Pros and Cons of free fonts

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Comments

  • Please note the response in the middle (from Vernon's link):

    image

    Budget? That looks like a business transaction to me. And Vernon, who's personal?
    downers, and grim reapers, such as @Butterick ;) pull their socks up, and look at what Spiekermann has just done
  • James_Puckett, curious what you think has been 'deceitful'?
  • vernon adamsvernon adams Posts: 82
    edited September 2012
    @paragraph
    "Budget? That looks like a business transaction to me."
    Errr... Yes. People in one business getting paid to make stuff for people in another business. And there's a -- wait for it -- a budget involved. Why do you see that as so interesting? It's just normal business. Why so difficult to to get your head around the fact that certain new digital services (e.g. a mobile device OS) need free technologies at their core. Well someone still has to design, develop, & create this stuff, even when it ends up being 'free' to users. Is that so outstanding?
    @James_Puckett
    you forgot to mention the role of the Reptilians ;)
  • I misunderstood your position, Vernon. From your verve and the use of terms such as "libre" and "open source" I assumed that you see a virtue where none exists. Releasing one's work for free can be a part of a marketing strategy (I have done it in 9 of my own families, and I did not think for a moment that I'm doing something high-minded).

    However, most of my stuff is (for better or for worse) original, so I am definitively not making anyone else's effort freely available, as could be the case if my free releases "closely resembled" other commercial fonts.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,053
    edited October 2012
    @paragraph I wonder where you think the public domain line lies for type? I also wonder what difference, if any, you see between libre and free-as-in-zero-price? :)
  • Max, yes TelMoz is a derivation from Meta to a new UI face. Mozilla have being using Meta for a while now for their branding. Is that bad that it derives from Meta?
    Not at all, Vernon; I think TelMoz is a good UI face and that deriving it from their branding face is intelligent. But you cited it as an inspiring example of the new open source paradigm. And while the license may be libre (if the budget goes thru), both the design process and the result seem to be resolutely old school.
    Not wagging my finger (or anything else!) at anyone…
    When you call people whiners, tell them to pull their socks up, and explain what they must do before they can express an opinion about quality, then, yes, you are wagging your finger.
    I make a living (so far!) by creating fonts aimed at that whole new area of blogging and cms platforms and the theming services that provide them.
    Understood. What I meant to say is, how do you make that living? Are you paid a flat fee by these service providers for creating the fonts? Is there some sort of royalty arrangement? Do your GitHub collaborators share in this? I know these are impertinent questions, but you've been very clear that type designers ought to embrace new business models, and it would be helpful to know what one of these models might be.
  • @davelab6 I would think that there are considerable differences between the EULAs of "free" ($0) fonts, some are free for commercial use, some not; some can be modified by the end user, some not; some can be served or re-distributed, some not. "Libre" I assumed means modifiable/redistributable, truly public domain. Not an expert by a long shot, and would appreciate someone's advice. @James_Puckett Is it worth a thread, James?
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,053
    edited October 2012
    Again, I can't and don't speak for Google, and this is my own personal views.
    @maxphillips "Can someone please explain what's good about open source font development? ... the quality of the best of these typefaces has never been higher. So what problem does open source development solve?"
    I personally am not that interested in 'open source.' The ideas around 'open source' are rather wooly, often about merely practical issues rather than political or ethical issues, and so not very inspiring to me. @maxphillips said 'genuine' open source is "a group of designers with no single director" but I don't think this is a defining quality; this is true of some projects that call themselves 'open source' and not true of many others that also call themselves 'open source.'

    What I am interested in is the software freedom movement: A political movement that promotes the idea that users of software deserve freedom with that software. Software has two qualities that raise the issue of freedom: It is 1. digital and 2. functional.

    Another example of a functional digital work is an encyclopedia, and another is a typeface design. Typeface designs function to convey text. If the text you have isn't supported by the typeface you are using, you are in the same situation as if the fact you want isn't correct or even included at all in the encyclopedia you are using, or as if the feature you want is crashing or missing from the software you are using. A typeface design's lack of support might be glyph coverage, weight coverage, number spacing style coverage, or more fundamental design features like x height proportion or letter width.

