Sucky Trends

oldnick's picture

In the past several weeks, I have received two separate distribution agreements from entities with whom I have done business, and which I find rather alarming.

Both agreements contain non-disclosure provisions—but, since I haven’t signed the agreements yet, I don’t feel bound by them; nonetheless, the parties shall remain nameless, and you can fill in the blanks.

In one instance, an established entity has offered to market my fonts for a 60% take; in the other, for negotiating OEM licenses, another entity wants 80% of the take. However, in both cases, these entities want zero percent of the liability, in the event that anyone files suit for copyright or patent infringement, or whatever.

That's right: the distributors want 60% or 80% of the upside, and 0% of the downside. Is it just me, or does this seem to be a gross abuse of what is effectively market monopolization?

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

There's a sucker born every minute. No, I don't mean you, nick.

russellm's picture

Ridiculous.

5star's picture

Seems rather vulgar to me too.

But having said that is it 'normal' for the unmentionable distribution platforms to sustain incurred legal fees?

n.

dberlow's picture

"Is it just me, or does this seem to be a gross abuse of what is effectively market monopolization?"

Gross would be 99%, I think. But it sounds much like pitchforks and torches to me, and if we "man the walls" they'll be no one on the phones.

Another idea is perhaps to negotiate? (that's when they say 80, then you say 40, then they say 79, then you say 39, and so on).

Yet another idea is: if there is in fact 0(%) downside in the protection, marketing, sales and support of your fonts, you should be able to do it yourself for free! and keep all 100%! (something I wish I could do but it seems to cost something to protect, market, sell and support fonts, build tools, blog, and hire guards for the walls).

blank's picture

Set up your own online store and don’t sign these contracts.

David Vereschagin's picture

Those percentages are excessive for essentially acting as a distributor. Although as distributors it’s not surprising that they’re unwilling to take on risk; it’s your product after all, not theirs. They’re just helping you sell it.

Setting up your own store is a partial solution, although the setup and upkeep is not trivial. The sales I make through my store are only about half as many compared to the sales I make through online middlemen. So, if I dumped my third-party distributors, maybe it would be a wash. The extra money I would make on direct sales would compensate for the sales lost not dealing with a distributor. Except right now I’m making money on both, so I would actually lose money if I went totally independent, as well as the extra exposure being on a big site provides.

So, yeah, set up your own store – or maybe ask around about joining some other small foundry’s store that’s a good fit; that kind of mutual cooperation and assistance seems like a worthwhile path to explore.

And still look for bigger distributors who don’t insist on a huge cut. For us small foundries I suspect there’s no room for negotiation with them. Unless you’ve got something really hot that the distributor wants, it’s no big deal to them if they don’t sign you up.

David

riccard0's picture

We could use some sort of United Font Designers... ;-)

oldnick's picture

We could use some sort of United Font Designers... ;-)

Which would probably work to everyone’s advantage until the enterprise became successful enough to be bought out by the Elephant in the Room—which shall remain nameless—or sued into nonexistence for some alleged patent infringement—which appears to be Apple’s preferred method of protecting its market share.

There is undeniable value in having one’s fonts listed on the big sites. Sheer gravity attracts many potential buyers, and sophisticated search/sort/tag routines can drive a lot of traffic to one’s wares which might not have otherwise shown up. The large aggregators advertise aggressively and cover the infrastructure costs. In other words, yes: they provide a valuable service, which would be expensive to replicate.

On the other hand, independent foundries provide the products which the behemoths flog so effectively: in other words, it’s a symbiotic relationship. The problem is, the mutual nature of this interdependency isn’t reflected in the revenue and risk-sharing terms offered. Half a loaf may be better than none; 20% to 40% of a loaf is another matter entirely.

blank's picture

The sales I make through my store are only about half as many compared to the sales I make through online middlemen. So, if I dumped my third-party distributors, maybe it would be a wash.

How valuable is the customer data you collect from your own store? Do you use it to market directly to your customers and to help you decide who to target with marketing efforts intended to bring in new customers? Would you be able to customize your marketing well without data collected from direct sales?

We could use some sort of United Font Designers

What we should do is work together to commission an online store platform that makes selling fonts easy. T-shirt designers have a wealth of online shop themes and plugins because they pay for addons for Wordpress e-commerce and Zen Cart. A group of font designers could pool resources to generate a series of Wordpress e-Commerce plugins to integrate everything from menus to type testers to web font generators. Contact me if you are interested.

hrant's picture

Of course the percentage they should get for it to make sense depends on how much more than you they can sell. If you think they can sell three times more than you then you getting only 40% is good. And that's not counting the sales you can still make on your own (assuming they don't want exclusivity).

United Font Designer

It was called TyD* (a large unstoppable flow :-) but it never took off. Maybe now is finally the time?

* http://www.microsoft.com/typography/links/news.aspx?NID=515
Ah, youth...

How valuable is the customer data you collect from your own store?

