Google Fonts: Your Questions, Answered

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  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 235
    edited December 2013
    Andres: What can we do?
    Not selling your fonts to Google.
  • Patrick GriffinPatrick Griffin Posts: 61
    edited December 2013
    Ben, I think your Internet Explorer analogy is an interesting but misplaced one. IE's major competition at the time was one program, Netscape, and it was free. So it was a boxing match for near-total control of the web browsing audience. In such a case, when one contender plays dirty to eliminate the only other one, fairness becomes a serious issue because when the audience's hand is forced, the market itself would be eliminated. The IE/Netscape analogy may be useful for comparison with a few different software industries these days (for example, name one serious competitor to most of Adobe's design programs — the last time they had real competition, they simply bought and buried it), but not in this Google fonts case. I don't think a case can be made for Google trying to eliminate choice — though I think they can certainly go a long way there if they really wanted to do that.

    But let's consider the theory that Google may be trying to become a quasi-monopoly — which in itself is a strange supposition, because it implies monopolizing a commercial industry by offering non-commercial product (kind of like saying Netscape was unfair to IE's market chances because it was free).

    Over the past couple of years, Google spent enough money to now have over 700 fonts loose out there. If you look at various things, like their methods of font acquisition, prices they pay, staff and consultants they have for this project, you'll probably find that they spent around $3-$4K per font on average. That's about 2.5 million dollars spent on their project so far — though I may be lowballing it, as usual. If their project's intent was to become a monopoly, don't you think they could have used that money a bit differently — like spin some of the existing infrastructure of their app store to put up some kind of Google Font Store, charge font designers just 10% to sell their products there (trumping the 50% we pay now), thereby eliminating all other commercial font distributors while expanding the retail font market by about 5000% and helping their own big data cause by tagging commercial webfonts as well as free ones? Or how about this: don't waste any time, just use the $2.5M to buy one of the many small but popular font outfits with several hundred existing commercial fonts which you can libre-ate all at once — and repeat the process every two years?

    I think the Google font guys are just doing their own thing out there on the fringes of the font world, and to me it's quite fascinating to watch. They do things in a radically different way from what we're accustomed to, really upending longstanding industry methods — hopping between commerce and non-commerce like a kid with a rope, paying for fonts on service-based terms then giving them away, using a personal approach to do away with pyramids and bureaucracies and superstars and favouritism, resurrecting dead font building software and going after young designers with it, engaging new people from all over the world to get involved in type. This is all strange, unprecedented stuff — a serious reconception of an established system of comfort for many people, which can be pretty scary for people like us when taken all at once. I'm not overly concerned about it, but I certainly understand and emphasize with why some of us are. But for quasi-monopolies in our industry, we don't really need to look that far.
  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 235
    edited December 2013
    Patrick, I never suggested Google had any intentions to do anything. Moreover, Google’s intentions are simply irrelevant for this discussion. Their actual behavior in the font market is relevant, and what it might change in the font market in the long run. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • @Ben Blom
    Andres: What can we do?
    Not selling your fonts to Google.
    Why is the stopping 'selling fonts' at the core of your solution? One of us is not understanding this at all. Can you explain some more what you are suggesting?

    I thought the whole thing you didn't like about Libre fonts was that they could be 'given away' at no cost so easilly. But now you seem to be saying that people should NOT sell them!?

    So you would suggest that people stop selling fonts to Google, but continue to allow Adobe, Monotype, Font Squirrel, and i guess all the billions of web users who use them every week, to errm.. continue to not pay for them?
  • Patrick,

    What you are writing about is the here and now, without much view to the future. The making and selling of fonts is not significantly different from any other kind of publishing, a field I know something about. Each season, book publishers take dozens or even hundreds of balls, for which they paid a lot of money, throw them into the air and, if they're lucky, one or two will stay aloft generating enough income to pay for the majority that have fallen to the ground. The publishers fine-tune the system by adjusting prices and the amounts they pay to authors in advances and royalties.

    The advent of ebooks brought with them a price-fixing structure determined not by the publishers, but by the platform owners. Not only have the publishers suffered, but so have the authors--there's less money in the system, despite the fact that production costs are much lower for ebooks than paper. It's made all the worse by having to adjust to multiple platforms, including print, whose cost is no longer amortized over larger quantities. The simple truth is that, in any one season, there aren't that many books that will ever turn a profit, but for the people on the creative end, they're dealing with a structure that is increasingly risk averse. As an independent packager, I can work the system and win, but doing so requires a very large skill set.