    With any thing that is digital and functional, if that thing you are using doesn't function in the way what you want it to function, you face a social question: Who decides this? Can you decide? Or is the decision made only by the developer?

    This is a question about power. Does the developer have power over the functionality of the thing, or do you have freedom to change the functionality if you disagree with the developer?

    If you want the functionality changed in some way, disagreement isn't uncommon. I'm sure everyone who has used any font intimately, or indeed any font editor, can spill off a long list of ideas about how it could be improved years ago, and hasn't been. The flaws become normalized and people find work-arounds.

    While developer might well tell you to jump, they might just as well agree with you that the change would be good, but not want to do it as soon as you'd like. Often what happens is that developers fix the worst problems and add the most requested features, while introducing a bunch of different problems, and leaving a lot of 'peripheral' things undone.

    People in the periphery are the worst effected by unjust power relations. So the central proposition of the software freedom movement is that if the developers and the users have an unequal power relation, the power that developers have over users is unjust.

    So that is what is 'good' about libre fonts :-) You deserve freedom with all the digital, functional, works that you use; all the software, all the typefaces, and all the factual works like encyclopedias, textbooks, dictionaries, and so on.

    Many political movements have figureheads, individuals who become key players in the political struggles they play a part in. Sometimes this will be the founder of the movement. In this case, the software freedom movement figurehead is Richard Stallman, who founded the movement out of MIT in the early 1980s with the GNU project. He has published plenty of essays about this, and if you're really interested, check out the GNU website's philosophy section.

    For me, its important that the the conditions for use and distribution of a work respect the freedom of the work's users; that the work be under a libre license. How something is developed initially is not so important to me, because if that initial way ceases to become viable, a libre license allows the users to move forward with any other way of development that they would prefer. I'm sure all type designers and type users can easily list examples where software and typeface families didn't meet their needs, and the developers didn't help them change that, and they were totally stuck.

    So yes, currently all the fonts in GWF are initially developed the old fashioned way, as @maxphilps put it, including Adobe's Source fonts. Some of the vendors, like @PabloImpallari and @vadams and Adobe, have experimented with putting their source files online and actively soliciting contributions and feedback. Most of the vendors simply aren't interested, though. Maybe I can do more to spark their interest - I'll try. But I think a bunch of other things need to happen before that can happen in a widespread way; things like a common workflow.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,053
    edited October 2012
    @maxphillips "What, specifically, do you think type designers should be doing to positively engage these new developments? How are we supposed to eat?"
    The business model is simple: Charge for type design as a service, not as a product. Most design is charged as a service, so the details on how to do that shouldn't be elusive.

    I see from @nirbheek 's profile that he works for Collabora, a small but successful business that works on libre software in exactly that way.

    I think the big pull for graphic designers into type design is that they can charge for their design as a product rather than a service, but all the big money I've seen being made in type design is for services. For example, I hazard a guess that Erik will make more from Mozilla this year than he will make from Meta licensing.

    @nirbheek, I can't find any indication that Collabora offers bounties on the software it develops, in the way that you suggested would be good for GWF. I'm curious why not? :-)
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,053
    edited October 2012
    @paragraph Right :-) Libre means free of restrictions on use, modification and redistribution, and there is a good definition at http://freedomdefined.org

    'Public domain' means something on which monopoly rights (copyright, patent, trademark, etc) don't apply, typically because they have expired, and sometimes because they actually don't apply in the first place.

    Libre works are published within a legal system of copyright and patent laws, which in many places you can't give up totally; only some and not all the monopoly rights are reserved. Creative Commons popularised the phrase "Some Rights Reserved" to express this.

