Free fonts are good→free fonts are bad

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  • Franz GratzerFranz Gratzer Posts: 26
    edited April 26
    I agree that new type faces are mostly relevant to marketing. And it seems reasonable to sell those instead of making them free (at least for a limited time). There are already some very good free/libre choices to get by reasonably well. Of course graphic designers can always make good use of more high quality variation to support certain layouts.
    The only other areas where I think that we still should get more optimization is with a wider glyph set for international use in more good fonts with enough variants to be truly versatile and for specific use cases. For example new devices with different rendering technologies.
    But I wonder if variable fonts are important in this discussion. If we truly want to have it as the common standard and if we do actually go more and more for thin clients then using fonts will become increasingly a question of access under certain conditions rather than ownership.
    It seems to be similar to the "cloud" question in general computing. I think it is a bad idea to build our environment in a way so that we are dependent on resources that might not always be available.
    I have decided to only use free software. Therefore, I also go for consequently free fonts. In my view we should crowd fund what we value. Not only concerning software but also in regards to fonts. But unfortunately it seems still foreign to most people to actually organize and fund together, what we want to have.
    I can imagine a practice where font designers could name a price tag. After reaching that amount they would release the font using the OFL for example. Something like this is already used for books on unglue.it.
    I am at the moment on the last few pages of "Anatomy of a typeface" from Alexander Lawson. I have to admit that I felt it was a challenge to stick with it because it seemed rather boring to read on about who did what when instead of getting into the details what at least the most important distinguishing features of differently classified font faces are but it gave me deeper insight in the historic development of printed type and why it seems impossible to clearly classify (or even name) fonts in a generally agreed on fashion.
    But I still hope "The elements of typographic style" from Robert Bringhurst, which is next on my reading list, will venture more in the area I was looking for.
    In any case it seems odd to me as a designer that I would want to limit access to what I have created. Of course I want to be able to live well but limiting access for achieving that seems like the worst possible option. Oddly enough it seems to be the default for now. In my view designers are unfortunate victims of a bad habit that originated in economics and that we didn't overcome yet because we are to unimaginative to adapt to the present day technological possibilities. Instead people try to suppress our actual technical opportunities by using DRM and restrictive licensing. We shouldn't depend on creating artificial, nonsensical scarcity to ensure our well being.
    If our work is indeed wanted (which obviously is the case), then we need to make it easy to fund it. We still didn't figure out a good enough approach to crowdfunding.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,406
    It is not only about the ability to read messages, it is about the properties the message takes on in order to be attended to by the target audience--and indeed to convince the reader that the message is in their interest. The typeface is only one variable.
  • KP MawhoodKP Mawhood Posts: 281
    edited April 27

    But suppose that the only typeface we had available was Comic Sans. (Or, if that's too much of a nightmare, why not take something more historically plausible, and use Caslon as our example?)

    Wouldn't it still be possible to put signs on our roads and books in our libraries?
    Before print technology, written language was very much dependent on the scribe (books, signage, etc). The scribal hand is often fungible, which works well without replication technology.

    But, many typefaces are unimportant because they are fungible and/or have no market demand (incl. victims of poor marketing)… and certainly nothing on the scale of water commodity or shelter. 

    I would be very afraid if a global government could implement a single typeface across all the world's writing, crush the idea of unique type needs, and remove all trace of the diversity that preceded that time. 
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 678
    I'm dyslexic, which boils down to written language being counter intuitive to me. Ask any teacher who specialises in teaching dyslexics and their explanation of it comes down to a "muscling through".  They usually don't explain why that works for dyslexics whereas non-dyslexics can learn to read practically as easily as most babies learn to speak.  The explanation is so simple that probably people fear it wont be believed. I live in a constant state of awe with all forms of written language.  So, possibly I over stated my cause a bit.

    That said, the suggestion (usually made by engineers) that everything would be fine if we only have a few fonts is laughable.  First, legibility.  Second, changing technology.  Comic Sans is a great font but it's not exactly good for body text.  Calson is better but it tires the eye.  Neither were designed for small screens.  

    There are lots of things in this age where the main economic role (on volume) is decidedly not essential but where the most important role is essential.  I'd say that is true for fonts.

