Plex; IBM's new font identity model

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  • Fonts like Plex change nothing. We'll have free, self generating typefaces in less than 2 decades. Not parametric type design but AI proper. You can try to hold back the tide but there'll be a day when nobody buys fonts anymore and it's not that far off.
  • The short-term profit of a few, may cause the long-term loss of many.

    So one should reject good (that is also both legal and moral) business opportunity because someone somewhere thinks it might affect their career choices at some unspecified point in the future?

  • The short-term profit of a few, may cause the long-term loss of many.

    So one should reject good (that is also both legal and moral) business opportunity because someone somewhere thinks it might affect their career choices at some unspecified point in the future?

    No. But if that someone somewhere was right, then possibly there might be a case. At present, I have to admit I'm not connecting to Hrant's argument that this threatens "the power of type". But that may be for pedantic reasons: as the power of type is an intrinsic property of type, things like this can't make type less powerful, it can only cheapen that power by making it more easily available.

    But one man's "cheapen" is another man's "democratize", and surely this would also apply to Google Fonts or open-source fonts in general. Where there is a specific issue with what IBM is doing is also unclear.

  • The Ubuntu fonts are licensed under the Ubuntu Fonts License, and that isn't on any of the lists, but I seem to recall that the source files are available... but in VFB.

    @Dave Crossland: We've made UFO sources available with a build script: https://github.com/daltonmaag/ubuntu the main caveat is that the sources are with TT curves to preserve the TT hinting.



  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 920
    edited November 26
    Dave Crossland said:
    Why is iA the only beneficiary here? We - everyone online - can download, use, share, and further modify their version. Everyone is benefitting.
    The value iA has added is minimal, and hypothetical. In practice iA simply saved money in adding perceived value to its brand.
    Dave Crossland said:
    Why did type designers lose?
    — They lost a commission (if only potentially).
    — More significantly, their perceived value dropped, not least due to the impression that typefaces can/should be shared (significantly, even if they're used for branding).

    I mostly agree with what @Ben Blom wrote, although there can be exceptions, especially for many non-Latin scripts where there is a higher cause than type at play.
    Ray Larabie said:
    We'll have free, self generating typefaces in less than 2 decades.
    Even if so (I don't believe it) until that time comes let's point out that libre branding fonts are a stab in the heart of why a typeface is supposed to be valuable.
    Khaled Hosny said:
    So one should reject good (that is also both legal and moral) business opportunity because someone somewhere thinks it might affect their career choices at some unspecified point in the future?
    Screw someone somewhere, we're talking about a craft, about culture.
    John Savard said:
    I'm not connecting to Hrant's argument that this threatens "the power of type".
    It says the type is more useful as something to give away to leave a good impression than something that can bestow upon an entity its own look & feel. Like those keychains and frisbees they give out at trade shows.

  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 200
    edited November 26
    Ray Larabie: You can try to hold back the tide but there’ll be a day when nobody buys fonts anymore and it’s not that far off.

    The future is, to a large degree, shaped by the decisions people take in the present. Suggesting that some kind of future is inevitable, is denying one’s shared responsibility for the future.

    Hrant H. Papazian: there can be exceptions, especially for many non-Latin scripts where there is a higher cause than type at play.

    Agreed. For the Latin script, there are no gaps to be filled—that won’t be filled without a free font scheme. For non-Latin scripts, there may still be gaps to be filled—that might not be filled without a free font scheme.

    Khaled Hosny: So one should reject good (that is also both legal and moral) business opportunity because someone somewhere thinks it might affect their career choices at some unspecified point in the future?

    The moment you realize that you are sawing off the branch on which you, and many others, are sitting, by accepting such an opportunity—you might decide to forego such an opportunity. What may be good for a few now, may be bad for all in the future. There is a similarity with a weapons embargo, where someone sees a “good business opportunity” to sell arms anyway. (There is, of course, no fonts embargo.)

  • Yes, of course. We all know that making free fonts kills people.
  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 200
    Khaled Hosny: Yes, of course. We all know that making free fonts kills people.

    What a stupid misrepresentation of what I just said. (When one runs out of arguments, the misrepresentations start.)

  • Yes, of course. We all know that making free fonts kills people.
    Making fonts unwisely can kill culture.
  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 200
    edited November 26

    Making free fonts, facilitates to kill the market of paid fonts.

  • Isn't this the argument against every advancement in technology and even arts? If something good is available inexpensively and free that kills jobs for the people who have been making money from the scarcity of their trade.

    And it's true to some extent, but I have to agree that it's an economic inevitability. There is little need to keep inventing the same things over and over unless there is. That is tautological but true. If there's utility in what designers do, designers will keep getting (some) chances to do it.

    There's a broken window fallacy principle at play here. Greater abundance is greater abundance, period. Creating scarcity only to keep a cartel in business isn't a good reason to eschew abundance.