    The most common EULA for libre fonts is http://scripts.sil.org/OFL_web which can be printed on a single sheet of A4/letter paper, and is written in (fairly) plain English. It provides a pretty good concise explanation in itself :)

    So, what I was originally getting at, was where you see the line of the public domain being drawn for type. Because there is a lot of type that is in the public domain, and much of it has been made into non-libre fonts. Do you think that if a public domain type has been made into a proprietary font, @vadams or whoever shouldn't also make it into a libre font?
  • Charging for type design as a service is certainly one way to make money in type, and a lot of people do it and may even prefer it, but don't assume it's the best or only way to make a living in the type business.

    I wonder if anyone ever thought to tell Neil Gaiman he might be better off to give his stuff away and make big money writing freelance for ad agencies.
  • Jan SchmoegerJan Schmoeger Posts: 280
    edited October 2012
    Because there is a lot of type that is in the public domain
    @davelab6 I am not sure we are talking about the same thing here: what type is and is not in the public domain, please? Do you realise that Mozart's Don Giovanni music and libretto are in the public domain, but most of the current recordings/films aren't? That most currently published librettos are not? That the pics taken at performances of DG are not in the public domain? The difference between the copyright law in the US and the European countries is quite stark, especially concerning fonts: if you trace the outlines of a font in the US and sell the result, you're OK. In Europe you just infringed the copyright law and could be sued. Please check the US and international copyright laws: it's not as simple as you claim …
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,053
    edited October 2012
    @Mark_Simonson Exactly :-) I'm not saying its the best way to maximize profits, I'm saying that profits is not my #1 goal in business because I think other values are more important - values like maintaining a free society. The software freedom movement is not about what will make developers better off, its about an ethical position that users deserve freedom, and that position isn't incompatible with earning money as many people assume. Yes, people don't earn as much money as when they have power over users, but its still possible to earn some money this way, and Red Hat earns a billion dollars a year that way developing the GNU+Linux operating system. Microsoft makes 73 billion (although for a fair comparison, what percentage of that is just Windows, I don't know.)

    Also, in trying to explain my own position, I don't mean to suggest you guys should do what I am doing. Its okay for me that you have a different set of priorities in your values, I don't get upset about that :-) As @opentype said, the net effect of the software freedom movement tends to be good for all software developers, whether they work on libre software or proprietary software. "A rising tide raises all boats."

    @paragraph I believe the copyright on typeface designs in the EU has a duration of 25 years, no?

    At the top of the thread @typenerd wrote, "[someone said] because open source fonts are useful, that justifies creating open source designs that are similar to popular faces whose owners don't want to open source them. I strongly disagree; I don't consider open source an excuse to abuse people's intellectual property."

    Paul Hunt wrote on the Adobe blog announcing the Source families,
    "In thinking of typeface models that accomplish these tasks well, I was drawn to the forms of the American Type Founders’ gothics designed by Morris Fuller Benton. In particular, I have always been impressed by the forms of his News Gothic and Franklin Gothic, which have been staples for typographers since their introduction in the early twentieth century. While keeping these models in mind, I never sought to copy specific features from these types."
    Because libre fonts are sometimes useful to Adobe, that justified creating a libre design that is similar to popular faces whose owners don't find it useful for their fonts to be libre. Owners of similar faces may be upset with Adobe about this. But the process Paul describes is similar to that described by Erik Speikermann and seems widespread in the type design community. Is this process wrong?

    I don't think Adobe abused anyone by publishing Source Sans, because its not a copy of someone else's work, its originally drawn - albeit similar.
  • @maxphilips
    "...you cited it as an inspiring example of the new open source paradigm. And while the license may be libre (if the budget goes thru), both the design process and the result seem to be resolutely old school."

    You're right, i need to clarify. I would say a project like 'TelMoz' is inspiring because it combines the highest design standards (from a traditional type designer) with publishing via a libre license. It's that combination that i think is a bit of a game changer. It inspires me to 'pull my socks up' so i would say it could help others do the same.