    Font publishers and distributors have a similar economy. For many, especially the largest ones, their income is derived not so much from the sale of fonts, but through their licensing to corporations and OEMs. The big licensing deals makes it possible to invest something into new designs, whether generated in-house or licensed from independents.

    At the moment, the limitations of Google's font library is not a big threat to anyone, but with one wave of the hand, the library could be further developed to become something much more than it is now. I'm sure you'll recall Jeff Bezos's many promises to "never become a content provider." Well, so much for that--and who was stupid enough to not see it coming? The value of content is too hard to resist and fonts are content, the content of style and utility.

    What if some hot, young gaming companies decide that license-free fonts are good enough? And what if a big corporation, one that isn't so design-centered, a firm that used to license fonts from Monotype or Adobe, decides that license-free fonts are good enough for them? Then there will be less money in the system for new fonts. I understand the urge for young designers to have their work seen and used, but ultimately allowing their work to be given away for free is tantamount to cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

    Not all of the 100+ yearly graduates from font design programs will find work in their field. Many are not ready, and many may never adjust to real-world production demands. It isn't medical school; we live at a time when many law graduates never find work in law firms, and many who do never advance and give it up in the end. Such is life.
  • Ben:

    Ok. Now explain me why you would reject $ 4,000 for a single font when you are finishing university and you made it just for learning with no money in mind (and it pays university).
    That happened many times with more or less money in the real world, and all these designers considered they had a good deal. This means more people living from type. Jobs, money, wealth, standard living.

    You can't force people to reject GWF offers. They will accept if it works for them. It is legal and ethical and also seems to be a very good deal for many designers.

    GWF and Libre fonts exist, you like it or not, I'm asking for real solutions and numbers, because the apocalypse prediction continues and I don't see it coming.

    I will reconsider my position if I see there are a real decrease of job positions, income and money distribution.

    Let's try with the campaign:

    Every time you sell a font to Google an angel dies.












  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 235
    --- Andres: What can we do?
    --- Not selling your fonts to Google.
    Vernon: Why is the stopping ‘selling fonts’ at the core of your solution?
    There is nothing wrong with free or libre fonts in and of themselves. But when a big player like Google would inundate the font market with free fonts, it might, in the long run, damage the font market.

    Google can only acquire fonts by buying them from font makers (supposing they don’t have an in-house font making department). The more fonts Google buys from font makers, the more free fonts they can offer. The more free fonts they offer, and the better the quality of the free fonts they offer, the bigger the chance is that the font market gets damaged.

    If font makers wouldn’t sell their fonts to Google, Google wouldn’t acquire what they need to be able to offer free fonts.

    Adobe and Monotype don’t usually give away fonts for free. So selling your fonts to them, does not support the growth of a library of free fonts.
  • @ScottMartin Kosofsky
    What if some hot, young gaming companies decide that license-free fonts are good enough? And what if a big corporation, one that isn't so design-centered, a firm that used to license fonts from Monotype or Adobe, decides that license-free fonts are good enough for them? Then there will be less money in the system for new fonts.
    What are these 'license-free fonts' you are mentioning?
    Do you mean fonts licensed under the Open Font License, Gnu Public License, Apache License, etc etc. Or are you talking about fonts that have no license?
    I understand the urge for young designers to have their work seen and used, but ultimately allowing their work to be given away for free is tantamount to cutting off their noses to spite their faces.
    I think you are being much too simplistic, especially with regard to advising young designers. If a designer was aspiring to work within the growing areas of libre web content, then i would suggest they should pursue that, and see where it takes them. Obviously if a young designer was aspiring toward other areas then clearly they should pursue a route towards that, and also see where it takes them. What i would also say equally to both designers in each case, would be; do not disregard what is happening in other areas of design, or the commercial world at large, around them. The worst advice to young designers is to tell them that they are plain wrong to be interested to work in an area of design, just because you are uninterested in that area. As you can probably tell, i'm a good instructor / teacher :)
  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 235
    Andres, I worry about the future of the font market as a whole. What is in the interest of the font market as a whole in the long run, may not be in the interest of an individual font maker now. I understand it can be hard to resist $4000 for an individual font maker. If you are really good at making fonts, there are other ways to sell them. Selling your fonts to Google now, might even reduce you chances to be able to sell fonts in the future.

    The fact that Google pay font makers, is not a problem. What Google do with the fonts they acquire, that might be a problem.

    I think that font makers are still in a position to limit the growth of Google's library of free fonts. Font makers are free to sell to whoever they want. At the same time, they carry a responsibility for the future of the font market.
  • Andres TorresiAndres Torresi Posts: 23
    edited December 2013
    «I think that font makers are still in a position to limit the growth of Google's library of free fonts. »
    You have to convince 100% of type designers in the world not selling their fonts. We still can do it. Really...