    @Dave Crossland , I feel like your reply to me is talking about the money in specific fonts or specific foundries.  I intended to discuss the overall potential of the industry to make money.  I simply don't believe the industry has maxed out the amount of money that can be made in fonts as an industry.  " Economic substitution, and ever increasing supply" sorta prove my point.  As for "decisions made in the 80s to make fonts work the way they do", you know I rage against those all the time.  But, honestly I think they are more of an annoyance than an assassin. 
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,178
    Is the font industry growing faster than the overall economy? 🤔
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 986
    I would be very afraid if a global government could implement a single typeface across all the world's writing, crush the idea of unique type needs, and remove all trace of the diversity that preceded that time. 
    So would I.
    That said, the suggestion (usually made by engineers) that everything would be fine if we only have a few fonts is laughable.  First, legibility.  Second, changing technology.  Comic Sans is a great font but it's not exactly good for body text.  Calson is better but it tires the eye.  Neither were designed for small screens. 
    I agree that everything wouldn't be "fine", and we would be impoverished culturally if that happened.
    But many people don't notice typefaces, or take much interest in them, even if they benefit from their proper use without knowing it.
    If a tool for making web sites only came with five fonts, and you could use no others, then even if they were good fonts, your web sites would obviously suffer in comparison to, and in competition with, web sites made with more conventional tools.
    Apparently, as I learned from it being mentioned here, there is one tool for making web sites that comes free with a few fonts and some clip art - and it's monetized by only supporting additional fonts and clip arts you buy from the supplier. Cute business model.
    Rather than imagining a dictator who doesn't like the type industry, though, I'm thinking in terms of a world where, for some reason, typography never quite got started the way it did in the real world.
    So if we did have a small set of typefaces... one for road signs, one for books, one for titles and headlines, and a few others for a few purposes... and nobody felt like designing any more for some reason... would society grind to a halt?
    Would the factories shut down, would the farms stop producting food? I don't think so. I think we could survive if the number of available typefaces were very limited. That doesn't mean I think that would be a good thing.
    Typography is an art form, and thus, while letters of some sort to communicate with are a utilitarian necessity, it is also in part a luxury. But things that are technically luxuries can be essential to meaningful life; the most obvious example I can think of is music. A world without music hardly bears thinking about.
  • KP MawhoodKP Mawhood Posts: 281

    But many people don't notice typefaces, or take much interest in them, even if they benefit from their proper use without knowing it.

    Many people don't notice architecture, but most understand the intangible differences between the Petare slums of Caracas and the Acropolis of Athens. Is it a problem when a user takes little interest in a field outside their expertise. 

    I'm thinking in terms of a world where, for some reason, typography never quite got started the way it did in the real world.
    Consider that type was (1) fundamental to the age of enlightenment and (2) hand-made until machines could replicate each sort exactly. I'm curious whether there is a context where type would not get started in a similar way. Would the "one typeface to rule them all" be functional across genres with so little innovation?
    Typography is an art form, and thus, while letters of some sort to communicate with are a utilitarian necessity, it is also in part a luxury. But things that are technically luxuries can be essential to meaningful life; the most obvious example I can think of is music. A world without music hardly bears thinking about.
    Art may use typography, in the same way that art might use technology. But typography honours content to solve a communication challenge. It frequently goes beyond linear text to consider much more sophisticated layouts. This is different from type design.

    I feel these are conversations moving onto what it is to be human. For instance, deaf people experience music differently. What really makes music a luxury?
  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 173
    edited April 28
    What is it about typefaces that makes them important?
    It certainly is true that written language is very important to the functioning of society. The invention of printing and movable type were very important to the functioning of society.
    But suppose that the only typeface we had available was Comic Sans. (Or, if that's too much of a nightmare, why not take something more historically plausible, and use Caslon as our example?)
    Wouldn't it still be possible to put signs on our roads and books in our libraries?
    The main economic role of new typefaces is in advertising. There's a lot of money in advertising, but surely it is very marginal to the  functioning of society.

    That probably depends on how you measure importance. Since money is literally the representation of what people value (and to what extent), that’s probably a pretty objective unit. If so, I wouldn’t say Google, Facebook and the whole big tech, social media, news, TV, celebs and influencers, magazines etc., are marginal.