    @maxphilips
    "Are you paid a flat fee by these service providers for creating the fonts? Is there some sort of royalty arrangement? Do your GitHub collaborators share in this? I know these are impertinent questions, but you've been very clear that type designers ought to embrace new business models, and it would be helpful to know what one of these models might be."
    heh, good try :) My designs may follow an 'open' model, but my business much less so ;p
    I'm definitely not an evangelist for all this, i dont think people ought to do anything. But libre licensing is a necessity for a lot of net based technologies. Dismissing Libre licensing is basically ignoring a whole new market, and there's some interesting stuff happening in the way people can make a living in that new market. Take it or leave it, i say.
  • @maxphilips I think Mozilla are pretty clear that rescuing you from what the web looked like with only non-libre browsers is what they are about. http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/mission/

    I'm curious what you think the typical revenue potential from a single style Latin-1 display type is.
  • @vadams
    But libre licensing is a necessity for a lot of net based technologies. Dismissing Libre licensing is basically ignoring a whole new market, and there's some interesting stuff happening in the way people can make a living in that new market. Take it or leave it, i say.
    No one is challenging the fact that libre licensing is needed for some technologies. It's not even a new idea. But if deep-pocketed tech firms use it to kill off the nascent retail market for webfonts, type designers will not have the opportunity to "take it or leave it". When coal companies started paying miners in scrip redeemable at the company store, that was a whole new market, too, and there was also some interesting stuff happening back then in the way you could make a living in the new market. But it wasn't very good for the miners.

    @davelab6 Mozilla may be confident that they rescued me from a non-libre world, though there's nothing that grandiloquent in their manifesto. But I remember the pre-Firefox world pretty well, and all they did was make a slightly better browser.
  • I'm curious what you think the typical revenue potential from a single style Latin-1 display type is.
    A hit display font can generate thousands of dollars a year in retail revenues. If a popular designer cooked it up revenues can exceed $10,000 shortly after launch. Throw in a decade of OEM licenses and you can see why some people will work for months to crank out one really nice display face.

    Of course, they can also tank and not sell at all.
  • @davelab6 Sorry, I forgot to answer your closing question about the earning potential of a typical display face, or my idea of it. The answer is: I have no idea. If you're talking typical as in 'the median display face on MyFonts,' I'd expect it to earn very little. From what I've seen so far, the typeface market seems like the novel market (which I used to be in): a handful of works by a handful practitioners make most of the money.

    But that's not the point. Maybe a guaranteed something from GWF or MS is better than a possible nothing from the retail market. That's not a crazy argument. But designers should be able to make that choice for themselves. Today we can. I worry that someday soon we won't be able to.
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 528
    edited October 2012
    That has a lot to do with Google Web Fonts’ tendency to behave in ways that professional type designers find insulting, exploitive, and deceitful.
    Hi James, each individual designer can negotiate their own deal. There are professional type designers that have released Libre fonts at GWF. For example Type-together, Sudtipos, Ralph Carrois, FontDinner/Sideshow/Neopolitan, TypeSetIt, Mark Simonson, EduardoTuni and Dario Muhafara from Tipo, Latinotype, etc. I guess they all have negotiated betters deals than, for example, me, since I'm only a beginner.
    If a popular designer cooked it up revenues can exceed $10,000 shortly after launch .... Of course, they can also tank and not sell at all.
    That's exactly the point. You can sell lot of licenses.. or you can sell none.. its uncertain. It's a risk you take hoping that you will sell a lot.

    Doing a Libre font commissioned by GWF it's no different to making a custom font for a corporate client. You agree on scope, price and time-frame and you get to work. The only difference is that the font will be available to anyone, instead of just one client. You are also paid the amount you negotiated, so that there is no uncertainty about how much money you will get.

