and foundries haven't thought about moving to desktop licensing models that go beyond the traditional "x number of users can use the font in any sort of project and the cost goes up as x increases."

Obviously, it's impossible to make a living from free/libre fonts, so unless somebody with deep pockets comissions one, that's out as a model, but what about, say, use based licensing: home/hobbyist users pay less than people looking to use the font in commercial projects. Enforcement could be tricky, but I can think of a couple things that would help. The non-commercial version could potentially be named differently ("NC" or "Home" could be appended to the name). Also, the non-commercial edition could be shipped only as a TTF, which would make it unsuitable for use with large-scale printing.

Has anyond tried this? Was it unsuccessful? Or is the home market simply too small to be worth spending time on?
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  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,421
    Has anyond tried this? Was it unsuccessful? 

    I used to offer student/non-commercial licenses through MyFonts. I noticed that most of the people buying them were graphic design studios in wealthy European nations—mostly Switzerland—who were too cheap to pay full price. 

    Also, the non-commercial edition could be shipped only as a TTF, which would make it unsuitable for use with large-scale printing.

    TTF fonts work just fine for offeset printing.

  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 624
    I tried personal use licenses a few years ago and there were largely ignored. Those that weren't purchased by design studios were used for small businesses. It's a dead end because nobody needs to buy a font for personal use. If someone's making a birthday card or a lost cat poster, there's probably something already installed on their computer that will do the trick.
  • @ James:
    So basically, people are were dishonest and cheating was rife. How sad.

    @ Ray:
    I've noticed that you seem to offer desktop use of most of your fonts for free and only charge for web and ebook use. Isn't that a form of alternative licensing based on prospective end use, even if the criteria are a little different than a simple commercial/noncommercial split?
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 624
    Yes, it's similar and much like the personal use license experiment, it didn't really pay off either. A little bit, but certainly not enough to make it worth doing. But at least free commercial desktop fonts have some promotional benefit  . . . that I can't quantify. That's not the case with a commercial/personal split. Free desktop fonts end up getting installed on computers. Being present in someone's font list could lead to someone seeking an alternative license. But offering a low cost personal use license doesn't have the same effect. Even if your personal use license is $5, people probably aren't going to fill their font folders with random $5 fonts.
  • Obviously, it's impossible to make a living from free/libre fonts,
    I respectfully disagree. Any one who wants to do this can do it. The problem is people dont want to try... perhaps because they share your kindly mistaken idea that its "obviously impossible" :)

    Impallari is doing alright with it. Vernon Adams was before his accident. Most people who release libre fonts because I show up having already organised the funding don't try to do it themselves, they just take the money and treat it like any other job.

    Also: Custom type owned by the client is libre type, usually overlooked
  • It's also possible to release fonts under a permissive license after a Kickstarter. Fonts projects on Kickstarter have usually worked out well (Exo 2, Thomas Phinney and a few others). I'd say the field has not been tried extensively.
  • There are also alternative funding models to the street performer protocol used on kickstarter that may have better yeilds
  • Interesting. I hadn't really thought of ways of making a living from free/libre fonts apart from getting commissioned to create them by large companies like Google.
  • Michael, to your original question, Dalton Maag just switched to something like this model - except the non-commerical usage license is $0, and full font files are available for download - and redistribution - from their homepage. So designers can do what they naturally do and share copies of fonts with their colleagues, and only pay when they actually use them in a commercial project.

    Ray, thanks for your insights here. I figure that you might be the most prolific designer who has attempted to make fonts graits for personal use and somehow upselling them; its interesting to hear that you had little luck upselling personal use licenses. When you say,

    Being present in someone's font list could lead to someone seeking an alternative license.
    Do you still see sales for commercial licenses upsold from the gratis fonts you published in the 90s/00s?
  • Epic :) Thanks!!
  • Also, TTF was never really unsuitable for any "large scale printing", except maybe in the 1990s, where some printers had trouble printing these fonts. I mean, that is in times where OTF didn't exist at all.

    This is a puzzling myth, similar to the one that TTF fonts somehow "have" a UPM size of 2048 (while in fact 98% have a UPM size of 1000).
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