Subject: Re: Free Software Business Models
From: Dave Crossland <dave@lab6.com>
Date: Tue, 19 May 2009 17:29:47 +0100

Hi Don!

2009/5/19 Don Marti <dmarti@zgp.org>:
> begin Dave Crossland quotation of Tue, May 19, 2009 at 03:55:42PM +0100:
>
>> As someone looking to improve free software fonts, there are two
>> routes open to me: Find a way to get people who don't demand
>> proprietary-font-developer wages to publish free software fonts, or
>> find a way to pay font developers who currently work in a proprietary
>> software business model with a free software business model.
>
> The first business model in this area is likely to be
> (1) hire people to make quick-and-dirty "good enough
> for web" clones of proprietary fonts

Generally professional type designers, while not so wedded to
proprietary monopolising that they won't work on libre fonts at all
(there are some exceptions...) are not so mercenary that they don't
care what they work is as long as they are getting paid: They have a
principled objection to cloning others' designs.

While we may or may not agree to their principle of divine creators'
rights, we can see that if they clone proprietary fonts without
permission from the proprietors, their economic ability to win
proprietary job contracts will diminish (AKA, ruin their professional
reputation.)

There are also legal problems with this: the USA has no copyright on
type designs, just 14 year design patents, but, the UK has the normal
artistic work copyright on type designs as do other jurisdictions I
imagine. I need to research this in more detail because clearly there
needs to be free versions of "classic" designs (eg, Gill Sans, from
1926) but its cousin Johnston was "licensed" recently -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnston_%28typeface%29

> Commoditize the Complement
> The idea is that you release the software to help
> you get some other business,

This is my immediate business plan: Modifiable fonts' complement is
the knowledge-transfer of how to modify them. (its also the tools and
the textbooks, but they ought to be free too, right :-)

So I'm going to move out to Kerala where living expenses are cheap and
work on a curriculum, and then travel the globe teaching commercial
2-5 day font-making workshops to anyone I can market them to. I have a
friend who teaches Ericksonian Hypnosis in this way and he earns
plenty (although he also sells proprietary textbook materials...)

> Sell Options on Future Support

Fonts tend not to need much support. However, like software, "a font
is never done" so perhaps options on future development can work.

My understanding of Red Hat's business is that they do indeed offer
support, but, they also do more development of free software (as such,
ie "upstream," rather than dumping free KLOC over the wall) than
anyone else, and their business model can be viewed as such:

Find 2 people (or "legal persons") who want a feature added to a free
software program and would be willing to pay 100% of the cost for an
exclusive implementation, and offer them both a 30% discount for a
non-exclusive implementation. 70% + 70% = 140% of cost. Find 10
people? Offer them an 80% discount for 200% of cost. Then convert them
to a subscription for regular development (as Red Hat do today) which
benefits them as they have predictable development costs and benefits
you because you have a predictable revenue stream to pay salaries
with.

I believe I might be able to transfer this to fonts, but I'm not quite sure.

Do you know any examples of much smaller "boot strapping" companies
working in these ways?