    «Selling your fonts to Google now, might even reduce you chances to be able to sell fonts in the future.»
    But it increases my chances to sell fonts, work and get the money right now. And it increases my chances to re-invest the money in commercial or non-commercial products before I die.


    It will be great to «çontrol the font market» and make it better for all. But we can't. You are not showing me a reasonable method to change the reality, which I think is plenty of oportunities for all of us.
  • Patrick GriffinPatrick Griffin Posts: 61
    edited December 2013
    Scott Martin, I agree with you to a great extent about the similarity in publishing books and fonts at a system level. In fact, I think we can learn quite a few things from how book publishing history reached its current state - particularly in regards to what happens when there are as many font makers as there are book authors, or musicians, or actors, or athletes — you get the picture. But this is a question of straightforward competition in an overcrowded field, not the stuff we've been trading back and forth about professional devaluation and bespoke pricing fairness and responsibility to the industry.

    As I said earlier, we can learn a lot about the future from looking at the past. Platform owners dictating the rules happened some time ago in the font world (the film library typesetting schemes of the 70s and 80s, the font format wars, one-sided development contracts, and massive font bundling of the 80s and early 90s), so did Amazon- and Walmart-like supplier-squeezing (the ridiculous revenue distribution rates of the 90s and 2000s). On the bright side, self-publishing also happened some time ago in the digital font world, when Emigre opened the flood gates with the first font publishing outfit where the designers/developers were determined to forge their own path in the market, remain independent and not give in to the big publishers. What we have now is a whole lot of Emigre-like outfits, reduced to competing with each other in shameful manners on very few publishing platforms that control more than half the revenue generated from the authorships. Individual numbers vary, of course, but you can see where this is headed overall. The more font makers there are, the farther we go down that road previously taken by the book publishing industry. The more font makers there are, the more squeezing options the platform providers will have. We've seen this kind of thing before in this very industry — you wouldn't believe how many very talented type designers walked away from it all in the 90s because they couldn't make ends meet at it, even while the market was actually expanding and money was flowing like a river. It's awful just thinking about it.

    Arguing against incoming competition in principle would be arguing for stifling creativity and innovation, so naturally it is not the way to go — but it's always worth rethinking our industry's existing ways/structure if we want future font makers to be able to sustain themselves the way we are ourselves managing now. The long term concern of an Easter Island outcome is a plausible one, sure, but there are things more pressing to consider within our own industry if we want the popular doomsday inevitability not to come true. I think worrying about a bunch of free webfonts out there is just not one of them. Google published 700 free fonts in just over two years. On average an onslaught of 20-25 commercial fonts are being published every single day. Those of us worried about their levels of livelihood are just looking out the wrong window. Again, I feel like I'm pointing the obvious.

    Regarding the possibility of a big gaming company deciding to go with available license-free fonts instead of Monotype fonts: to independent Font Studio A, that is no different than if the gaming company goes to Font Studio B instead of Font Studio C. The reality is Google's fonts are just another library in a sea of them. If they keep at it for the next 10 years, their library will be a few thousand fonts, but it will still be just another library in a sea of them. Ben and others are proposing that the industry should try to limit the growth of Google's library — but that is the same thing as proposing that we should try to limit the growth of Adobe's library, Monotype's library, etcetera — it's basically a simple cry against competition.
  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 235
    Ben and others are proposing that the industry should try to limit the growth of Google’s library — but that is the same thing as proposing that we should try to limit the growth of Adobe’s library, Monotype’s library, etcetera — it’s basically a simple cry against competition.
    Patrick, you seem to miss my point. I am in favor of competition, as long as it is fair. The way Google competes in the font market is unfair, and it might, ultimately, lead to an end of competition in the font market. So, it’s a cry against unfair competition. To quote myself (December 5):
    I Think most kinds of competition are OK, even if it’s quite fierce, like temporary deep discounting. The competition which I feel is unfair, is cut-throat competition, also called ruinous or destructive or predatory competition. This is competition where a player in the market offers its products for prices permanently below the costs of making them. Now when a player in the market offers its products permanently for free, while its competitors need to, at least, recoup their costs to be able to survive — then this predatory player might, in the end, eliminate all its competitors. In such a situation, there is no level playing field. I think what this predatory player does, is not OK.
  • The libre collection existed before GWF. It was just free fonts in many sites. Now there is a company paying for that. Imagining we suppress Google (?), any other company or institution will be interested in offering libre fonts and paying for them, for the same or different motivations (actually, other companies are doing it) if not with us just with their own designers. It's just a matter of time.