Note that some resellers will hand over the customer info. MyFonts used to - did they stop?

hhp

David Vereschagin's picture

You can get customer contact info from MyFonts, but you are prohibited from using it.

David Vereschagin's picture

How valuable is the customer data you collect from your own store?

Not particularly valuable, unless I want to track down each customer based on their email address or company name (if they provide the latter). I don’t ask them a barrage of questions about who they are and what they’re going to use the fonts for. And most of my customers opt-out of my mailing list and further contact.

David

jlt's picture

@Quadrat

You are indeed prohibited from using that information to market or sell things to folks, sure; I think this is pretty common and pro-consumer. Customers get quite unhappy when they buy a font from MyFonts and then receive unsolicited email from another party – even if it’s from the person or foundry that designed or released the type itself.

Joshua / MyFonts

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

jlt,

I have thinking about offering free stuff to people who buy my fonts through MyFonts. I doubt too much if they would mind being offered a free t shirt. plus I think this is good marketing. They know when they buy my stuff they will get something extra for free. Surprise!!

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Also, I have rethought this sucky trend thing and I think actually it's not that bad. Especially for an unknown designer like myself. I could set up my own site and get 100% of the profit, but who would come to my site? I guess I wouldn't mind handing over 80%, because 20% of 20 sales makes me a lot more money than 100% of zero sales.

Of course I would look at this very differently if I was as well known as Mathew Carter or somebody like that.

Also, if you really have to worry about being sued for copyright infringement for your fonts, you probably shouldn't be releasing them.

hrant's picture

prohibited from using that information

But then why pass it along?

hhp

dberlow's picture

Because type design folk license to users via multiple distributors, there are uses for such info besides marketing.

Don McCahill's picture

Ryan: Can you somehow ask that users register the fonts, and then give them your freebies? (I haven't seen the code, nor bought fonts through one of the biggies, so I don't know if this would be feasible.)

oldnick's picture

Ryan,

The liability issue really wasn’t the main point: it simply served to emphasize that “partnering” with these distributors has taken on a rather lop-sided meaning—as have a lot of other terms in the virtual economy, such as “free” and “unlimited.” Generally, one walks hand-in-hand with a partner; when the relationship is unequal, it feels more like the partner is acting as if he has a hold on another part of one’s anatomy.

Bottom line: foundries create the products, the mass marketers sell them. Without product, the mass marketers got nothing; without the mass marketers, foundries would have to create their own markets, advertise, develop and maintain sophisticated e-commerce websites, and handle all the nuts-and-bolts little problems that attend everyday life.

So, once again: it’s a symbiotic relationship. The proceeds ought to be divvied up accordingly.

jlt's picture

Ryan, I don't think there is anything in our agreement with you that would prevent you from adding text explaining this to the font's description on MyFonts - that way, if someone wants these extras, and doesn't mind the email, they can ask you for them. You could include “for a limited time, visit the designer at xxxx.com for a free limited edition bonus x,” or something to that effect. I’m not sure how this would work, but I think it could be done; please email us at info@myfonts.com if you would like to discuss this further.

We very specifically tell users when they buy type from us that they will not get unsolicited commercial email from any third party; if we allow you to use those email addresses to contact buyers, then we come liable for violating our promise to them.

hrant's picture

I think you should add an opt-in* for receiving emails from the foundry, allow foundries to directly solicit sales (at least of MyFonts products) but require a CC/BCC of any communication**. Since you're providing the contact info it can be abused anyway, but at least with this mechanism you'll get foundries to do marketing for you; everybody wins (except users who are touchy about even being offered an opt-in - a rare breed).

* Or even an opt-out, although that might push the touchiness (see end) threshold too much.

** Action can be taken if the communication violates the agreement.

hhp

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Wouldn't a "third party" be someone who I would sell the email addresses too? Which I would never do, BTW.

Anyway If I'm going to go through all you suggest, it would really just be easier for me to include some sort of freebie coupon code or link as a pdf in the zipfile. However, I don't know how much this would feel like the customers are getting something extra, or more than what they paid for; which is the effect I'm after.

5star's picture

Old Nick, although I'm not the business of selling fonts, I am in the business of selling my creative works. I have an agent, she's a great person no doubt, but between her and the gallery's commish I'm lucky to earn enough for a case of beer.

n.

oldnick's picture

Neil,

I feel your pain. However, I’ve given up beer and am hoping my humble efforts cover other little luxuries like rent, prescription medicines, utilities and the like…

aluminum's picture

It's normal for corporations to take advantage of and profit from artists. 'tis a tradition!

Té Rowan's picture

As I recall it: First party = the seller. Second party = the buyer. Third party = everyone else.

dezcom's picture

so it is party time ;-)

jlt's picture

Yes, Té. Third party would, in the case of customers buying type from MyFonts, include the designer, foundry, or any other party outside of the immediate client/seller relationship.

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