    John Savard said:

    So if we did have a small set of typefaces... one for road signs, one for books, one for titles and headlines, and a few others for a few purposes... and nobody felt like designing any more for some reason... would society grind to a halt?
    In that thinking, you seem to forget the fact that people spend their money on fonts. Whether it’s someone starting a new business, or a giant corp, the decision to spend money on fonts (when there are plenty of free ones) shows that even people not interested in typography value it. You can set everything in Caslon, but a corporation can spend an average employee’s yearly salary on a font license. Do they love “art” so much, you think? :) 
  • Ray Larabie said:
    Free fonts are no longer an effective marketing tool. 
    From my little experience I can confirm.
    In January I uploaded Astroz to 1001fonts, my first time trying to market a font through a "free for personal use" license and redirecting to MyFonts.
    I was lucky enough to be featured on 1001fonts homepage and was very excited. But after 6 months Astroz counts 2500 free downloads and only 2 sales on MF (which I highly doubt they come from 1001 users).
    Maybe because it's a very particular display and doesn't have many applications, maybe because the 1001 audience is typically interested only in free fonts.
    Ray Larabie said:
    MyFonts went from embracing free fonts in the 2000s to banning unaccompanied free fonts in the 2010s to penalizing visibility of typeface containing free styles in the 2020s.
    I also tried to offer 1 free style of a bigger family, to make it easier for potential customers to approach it. The typeface is Minigap, I got 400 free style downloads and about 20 sales in the first few months, then it fell into the depths of the ocean.
    (I must admit that offering the Regular style as free wasn't the smartest choice, I could have opted for light or black).
    But unfortunately I cannot assess if this "free style" strategy helped or not.
    On Monotype's "Font Marketing Best Practices" they recommend to offer one or two free styles.

    Did you notice strong/moderate visibility penalization when families have free styles?

    When Monotype will have finished the renewal of their platform I'm going to release my first family that supports Central/Eastern European languages, and I'm very undecided if to include a free style or not.

    I hope not to mess up again this time  :#
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,210
    @Marco Pezzotta
    Did you notice strong/moderate visibility penalization when families have free styles?
    No, it would be hard to measure. But their upload tool issues a warning about being excluded from promotions when any of the font prices are set to zero. They enourage you to include a free font in a family and penalize you when they do.
  • edited June 17

    I guess offering free styles depends on the typeface's purpose and who you market it to.

    If your font is for reading at text sizes, you could either:

    - Make it regular free so they can test it for what it's made, but most likely they won't buy it because the user will have what it needs (maybe).
    - Make light and extra bold italic for testing, but since it's for reading sizes, the testing won't be useful because such weights aren't useful for those sizes.

    In my experience, I can't buy fonts because of my inflated economy. A typeface family can cost 60% to 90% of a good monthly income. However, if I had US currency, I'd have bought a couple fonts that allowed me to test them via one weight appropriate to the intended use, but with a very limited glyph set.


  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 986
    edited June 17
    Alex Visi said:
    Do they love “art” so much, you think?

    Oh, no. I quite realize why advertising agencies spend money licensing typefaces, and it's not to subsidize starving artists.
    When a corporation places an advertisement for its products in a magazine, it will want the advertisement to look
    - fresh, new, and exciting
    - different from advertisements that ran decades ago
    - different from the advertisements of their competitors, and any other companies
    So that means the styling of the layout of advertisements has changed over the years, and that also means there will be a search for typefaces that are suitable and new.
    If you look at an advertisement from the early 1960s, you will immediately know that it is an advertisement from quite some time ago.
    But while our economy in its present form certainly does produce demand for new typefaces, the demand is fragile. So much advertising these days is done over the Internet, instead of in print media; that complicates the use of fonts. I don't think the demand for new typefaces will disappear any time soon, but I do think that its sources are limited, and there is some potential for fragility. Of course, the market for fonts is now everyone with a computer, rather than everyone with a phototypesetting machine - so the market is larger than it had been. It has segments that are perfectly happy with Google Fonts, and which used to be happy with "1001 Fonts" CD collections, but it has segments that seek quality.
    Unfortunately, some of those in the latter group stick with Adobe and Monotype. Another reason good independent type designers may be struggling.
  • Eris AlarEris Alar Posts: 370
    I’ve not read the entire thread, so sorry if any of this has been mentioned. 