    The fact that there are a lot of people publishing Libre fonts (including professional type designers) means that the deals are not bat for all that people. But of course, it's up to each individual to negotiate the best possible deal. The fonts are free for the general public, but designers get paid the amount they have agreed on.
  • But if deep-pocketed tech firms use it to kill off the nascent retail market for webfonts

    I don't quite understand where the idea that these deep-pocketed tech firms want to kill off the nascent retail market for webfonts (or the established market for desktop fonts) comes from. My personal views are obviously not shared by many, including all the executives of every deep-pocketed tech firm except Red Hat (and even then...); and I'm pretty sure that the GWF project wants just the opposite - they want to see everyone involved in webfonts having a lot of success, because all web font usage is good for Google.
  • I believe the copyright on typeface designs in the EU has a duration of 25 years, no?
    @davelab6 That's in the UK, I believe, and it may actually pertain to the published or marketed material using the typeface, rather than the typeface itself (such as book publishers' copyright). The IP law is messy: the advice I got, when I started, is that some jurisdictions may consider typefaces "artworks", and the general copyright then applies: automatic and lasting 70 years after the creator's death. If so, then designs whose authors died after 1943 are still not public domain. I do not know the actual legal position, and honestly, do not care. I just do not do it.

    I think that it is a personal choice, such as paying your bills on time or not, evading tax or not, drinking too much or not at all. As a theoretical example, I would regard copying a living designer's typeface and releasing it for free as a very bad form, no matter what ideology the doer espouses. As for a large firm with deep pockets saturating the market with free fonts and squeezing small operators out, stiff schmidt. Cannot do anything about it, but do not have to like it.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,053
    edited October 2012
    @paragraph "and squeezing small operators out"

    Empirically, I don't think this is true at all - there's no evidence for it. Some of the longtime one-man-band foundries who have put fonts they continue to retail into GWF report no change in sales, up or down. Mostly the fonts have been made new for the web, but quite a few were desktop fonts that the designer was willing to sell an OFL license to.

    Much as Pablo says, everyone involved has been happy with the fee they received; if they wanted more, they've asked for more, and in some cases its led to a deal and in other cases it led to no deal at that time. If you want to find out how much an existing family of yours would fetch, or how well a new family commission would be paid, message me privately :)
  • Pablo, FYI, I agreed to allow Google include a font family that I'd already released as open source (OFL). I was paid nothing for that, and wasn't asking anything either. Given that it was already open source, they didn't even really need to ask.

    I'm okay with people making open source fonts or free fonts or whatever, if that's what people want to do. Even so, I honestly don't think font development lends itself all that well to the open source approach.

    In my own case, I was encouraged to release Anonymous Pro with an OFL license mainly so that it could be included with open source software. People complained that, as a "free as in beer" font, it couldn't be done, as I was claiming copyright. And that's fine. I was happy to change it. I never had any interest in making money from that font for various reasons. Still, I have yet to see anyone create a derivative from it or even make improvements. A few people have asked me to make improvements or changes (and I may at some point).

    As a font developer, I'm just thankful that open source is not the main way fonts are made, and I don't see it as much of a threat either.

    As far as commissions go, I agree it's a low risk option (open source or otherwise). You know what you're going to make up front, but that's often all you'll make on it. On the other hand, I'm not sorry for taking my chances in the retail market. It can take years before you see any return. But you get lucky sometimes, which can lead to much greater rewards than any commission. Plus, you don't have to deal with clients.
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 528
    edited October 2012
    Because Google does not actually commission designs
    That's plain wrong. AFAIK Google has commissioned lots of designs to lots of designers.
    Clients with dignity and integrity pay up front and work with designers to create fonts that actually fill a need
    In ATypI Reykjavik ( http://www.atypi.org/past-conferences/2011-reykjavik/programme/activity?a=35 ) Dawn Shaikh and Steve Matteson presented how they have done exactly that for the Droid Family. Including working with users and their feedback.

    In my personal case, for example, I worked with Google Designers on the Dosis Family redesign to fill their particular needs. And many of my others fonts where also commissioned to fill specific needs. Maybe Dave can provide more examples from other designers.

