13 posts

The Bizness of free fonts

Feb 16, 2013 at 18:19

I love fonts, and was ecstatic when I found dafonts. I've sent a couple of bucks to a few designers, but mostly don't. Today I noticed that the designer to whom I sent money had had 25 million downloads, 18,000 just yesterday. WOW. I wonder how many users do give money, and how many, if any, designers are able to make a living posting fonts for free online, asking only for donations.

I have hoped that the wisdom and generosity of crowds would make it possible to survive doing open-source art. Steven King experimented with a voluntary pay model, and abandoned it. With download numbers like 18,000/day, it does not take a very large percentage of the users being generous to make it a viable profession.

Are any of you making it, or know anyone who is? Are there ways we can inseminate a spirit of generosity or obligation in online communities so that more artists could being to be able to support themselves with their art?

Feb 16, 2013 at 18:46

Only a few designers do. But certainly not those that use the donation concept. Like the shareware concept it gives people the possibility to take for free and ignore the TOU.

Feb 16, 2013 at 18:55

Sure there will always be a majority who take and don't give, but with these sorts of volumes made possible by web distribution, even if only 1:100 are generous, one could get by. I gave $5, a bargain for a font, and if only 1% of that 18,000 did the same, that designer would have made $900 in one day, and a million and a quarter since she started posting.

There are numerous donation models that do work in the real world by just this sort of math. You say "certainly not", I'm curious how you know that.

Feb 16, 2013 at 19:21

You want to know better? OK with me. But when you already know the answer ... why ask?

Feb 16, 2013 at 19:33

Sorry, I don't know the answer, that's why I asked. I meant donation models that work for charities and the like. I belong to the Long Now Foundation, and they give lectures and offer all sorts of stuff with only a donation model.

I wonder how you know that no one is able to support themselves here. I am asking if anyone is able to. I get that you are not, so I take your vote as no, but I'd love to hear from others who have more activity.

Feb 16, 2013 at 19:49


Feb 17, 2013 at 01:01

The ratio of downloads to posted comments is about 80,000 to one. The ratio of downloads to donations would probably be similar. One in a hundred downloaders donating is highly optimistic.

Feb 17, 2013 at 01:25

Ok, data, thanks. At say 1:100000, that still gives the designer whose work I downloaded earlier a total income of $1250. That's not enough to survive, but a start. My other question is what might we be able to do to help change that number? Could we build some sort of competition with levels and badges to reward the more generous? Could we give those who passed some sort of giving threshold extra privileges, could we celebrate them in some other way?

.00001% is clearly not enough. But especially if it became a more broadly recognized ethic to pay an amount commensurate with the value we felt we received, could it become more widely viable?

I teach at a film school, and the potential for filmmakers to be able to support themselves by independent online distribution of their work, just as it is for musicians, and font designers of course, is the holy grail of the network. I am interested in ways it is almost working, and how to improve the returns.

In fact, for musicians, the creation of a brand though free online distribution that can then be monetized by admission to live shows, has become pretty successful, in some case very much so.

Feb 17, 2013 at 11:07

If your intention is to make a profit, I strongly suggest that you go commercial and try your luck out there.

If you want to earn loose change here at Dafont, the best way to do it is not to use the donate button. In that way you can set your own rates as far as commercial use is concerned. With the donate button, you leave it entirely to the user to determine that amount regardless of how the font is used, and it could be less than the amount you said you are willing to donate.

Here's some more data for your research. I turned on the donate button for the whole month of February last year (tuned it off the first chance I got last March) to see how it goess. I got 2 clicks. I turned it on again last November and it is still on today. I got 1 click in November, 2 in December, 2 in January and 2 this month. That November click was because he couldn't download the font to his phone and he thought that he needed to make a donation. I ended up emailing him the font. Except for 2 instances, these were intiated through emails and one via Dafont's PM. I told them to click on the Dafont donate button to simplify things. On email inquiries, only 1 out of 4 or 5 who said they will make a donation live up to their promises. I don't take it against them if they didn't come through.