    We have to think forward to keep moving the commercial fonts. In these discussions I never find anyone proposing how to move and get benefits with the actual state of the industry.
    Designers and final users will always be interested in pay for new products and software. How can we attract customers? Uniqueness, quality, better marketing, tech support, custom fonts, original fonts... We can empower us, make alliances, create local markets, improve access to typefaces. I think there are a lot of things out there that we can do, working with libre and/or commercial fonts.

    And suppose GWF or whoever pays a violent price for free all the commercial fonts in the universe. Creative designers will still do new things and customers will buy original work... and people will still pay for it because it's new and beautiful.

    When all the fonts in the world are free, you can still attract money like this.






  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 235
    Patrick: Google’s fonts are just another library in a sea of them. If they keep at it for the next 10 years, their library will be a few thousand fonts, but it will still be just another library in a sea of them.
    Google’s fonts are definitely not just another library in a sea of them. Why? Because it’s a free library, while the other significant libraries are not.
  • libre and/or commercial fonts
    Libre fonts are commercial.

  • @BenBlom
    Google’s fonts are definitely not just another library in a sea of them. Why? Because it’s a free library, while the other significant libraries are not.
    errr.. Adobe and Monotype, also mirror a lot of the google Library ?

    Anyway... a question...

    Looking at your website i see that you sell the use of webfont versions of your fonts via a number of webfont servers. I'm not sure i'm totally up to speed on how or or how much those different companies pay designers when a font is served, but, do you earn more? or less? from your webfonts than you did 3-4 years ago?
  • Ben: A library is a library. Libre or not.
    Dave: We know libre fonts are commercial (We are talking about money, so yes). We just say commercial when talking about fonts with a non-free license. Probably it is not the correct word. Propietary fonts vs. libre fonts is correct?
  • Andres
    Propietary fonts vs. libre fonts is correct?
    I think the 'vs' is the biggest misnomer in that idea ;)
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,449
    It’s interesting that there are so many shades of copyright, for instance, these CC licenses:
    Attribution (CC BY)
    Attribution Share Alike (CC BY-SA)
    Attribution No Derivatives (CC BY-ND)
    Attribution Non-Commercial (CC BY-NC)
    Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (CC BY-NC-SA)
    Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND)
    It seems to me that the emergence of software licensing as a discipline that may be studied, negotiated and monetized bodes well for the font industry, even though it is a distraction for type designers who would prefer to be designing type.

    I saw yesterday that Sumner Stone has cut a deal with Monotype to distribute his fonts exclusively, so that he has more time to design. I am somewhat jealous, as little old boutiquey me struggles to keep up with the demands of marketing, distribution, technology, and trying to get a handle on what all these different kinds of licence mean.
  • I suspect they purchased all the Stone Type Foundry IP Nick . . .
  • Propietary fonts vs. libre fonts is correct?
    Yes, although Vern is right, the 2 things are complementary. A libre font available to the whole world is useful for some things and not useful for other things; a proprietary font is useful for some things and not for other things. In either case the type designer must be paid an amount of money that they freely agree is a fair price for the work involved, keeping in mind the future opportunities for additional money from doing the work, and the 'opportunity cost' of choosing to do that project instead of another.
    I suspect they purchased all the Stone Type Foundry IP Nick . . .
    Yes, my guess is Mr Stone is totally retiring and wants to sit back and let the royalty money role in. :)
  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 235
    Vernon: Anyway... a question...
    Let’s try not to ask each other questions which are irrelevant for the subject.
    Andres: A library is a library. Libre or not.
    Let’s try not to fool ourselves. The bigger a free font library is, and the better the quality of its fonts, the bigger its impact will be on the rest of the font market.
  • Patrick GriffinPatrick Griffin Posts: 61
    edited December 2013
    Ben, I understand where you're coming from, and I certainly admire your tenacity, but consider what you're saying just a bit further. Saying that free stuff makes for unfair competition is taking the very argument you used earlier, the IE/Netscape one, and turning it on its head — so Netscape was unfair to IE's market chances because it was free. Fast forward about 20 years and we are saying that Firefox, Ubuntu, GIMP, Inkscape, Fontforge, Freetype, etcetera, are unfair to their commercial alternatives.

    Closer to home, is Fontsquirrel unfair to Fontspring? They're run by the same guy.