    For my context I worked as an in-house graphic designer for a large non-profit in Australia for just under 16 years. Overall understanding of type was limited. In the early 2010s I did manage to get them to work with Neil Summerour on a custom typeface for their brand. He did the work at a huge discount, and most likely lost money on it, so was doing it as a favour to me and because he had a positive opinion of the org. Fast forward about 8 or so years and the two national entities of the org merge into one and the team putting the new brand together (of which I was not a part) chose not to use this custom typeface. They instead chose fonts available on Adobe Fonts. I have strong opinions about their choices and how shortsighted they were, but I am no longer in that org so am working on just letting it go haha

    Now I am a freelancer working for small companies and individuals. What I notice the most is they prefer Google Fonts or Adobe Fonts over buying licences. But Adobe Fonts has been a little risky as typefaces get pulled from it. Which can obviously mess up files or branding plans. 

    Google Fonts has been hugely popular it seems. I think because the terms are clear and they are free. 

    Personally, I try to license fonts where I can afford it, but they are a luxury hard to just often when I know that most of my my clients will not want to licence them themselves. 

    I genuinely feel for all of you trying to make a living in fonts. It seems to be really tough. 
  • Eris AlarEris Alar Posts: 370
    @Ray Larabie I was one of those kids who used your free fonts in the 1990s to learn graphic design with. You, Misprinted Type, and Fontalicious were my faves. The first typeface I paid money for was MVB Sacre Bleu, which was on sale for about $10 I think. Then in the next few months I purchased licences for a number of your fonts from MyFonts, Octin vintage being one I used a lot. 
  • But these days I think we're seeing fewer and fewer "free for personal use fonts" and more of a bifurcation into being distributed only through the commercial platforms or being a libre font.
    Unfortunately, many libre fonts are picked up and distributed by commercial sites, which often drop the licensing info or label the fonts confusingly. I just now sampled one such site (font2s.com) nearly at random: it offers several of my libre fonts, sometimes in very old versions (for these sites make no attempt to track new releases), every one of them with the "License" "Free for personal use." They are not, of course, "Free for personal use": they are OFL.
    Users have no way of distinguishing good sites from bad, and that I am not responsible for the presence of my things on sites like font2s. They will be confused about the license terms and possibly afraid to use the fonts in ways that the OFL allows.
    As far as I know, there's nothing I can do about this kind of abuse.
    Sorry to be some sort of intruder in this, :) Hi everyone. It's my first time posting, so... Just wanted to primarily say that this forum is amazing, and I've been learning so much, thank you :).

    So recently I made a typeface with OFL license, and I've been a victim of this. In a span of 3 days since the launch I've seen my typeface in all freebie fonts websites with almost all of them stating my typeface is free for personal use.
    The reason I launched my typeface with OFL it was because I believe it's not worth of money, because of my lack of experience (I've only been learning for about 6 months).
    Btw, the typeface is Called Galhau Display.

    I don't have a specific opinion about this topic, at least for now, but what I can say for sure is the personal use licenses need to be rethought.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 986
    Based on your post, I attempted to search online for your own web site, from which Galhau Display could be downloaded legitimately. I think I found a legitimate link, at the site Behance.
  • Based on your post, I attempted to search online for your own web site, from which Galhau Display could be downloaded legitimately. I think I found a legitimate link, at the site Behance.
    Yeah, it's my behance probably, I posted there.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,406
    The reason I launched my typeface with OFL it was because I believe it's not worth of money
    The reason I release typefaces under OFL is because they are worth more money.

    One of the things I am writing this summer is an article about how to look at value in fonts and, in particular, free fonts.

  • The reason I launched my typeface with OFL it was because I believe it's not worth of money
    The reason I release typefaces under OFL is because they are worth more money.

    One of the things I am writing this summer is an article about how to look at value in fonts and, in particular, free fonts.

    Ohh, that's interesting. Can you please elaborate why is that so?
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 986
    edited July 13
    The reason I release typefaces under OFL is because they are worth more money.
    Ohh, that's interesting. Can you please elaborate why is that so?

    Actually, it's not complicated to guess why; it's just that in a way, his wording is tricky.
    I suspect that he did not mean what a naïve interpretation of his statement would suggest: that when he releases a font of his under the OFL, it puts more money in his bank account (perhaps by increasing sales of his other fonts, as publicity) than by selling it normally.
    Instead, when he was talking about how much money a font was worth, I think he meant this in terms of how much benefit the people who recieve the font from him obtain.
    And in that sense, it's obvious why a free font is worth more than a paid font.
    No headaches using it on a web site.
    No headaches giving a copy of the font to a print shop when making copies of a document using it.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,406
    Yes. Part of the value of fonts subsists in the rights associated with their use. Generally speaking, the more rights that a user obtains from a license, the more valuable the font (or, at least, the more potentially valuable: I make a distinction between realisable value and realised value). So a font released under OFL has more realisable value, in terms of use rights, than a font available with only limited rights. By the same reasoning, a font released under the Apache 2.0 license is more valuable than one released under OFL: the fewer restrictions the license puts on users, the greater the realisable value.