Am I disappointed? Not at all. I did not make free fonts with profit in mind. Earning or making a profit does not enter the equation when I decide to do a font. I do the fonts that I like and the fonts that I like are not the ones that are popular. One of the things that I am most interested in is to know how my fonts are used. However, I won't decline whatever loose change that come my way and that donate button is very convenient when you tell them how to make it happen. Click and follow instructions.

BTW I got myself several books off the internet paid for by those donate button clicks.

Feb 17, 2013 at 15:34

If someone downloads a free/ free for personal use/ donationware font, it means that the font is more valuable to them than the time spent to complete the download, the bandwidth needed to transfer the file, and the disk space it occupies. Many downloads are never extracted from their .zip files. Just about everybody has downloaded multiple copies of many fonts, without realizing they already have them.

If I'm walking down the street and someone offers me a free lollypop, I will accept it, but I won't make a donation to the Hare Krishnas for doing so. Just because someone downloads a font, doesn't mean they will ever actually install it, or use it if it is installed. Many people just collect fonts, like other people collect coins, or stamps, or figurines of animals.

I have declined a few requests for financial compensation for the commercial use of my free fonts. Most notably, film director Tyler Perry's representatives asked my permission to use one of my dingbat glyphs for a poster used in the background/ set dressing for a scene in his film For Colored Girls:

If a font is free, it's free for everybody, even those who can easily afford a licensing fee. Israeli Trance music DJ Liam Shachar also used a glyph from BeautyMarks in his logo:

, with my blessing. It was nice of him to e-mail a .pdf of the font in use. That's the only kind of compensation I'm looking for.

I agree with Daniel Gauthier of Gaut Fonts, who quoted Wayne Burris on his page at TypOasis: "If you want to give back to the Design community design a font.

Feb 19, 2013 at 15:41

Well, just going by my numbers here, I have a few MILLION downloads of my fonts and have received a few HUNDRED dollars in donations for their use over the past couple of years. I haven't really cared too much about this in the past few years, since this was largely for fun, but it's hitting a point where I'm looking at redoing my licensing options in the near future.

Feb 19, 2013 at 19:13

Thanks for the info. I'm curious about how the various license selections are interpreted: Free, Free for Personal Use, Shareware, Demo, Public Domain and Donationware. I take it Free for Public use is the more restricted as all commercial use is negotiable.

To be clear, I am not interested in a career as a font designer, and will likely never submit a font here. My interest is purely academic, and as I said in a previous post, mostly related to the way the online sphere is unfolding as a professional medium. I have been excited at the potential the web allows for artists to form authentic, direct communities with their audiences and consumers. This ability to bypass the middlemen who generally take an unfair share of the benefits of the art in exchange for marketing and distribution, seems revolutionary. However it counts on discovering ways to monetize this artist consumer relationship, ways that are, as yet, obviously not in place. It seems a donation model, at least in this font design sphere, is very very far from succeeding in this regard.

But, it also seems to me to be part of a cultural ethic of finders keepers, and that it is possible for people to awaken to the fact that by supporting brands they enjoy, they can foster the growth of those brands and the proliferation of similar content. I'm sure if you, Neale, were actually able to support yourself as a font designer, the quantity and quality of your designs would increase. I think it is in my interest as a consumer to help, with my contributions, the market to evolve in ways that would be more useful to me.

Again, this does not require that even close to all members of the community adhere to the ethos, only some significant percentage. I'm not sure such an ethos has much chance of propagating to that tipping point, which does only need to be a couple of percentage points of the population, but I am really interested in what other models, that may not rely as much on cultural transformation, may allow this authentic relationship transformation to occur.

Mar 25, 2013 at 19:58

I uploaded my first "font" to dafonts about a month ago. I designated it as donationware with the hopes of having a few bucks thrown my way every once in a while. I never had high hopes and never expected to get rich, but I did expect something. So far after 5,000+ downloads I have not received one cent.

I have always donated a few bucks when I have used fonts from dafont for my own design projects. My thinking was that the font designer would be receiving donations from a good number of people and a small donation would be suitable. Now that I know that nearly no one donates I will try to raise the donation amount that I give to other font authors.

For my own future font design projects, I will try and find a new way to distribute them that makes it worth my time and creativity .

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