    I also think you're using the term predatory backwards. In market terminology, predatory practice is when someone sets the price very high on a product or service that a major segment of the population needs and must pay for. The most common use I've seen of the term has been in relation to oil/petrol companies and financial institutions.
  • @BenBlom
    Vernon: Anyway... a question...
    Let’s try not to ask each other questions which are irrelevant for the subject.
    What!?!?! You are arguing that libre webfonts are somehow killing off the chances of other libraries selling the use of webfonts. I think it's therefore totally relevant to ask you, a webfont provider; "are you selling less or more webfont use than you did 4 years ago? 3 years ago? 2 years ago?

    I suspect you are selling more webfont use than you did. But you don't see the relevance of how much use of your webfonts you sell, so i guess we'll never ever know how libre webfonts have effected your webfont sales. Sheesh! :)

    Is my question, a question you have never asked yourself?
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,664
    Point of information:

    There's been a lot of use of the phrase 'selling fonts to Google' in the recent posts. I think it is worthwhile noting that this is not, in fact, the contract model that Google utilises when paying money to font makers. Google doesn't purchase rights to the fonts and then release them under free licenses; rather, the contract obliges the font maker to release the font(s) under free license. Mostly, this is a distinction without effect in terms of outcomes, but it remains up to the font maker to decide which of the two free licenses permitted by the contract to adopt (OFL or Apache 2.0). This can have a significant impact on future monetisation possibilities for derivative fonts, so is something that should be considered carefully. My understanding is that almost all GF-funded free font releases have been under the OFL license, which has me scratching my head a bit and wondering how many of the font developers involved have really considered the implications (cf. my earlier query about whether font makers releasing under OFL can have any right to sell proprietary licenses for their own derivative fonts, e.g. 'Pro' versions).
  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 235
    Patrick: Saying that free stuff makes for unfair competition is taking the very argument you used earlier, the IE/Netscape one, and turning it on its head
    Please don't suggest I said things which I did not. It seems that what's turning on its head is your earlier interpreation of IE/Netscape — I didn't discuss any details about IE/Netscape.
    Patrick: I also think you're using the term predatory backwards. In market terminology, predatory practice is when someone sets the price very high on a product or service
    According to Collins Dictionary: Predatory pricing: (business) offering goods or services at such a low price that competitors are forced out of the market.
    Google faces complaint to European regulator over 'predatory pricing'
    Predatory pricing from a legal perspective
    Vernon, my sales figures from the past are completely irrelevant for the subject. Remember that my point is not about the past, but about a possible future.

    John, I am happy to stand corrected about the phrase 'selling fonts to Google'. My main concern is the potential market impact of Google's fonts, not so much the details of the contract with their font suppliers.
  • Thanks, Ben. I stand corrected on the definition of predatory. And sorry for putting words in your mouth.
  • John:

    From The League of Movable Type:

    Since you’re the original creator and the copyright holder of your font, you will retain all the rights to your creation. You are only releasing a portion of your font for use in a specific way. For example, you may choose to release a ‘basic’ version of the font under the OFL, but sell a restricted ‘enhanced’ version. Only you, the copyright holder, can do this.
  • vernon adamsvernon adams Posts: 82
    edited December 2013
    @JohnHudson
    Point of information:
    information??!?
    There's been a lot of use of the phrase 'selling fonts to Google' in the recent posts. I think it is worthwhile noting that this is not, in fact, the contract model that Google utilises when paying money to font makers. Google doesn't purchase rights to the fonts and then release them under free licenses; rather, the contract obliges the font maker to release the font(s) under free license.
    A designer either wishes to make a libre font, or they don't, so i think your idea of some kind of 'contractual obligation' to release under a libre license is misleading wording.

    You are correct about ownership; ownership of the font stays with the license holder (aka the designer or foundry) and those licensing rights enable the font to be used 'freely' by anyone (not just google), which explains how Adobe, Monotype, FontSquirrel etc etc can also freely host these fonts.
    My understanding is that almost all GF-funded free font releases have been under the OFL license, which has me scratching my head a bit and wondering how many of the font developers involved have really considered the implications (cf. my earlier query about whether font makers releasing under OFL can have any right to sell proprietary licenses for their own derivative fonts, e.g. 'Pro' versions).
    Basically;
    The owner of a libre font can develop and release proprietary versions of their libre font, aka release versions of their OFL'd fonts as fonts not published under the OFL. Obvious, i would have thought.

    A non-owner can create derivatives of a libre font but if they release the font they must do so under the OFL. Read the license for details.
  • @BemBlom
    Vernon, my sales figures from the past are completely irrelevant for the subject. Remember that my point is not about the past, but about a possible future.
    Ok. So do you think your revenue from usage of your webfonts will be higher in 2016 than it was in 2010? or lower? or the same?
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