    When I release a font under a libre license, it is in the knowledge that the value I am making available to users is greater than that which I make available when I release fonts under our paid, limited rights license. So my interest in libre font licensing is in increasing the amount of money font makers get from such releases, commensurate with the value of what is being made available.
  • Yes. Part of the value of fonts subsists in the rights associated with their use. Generally speaking, the more rights that a user obtains from a license, the more valuable the font (or, at least, the more potentially valuable: I make a distinction between realisable value and realised value). So a font released under OFL has more realisable value, in terms of use rights, than a font available with only limited rights. By the same reasoning, a font released under the Apache 2.0 license is more valuable than one released under OFL: the fewer restrictions the license puts on users, the greater the realisable value.

    When I release a font under a libre license, it is in the knowledge that the value I am making available to users is greater than that which I make available when I release fonts under our paid, limited rights license. So my interest in libre font licensing is in increasing the amount of money font makers get from such releases, commensurate with the value of what is being made available.
    The reason I release typefaces under OFL is because they are worth more money.
    Ohh, that's interesting. Can you please elaborate why is that so?

    Actually, it's not complicated to guess why; it's just that in a way, his wording is tricky.
    I suspect that he did not mean what a naïve interpretation of his statement would suggest: that when he releases a font of his under the OFL, it puts more money in his bank account (perhaps by increasing sales of his other fonts, as publicity) than by selling it normally.
    Instead, when he was talking about how much money a font was worth, I think he meant this in terms of how much benefit the people who recieve the font from him obtain.
    And in that sense, it's obvious why a free font is worth more than a paid font.
    No headaches using it on a web site.
    No headaches giving a copy of the font to a print shop when making copies of a document using it.
    Thanks both of you for the detailed explanation!
    Make sense now that, I'am thinking about it :O
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 986
    edited July 13
    So my interest in libre font licensing is in increasing the amount of money font makers get from such releases, commensurate with the value of what is being made available.
    Now you've got me confused.
    Making a font available under a libre license increases its value to the user; that part I clearly understood.
    But, as far as I know, this comes at the cost of depriving the font creator of any way of monetizing making the font available. This sentence seems to suggest that you are not resigned to that, and are looking for a way around this problem.
    Of course, aside from the one possibility I mentioned - free fonts as advertising - the initial creation of a typeface and its embodiment in fonts can, of course, be commissioned; i.e. IBM paid people to create Plex before it then, once it existed, gave it away. Possibly this is the model you are thinking of.
    Another possibility - and one where there is room for the development of new licensing methods and perhaps even business models - would be a permissive non-libre font license. That is, where you still have to pay money to buy a copy of a font to become a legitimate user of that font, but once you have done so, you may lend copies to print shops, you may use it as a web font despite the lack of DRM techniques to assist such use, as if it were a libre font.
    While there is no inherent difficulty in writing a font license this way, the consequence might be to facilitate piracy (although font piracy is all too common anyways, so one solution is to be resigned to that, and note that restrictive licenses don't prevent piracy) and so I'm sure there are people out there working on ingenious DRM schemes which would allow this kind of permissive license and yet make it enforceable.
  • RichardWRichardW Posts: 97

    So recently I made a typeface with OFL license, and I've been a victim of this. In a span of 3 days since the launch I've seen my typeface in all freebie fonts websites with almost all of them stating my typeface is free for personal use.
    Am I missing something here?  'Free for personal use' says nothing about permission to modify or sell, and I would expect someone modifying the font to encounter the name table, which should then contain or point to the actual or customised SIL licence under which it was released.  Are you worried about it being packaged as WOFF2 and a secret statement in the glyf table being obliterated?

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 986
    RichardW said:
    Am I missing something here?  'Free for personal use' says nothing about permission to modify or sell,

    Basically, a naive person getting a copy of a free font from a site that claims to have tons of free fonts on it... will just take the site at its word. So "Free for personal use" would presumably mean that if you want to make any commercial use of the font, you would have to pay money. So people with such ambitions will just go on, and look for some other font instead.
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