    Video always kills the radio star, except to the people who still love radio. Fountain pens are uncommon, but good ones are very expensive; Parker may have gone out of business (except as a Rubbermaid brand) but Montblanc is still there.

    Markets change, technology and products which used to be available only to a few becomes available to nearly everyone, and specialties become more specialized. This is the way every industry works. We ignore the economic realities at our own peril.

    IBM is making a lot of money from libre software, and they put a lot of money into developing libre software. I suspect the people at IBM behind this decision think that the "virtue signalling" of a libre license has greater benefit to them with their customers (and the communities that contribute to the software they make their money from) than the risk of being confused with some startup that uses their font.

    Time may tell whether they are wrong about that, but I don't see it as a foregone conclusion.
  • Ben Blom said:

    The bigger (in relative terms) the market of good quality free fonts becomes, the smaller (in relative terms) the market of good quality paid fonts becomes. 

    Free digital fonts have been around for some 25 years now, and Google Fonts has been around for nearly 7. In all that time, the market of good quality free fonts has reached the number of some dozen families, while in that time, thousands of good quality paid fonts have been released. 

    The number of good quality of free fonts is so small that these few fonts quickly reach a massive number of uses — Lato or Open Sans are used today in pretty much those same contexts as Arial or Verdana used to be used. People are already turning away from them, though, if they want to distinguish themselves. 
  • Ben Blom said:

    Making free fonts, facilitates to kill the market of paid fonts.

    And I have to admit: this is true. I haven't purchased a font license in five years.

    That said, I don't do print design much anymore, and I do rent fonts from Adobe for my blogs. I hate paying an annual fee, but that seems to be how things are these days, and there are still real benefits over sticking with the paid options. There are many free faces with non-latin character sets, but it narrows the field significantly. And even an exclusively-English language blog has occasional need for non-latin characters.
  • In 1980, the world literacy rate was about 56% out of 4.5 billion people, while today it is about 85% out of 7.5 billion people. There are now 4.5 billion mobile phones and among those, 2.3 billion are smartphones. 

    This means that as many people have smartphones today as there were people in 1980 who could read at all. About half of the world's population has some form of internet access — that's equal to the total world population of 1970. 

    All these people are users of fonts. They read, and most of them can type using a keyboard of sorts. People send some 80 billion messages (SMS, Facebook, WhatsApp combined) every day, that’s about a million every second. 

  • Adam TwardochAdam Twardoch Posts: 369
    edited November 26
    There are 2 billion active Android devices in the world, and people send a million messages a second. Yet there is no sensible micropayment-based solution that would allow custom font embedding into these messages, with a good selection of fonts. And then there’s talk about one corporate font family being opensource, and about some desktop font installers. 

    Come on, guys. Wake up! There’s millions to be made from new users. I mean, people had more font choices for their correspondence when typewriters were the mainstream tool than they have now. And they actually used these options. 
  • Personal opinion only follows, not the views of anyone or any organization I'm associated with, such as my employer :)
    Ben Blom said:
    Why did type designers lose?

    It’s the same as with Google Fonts and other big free font schemes.

    The bigger (in relative terms) the market of good quality free fonts becomes, the smaller (in relative terms) the market of good quality paid fonts becomes.

    "The" market! This is far far too simple. There is no single monolith :) 

    There is at least the retail and custom segments, and there are various important segments within those. 

    It may not be a zero sum game—but the more good quality fonts become available for free, the less people are willing to pay for good quality fonts

    So type designers who are dependent for their income on the market of good quality paid fonts, will loose out by the increased availability of good quality free fonts.

    While you say it's not zero sum, you are still asserting that there is strong "substitution" (in the economic sense of the word) between typefaces, but this is simply not true: "I want that one" is powerful and should not be underestimated. 

    I believe that as more good quality libre fonts are available,

    (a) since 2009 the demand for web fonts grew much larger than it otherwise would have been, and HTTP Archive and other sources show that web fonts are still only used on about half of the web so there's still a lot of room there;

    (b) similarly, looking forwards, the desirability for sophisticated Variable Fonts of the kind Font Bureau is choosing to demonstrate as libre fonts will grow much more than if they weren't libre; and

    (c) the demand for custom fonts also grows much larger, and this is a much more lucrative business for typeface designers. 

    I think the retail market will not be a blip in type history, starting in the mid 80s and ending completely in the mid 2020s... Rather I think that there will always be demand for retail fonts, no matter how many there are out how quickly someone can make the next one, because of that non-substitutability. 

    I expect the professional type design community to continue to grow massively, as it has done in the past 10 years, and I expect more and more type designers to earn money initiating and customizing libre fonts.

    The only thing I can say about "the" type community is that it is growing, and libre fonts is part of driving that growth. 