    Also, I believe that the entire GWF library is filling a need (The same need that Adobe Edge is now trying to fill). Otherwise it would not have become so popular.
    instead of picking and choosing from random submissions
    Of course they are also open to submissions. I consider that to be a good thing. People want to submit their fonts. And of course, if you get tons of submissions, you have to pick the best ones. You can't simply accept all the submission. This is not spec work, it's just common sense.




  • @davelab6 Another big way in which libre fonts are different is: you cede ownership permanently. Most commissioned typefaces revert to their creators after a few years. Foundries like Commercial, HF&J, and Font Bureau make much (most?) of their money by licensing bespoke fonts after their period of exclusivity is over. The TelMoz vadams admires so much began life as a commission for the German Post Office, and Spiekermann is still monetizing it a quarter-century later. I'm sure H&FJ were adequately paid by GQ and Martha Stewart for developing Gotham and Archer, but I'm equally sure that the subsequent retail revenues make the original design fees look like rounding errors.
    I don't quite understand where the idea that these deep-pocketed tech firms want to kill off the nascent retail market for webfonts (or the established market for desktop fonts) comes from.
    Well, I, for one, seemed to be saying that, and I apologize. I chose my words badly. I don't think Google or (obviously) Adobe are deliberately trying to kill off the retail font market. I don't think they're malevolent. But I also don't think they're benevolent. I think they want to make money, as we all do. If, as part of their business plan, they're releasing large numbers of free fonts, that's an obvious threat to people who live by selling font licenses. They might not want to kill off the retail market, but they could wind up doing it anyway. And if they're moving type design toward a more centralized, top-down world, they're creating obvious opportunities to exploit designers. They might not take these opportunities, but again, they might.

    I'd be thrilled to find that GWF and Edge Fonts et al will be good for my business. I would like nothing better than to find that Google offers its designers a great deal and that I ought to propose some faces myself. And maybe that's all true! But for people like me to think this market disruption is a good thing, we need information. And so far what we've mostly heard is rhetoric: that free fonts will lead to a free society, or that we ought to be excited about all these unspecified new opportunities, or that a rising tide lifts all boats. It doesn't. A rising tide for Wal-Mart is a lethal flood for small shopkeepers.

    Look, I'm sure Google wants decent relations with the type design world. Here's your chance, in all seriousness, to do your client a good turn. If you think GWF offers a good deal, tell us what it is. How does it work? What are the terms of the contract? What's the approximate range of fees? You asked Jan to message you privately if he wanted to know what he might be paid. Why the secrecy? Let us judge for ourselves. Large foundries and distributors post the terms of payment publicly. Why not GWF? Right now, all they seem to offer is this. Not very forthcoming. (David L, if you're reading this, could you contribute some detail about how Adobe Edge Fonts do it?)

    And you write that GWF "want[s] to see everyone involved in webfonts having a lot of success, because all web font usage is good for Google." Could you be more specific? I'm not saying you're wrong, but I don't see how this works.

  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,699
    edited October 2012
    That's plain wrong. AFAIK Google has commissioned lots of designs to lots of designers.
    That’s good to hear. I thought they were still only commissioning expansions of existing designs that had proven popular. I should also add that I was only referring to GWF and not Google as a whole.
    In ATypI Reykjavik ( http://www.atypi.org/past-conferences/2011-reykjavik/programme/activity?a=35 ) Dawn Shaikh and Steve Matteson presented how they have done exactly that for the Droid Family.
    Is that a Google Web Fonts project, or part of Android? I think one reason GWF pisses off type designers is that it seems like other departments of Google will commission ambitious projects like the Droid fonts, whereas GWF just pays people to finish things off one font at a time.
    Also, I believe that the entire GWF library is filling a need (The same need that Adobe Edge is now trying to fill). Otherwise it would not have become so popular.
    I don’t think anyone is disputing that GWF fills a need. I just think some people would be happier to see more focus on needs other than single display faces. Your Raleway expansion seems to be a good step in that direction.

    Anyway, I’ll stop prattling on about GWF because it’s not really the topic of this thread.
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