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Alienating your customers is not a revolutionary idea.

LOL!While making the rounds today (thanks Jeff Croft, via John Gruber), I saw Chuck Davis of Letterhead Font’s “Open letter” regarding Font DRM”. Where to begin on this one…

I have no interest in “pulling a corey” and spending every waking hour crying like a little girl about the dangers of DRM. Nor am I naive enough to believe that no independent creative would steal from another indie creative. But on the overall topic of font theft and disrespect, I’ll say this: No warez kid you stop from stealing your typefaces would ever pay for any of your typefaces anyway, regardless of how you deliver it. Period. Once you accept that, it makes the rest of these obvious points all the more painful to watch unfold.

Davis admits there are some “minor flaws” in the system. For instance:

1) Incompatibility with existing type managers
2) No collecting for output/archiving
3) No embedding in PDFs (or other file formats).

Are you shitting me? These are all show stoppers, but Davis rambles on and on, justifying them and offering up “solutions”. For instance, he plans on releasing his own Type Management tool to handle his crippled bastard type collection. Is each font vendor supposed to do this as well? As Ars points out in their comprehensive review of all of them, it’s VERY hard to do this chore well. Extensis has only been trying it for 15 years, but I’m sure Davis can crank a nice one out in a couple weeks- then again, once leopard ships. Aside from the obvious flaw in this line of thinking, many production environments are pretty tightly tested and locked down, and I don’t see them being very eager to rollout a slew of crappy little tools to support whiny font makers.

More infuriating than Davis’s flippant disregard for production workflows, his the constant backpatting throughout his little speech, littering it with claims like “bold and revolutionary”. I suppose it is certainly bold, but christ man, an iPhone it’s not.

Crippling your product and making your customers change their practice to suit your needs is certainly not new, let alone revolutionary. Big Media has been trying it for years, and we see how wel that’s working out. The really tragic aspect to this is that had he sat down and thought about the issue from a big picture perspective, looking at his users, he could have implemented some revolutionary changes to the industry, rather than vomitting up some rootkit like DRM-shitwrapper.

Let’s think about fonts and how they get purchased. Joe AD typically has a collection of typefaces his studio/agency owns, and that works most of the time. But for those special jobs, a special typeface may be in order, and he shops around online and whips out his Amex when he finds the indie type that fits his and his clients needs. He buys a copy,maybe more if othes are working on it right now with him, and moves on. It’s not uncommon, despite what the EULA may say, to pass this font on for output, and to archive it up on the server or optical media when the job is complete- if years pass and the agency needs that piece for a new business pitch, the assets are all right there.

Now, let’s dig deeper and put on our Bold and Revolutionary hats.

What other asset is treated similar to this? And can easily be stolen, but rarely is, mainly out of fear that your studio will get their face sued off if you violate the liscensing terms? Stock Photos.

Chuck, or smarter people like him in that line of work, might want to look to thatmodel in the future. It could simplify things as well as be more lucrative. The one man shop doing a band poster for a local band can liscense it out for $15 that use, whereas if Landor or DDB or whatever wants to make a typeface the star of a national/global campaign- and put it in 200 seats in the process (plus vendors) you can charge them hundreds of thousands. Hey, that seems cooler than $145 or whatever you’re getting now.

Yes, a model like this would mean the font houses would have to retool their sales force a bit, but so what? If it’s so obvious the industry needs changes made, shouldn’t the few type houses be the ones to be incoinvienced and have growing pains headaches, not the hundreds of thousands of creative professional and people in production enviroments?

Or, you could always have a little faith that only assholes would steal fonts from an indie fonthouse. And it’s not worth pissing off awesome customers due to a few assholes you don’t care about.

Either way, my guess is the revenus Davis seems to love so much will dry up as a result of the design community blogging and ranting about this mistake on a messageboard, and the open letter will quietly disappear – along with the ill-fated DRM installer.

Robb Irrgang said,

March 21, 2007 @ 6:52 pm

DRM isn’t a solution to anything. The iTunes revolt and Jobs’ open letter to the RIAA are evidence of this. As we’re finally getting proof of the stupidity of the DRM-based music sales, a small font foundry decides to take a stab at doing the same to the typographic industry. To paraphrase the Guiness commercials, BRILLIANT!

Any half-decent design shop or ad agency with an average billing rate can bill the client for the typeface by adding one hour to the bill. This is not the time for DRM… It’s the time for creative industries to man up and show some decency to type designers.

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