    Selling fonts on floppy disks that can only be used with the sellers phototype machines was more lucrative for those sellers than what you are doing retailing fonts today, but it was a much smaller market and you Ben were very unlikely to be part of one of those seller companies. 

    Selling fonts on CD-ROM for $0.10/per as Adam mentioned had the same effect as libre fonts has today: Stimulating demand for typefaces, which no amount of cheap or zero price per typeface can satisfy. 

    The only way to prevent this to happen, is for type designers to show solidarity with their fellow type designers—i.e. 

    i.e. form a cartel! Its not a good look. What happened to capitalism?
  • Ben Blom said:
    Ray Larabie: You can try to hold back the tide but there’ll be a day when nobody buys fonts anymore and it’s not that far off.

    The future is, to a large degree, shaped by the decisions people take in the present. Suggesting that some kind of future is inevitable, is denying one’s shared responsibility for the future.

    This is a good point of a general nature.

    But there is a counter-argument. Often, when people say that a certain future is "inevitable", they mean that this is the kind of future towards which free-market forces are pushing us.

    It isn't inevitable in the future that germ-line genetic alterations would be used to cure people suffering from harmful genetic abnormalities. But this is what their parents would likely want, and it would be difficult to persuade most people that an absolute ban is justified because the germ line should be off-limits.

    That fonts designed by an AI would be able to take the place of new fonts designed by creative people... seems far-fetched. But technology has progressed faster than people expect.

    This future could be prevented by government coercion. But that implies the kind of future where the government feels free to ban anything it feels like, because it offends against some long-standing tradition - instead of one where the law is largely limited to suppressing violence, theft, and fraud.

    That is not the kind of future for which I want to be responsible.
  • What a stupid misrepresentation of what I just said. (When one runs out of arguments, the misrepresentations start.)

    You compared making free fonts to not respecting a weapons embargo, if there is something stupid here, it surely isn’t my comment.



  • The Ubuntu fonts are licensed under the Ubuntu Fonts License, and that isn't on any of the lists, but I seem to recall that the source files are available... but in VFB.

    @Dave Crossland: We've made UFO sources available with a build script: https://github.com/daltonmaag/ubuntu the main caveat is that the sources are with TT curves to preserve the TT hinting.

    Ah! Thank you Denis - I wasn't watching that repo, but this is great stuff! Will take a look now :) 
  • Ben Blom said:

    Making free fonts, facilitates to kill the market of paid fonts.

    This statement is empirically testable. What’s the evidence base?
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 850
    edited November 27
    My memory and understanding of the history of fonts and pricing is a bit different than Adam’s.

    Two things happened around the same time in the early 90s: Microsoft introduced their TrueType Font Packs, and Corel started bundling a boatload of fonts.

    Within a year or two, the market for retail fonts at the prices they had at the time crumbled. Adobe for example ended up laying off something like 3/4 of the people they had working on fonts, mostly in 1994, I think it was. Leastways, that’s my recollection.

    Now, the question is what has happened to overall industry revenue in the last several years during the boom in libre fonts? I am not seeing any strong echoes of 1994, but maybe I haven’t been listening closely enough.
  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 200
    edited November 27
    Adam Twardoch: Would you care to substantiate your claim somehow?

    The statement «Making free fonts, facilitates to kill the market of paid fonts» is a just a short summary of my earlier argument. If this earlier argument is valid, this statement is valid.

    Note that I am not saying that the font market is in decline. I am only saying something like this: The more good quality free fonts are available, the bigger the chance that the font market will decline.

    I should qualify “good quality”: Fonts that are perceived by font buyers/users to be good quality fonts, even when experts disagree, are also part of the slowly growing reservoir of free fonts that may gradually undermine the font market.

    I do not have any empirical data, whether the font market is actually in decline, or not. And even if I would have such data, it wouldn’t be very clear. It’s like the climate. If one year is unusually hot, it’s not clear whether that is a manifestation of climate change, or an exceptional year. As with climate change, there may be a “tipping point” in the font market, when it will be clear for all, that something has fundamentally changed. Until then, many people may continue to suggest it’s business as usual in the font market.

    Perhaps, if the reservoir of good quality free fonts will not grow very much, the decline of the font market may never happen. However, the relative size of this reservoir, is just one factor that influences the font market. So if robots will take over type design, that may be the end the font market anyway—even if this reservoir is relatively small. (A relevant question that I cannot answer, is this one: How big can the relative size of this reservoir become, until the font market will collapse?)

    Dave Crossland: “The” market! This is far far too simple. There is no single monolith :)  There is at least the retail and custom segments, and there are various important segments within those.

    So what? “Font market” without any qualification, means the total revenue of all sold fonts (in a period of time). How this market is structured, is irrelevant for the argument.

