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Wired is running an article about how web content creators are making money selling t-shirts, partly because it’s easier to sell a t-shirt promoting web content than it is to monetize the content itself.
This leads me to wonder: could this be applied to free web fonts? A big market for web fonts is about to open up—all the major browsers are close to supporting some sort of web fonts, and designers are itching to use them. Unfortunately, there are a lot of annoying licensing, piracy and DRM issues in the way. Why not just give away fonts and make money selling merchandise? An entire foundry could be modeled after Threadless—promote the foundry with the fonts, have contests to design merch using the fonts, sell the merch, the merch then promotes the site.
Of course this doesn’t work for all fonts—Fontshop can’t give away all 999 Meta/Meta Serif fonts and make the money back with merch. But this might be a viable business model for display type.