    Dave Crossland: While you say it’s not zero sum, you are still asserting that there is strong “substitution” (in the economic sense of the word) between typefaces, but this is simply not true: “I want that one” is powerful and should not be underestimated.

    I am not speaking about individual decisions of font buyers/users—but about what economists call macro, that is, the sum of all decisions of all relevant buyers/users. (Of course this includes decisions like “I want that one”, like it includes zillion of other decisions—but these micro decisions are irrelevant for the argument.) Please do not mix different levels of abstraction.

    Adam Twardoch: The number of good quality of free fonts is so small that these few fonts quickly reach a massive number of uses — Lato or Open Sans are used today in pretty much those same contexts as Arial or Verdana used to be used. People are already turning away from them, though, if they want to distinguish themselves.

    I agree that many people want to distinguish themselves, and that this may reduce the attractiveness of popular free fonts. However, the more new fonts are added to the reservoir of good quality free fonts, the less helpful this may become: people may just substitute a popular free font by a less popular free font.

    Dave Crossland: The only thing I can say about “the” type community is that it is growing, and libre fonts is part of driving that growth.

    The relevant question is: how does that relate to the size of the font market? If more people are working in type design, “the” type community may be growing—but at the same time, the total revenue of font sales (i.e. the font market) may be declining. Adding people who create free fonts, adds, in itself, zero to the size of the font market.

    Dave Crossland: form a cartel! Its not a good look. What happened to capitalism?

    I explained, in what way type designers lose, and what type designers could do about it. Those who read into that, that I suggest to create a cartel, to change capitalism, to introduce government coercion, or to stop any advancement in technology and arts—completely miss the point. Those who read into that, that free fonts did not bring a lot of good, also miss the point.

  • I wonder if anyone here will unmask themselves?
    I do alright.
  • I wonder if anyone here will unmask themselves?
    I’m, not in USDs though :p

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 140
    edited November 27
    Ben Blom said:

    Making free fonts, facilitates to kill the market of paid fonts.

    This statement is empirically testable. What’s the evidence base?
    Is it? It's not as if we can actually do an experiment, setting up two parallel timelines with and without free fonts.

    But apparently there is some evidence:

    Two things happened around the same time in the early 90s: Microsoft introduced their TrueType Font Packs, and Corel started bundling a boatload of fonts.

    Within a year or two, the market for retail fonts at the prices they had at the time crumbled. Adobe for example ended up laying off something like 3/4 of the people they had working on fonts, mostly in 1994, I think it was. Leastways, that’s my recollection.

    He goes on to say, though, that the current boom in libre fonts hasn't produced a similar effect that he has noticed. I think the Corel boatload of Bitstream fonts, though, include license terms that preclude using them with PDF files to be distributed generally online, so that makes a case for using libre fonts in preference even to such cheap ones.

    I would think there are at least some people who can't pirate paid fonts for some application, because its output is public, but will choose a free font, if one is available, instead of a paid one.

    The question isn't really whether such a common-sense conclusion is true. Instead, the real questions are:

    Is the effect a significant one, that is a real threat to font designers making a living?

    And how can one legitimately prevent amateurs from designing fonts for themselves or giving them away for free?

    As a free font, I find the serif version of Plex potentially a threat in this area, because it happens to resemble a certain style of typeface that is currently fashionable - and so I presume its widespread use is generating sales of some (possibly expensive!) paid font. However, there are already a number of free fonts of this general style.

    The two cases, thus, that I am distinguishing here is between sales of new typefaces that have become fashionable - and older typefaces that are standards, such as Caledonia, Optima, Century Expanded, Palatino, Bembo, and so on.

    At the moment, the market is robust for typefaces of the former type, but probably quite weak for those of the latter type, and I'm not sure much can be done about this.

  • This statement is empirically testable. What’s the evidence base?
    Is it? It's not as if we can actually do an experiment, setting up two parallel timelines with and without free fonts.
    No, but we can see whether or not the growth of free fonts (proxied by e.g. number of fonts on dafont over time) has led to a corresponding decrease in sales of commercial fonts (proxied by e.g. total revenue on Myfonts or similar over time). If you're trying to assert that free fonts pose a danger to paid fonts, that's the sort of evidence you're going to need to show.

    Otherwise it's all just anecdotes and supposition.
    Ben Blom said:
    I do not have any empirical data, whether the font market is actually in decline, or not. And even if I would have such data, it wouldn’t be very clear. It’s like the climate. If one year is unusually hot, it’s not clear whether that is a manifestation of climate change, or an exceptional year. As with climate change, there may be a “tipping point” in the font market, when it will be clear for all, that something has fundamentally changed. Until then, many people may continue to suggest it’s business as usual in the font market.
    This is not how climate science works. It's precisely because we can plot historical data that we can determine real trends rather than outliers. So having historical data about sales certainly would help your claim about free fonts destroying the market. (Or, I suspect, hinder it.)
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