Funding Quad’s development

In @mbutterick’s recent email summarizing the results of his MB Type survey, he mentions that he remains “as flummoxed as anyone about how to fund” the open-source development of Quad.

I propose that we use this thread to brainstorm options. Some questions / topics to get us started:

  1. In the same email, Matthew mentions that he tried to “tax” his font library, but it was insufficient.
  2. Matthew also mentions that he won’t consider Patreon or Kickstarter and that he would need “larger supporters who want to place a bet on an alternative to Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign and the rest.”
  3. Matthew, are you willing to share the scale of funding that you see to be necessary?
  4. Perhaps Matthew, or a team of developers led by Matthew, could apply for an open-source software grant, if an appropriate opportunity exists. For instance, I’ve seen software-related grant opportunities focused on scholarly communication — something that Pollen+Quad could probably help improve in a variety of ways.

I’d be grateful for this community’s insights on how to move this project forward.

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taxing the font library: IOW I have done what nearly all open-source developers do, which is put in time for free — though whether you characterize this as work that is subsidized by your other paid work (aka a tax), or a commitment of your otherwise free time (aka a hobby) is entirely up to you :joy:

Patreon or Kickstarter: I have a longstanding aversion to these systems.

scale of funding: to take Quad to the next level, I’d suppose it’s probably $200–600K of my time, of which I’d be willing to fund half, so $100–300K from other sources.

open-source software grant: possible, though IIUC these tend to be smallish and oriented toward existing projects that have demonstrated value. What I’m talking about here is probably more akin to startup-style funding for open source, which is frankly something that has never existed, so I am realistic about the chances here.

The other wrinkle is that systems like Quad already exist in the proprietary-software world. The US Supreme Court, for instance, seems to use a system called OASYS. IOW, if you have money to spend and need this kind of software, you already have (non-open-source) options. So why would you fund Quad?

Anyhow, that’s not to express pessimism, but just to explain how I end up being “flummoxed” by the question, and I continue to welcome contasting proposals.

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Thank you, Matthew.

Are you averse to all crowdfunding or to only the prominent crowdfunding platforms, as they’re currently designed? I ask because the specific issues that you raise in your article don’t apply to you & Quad. We know that your project is serious, and we know that it has merit.

Given that over a thousand people answered your MB Type survey, and that all of them spent at least ~$100 on your fonts (I assume), is it unreasonable to expect that you could find at least 1,000 people willing to contribute an average of $100 each?

Just curious: Besides OASYS and the other common ones (Word, InDesign, etc.), are you aware of any other proprietary systems like Quad?

I appreciate your optimism, but I doubt the conjecture. The fonts are usable by anyone on any platform. There is a much smaller audience for a programmatic layout tool. (I can believe that there would be a bigger audience for Quad if the engine were baked into some desktop GUI editor, but that’s yet another layer of complexity).

Before the rise of desktop computing in the 1980s, this is the only kind of layout tool that existed. So in addition to TeX & LaTeX, there was PUB, troff & groff, Scribe, et al. Since then, FrameMaker, Arbortext, PrinceXML, OASYS, and custom systems (e.g., I have been told that RR Donnelley builds them for, say, banks and credit-card companies). WordPerfect has always straddled the line, since it is primarily GUI but you can always drop into the markup (with the “Reveal Codes” feature).

One of the reasons I think this GUI-free mode of document layout is poised to make a comeback is because we are in the midst of a generational shift: markup-driven layout (esp. via HTML and Markdown) is increasingly part of the native toolset of those who start using computers. In the future, these folks will take jobs where they’re asked to use GUI tools like MS Word or Powerpoint. They will feel, correctly, that it’s the stupidest possible way of making certain categories of documents.


BTW another way of “funding” development is by spreading the labor among multiple collaborators. Though this is ostensibly a benefit of open-source development, I’ve always found the reality to be more constrained. In general, outside of exceptionally immense projects like Rust, most open-source projects — even big ones — rely primarily on the ongoing labor of one or two founding contributors.

Indeed, I think many open-source maintainers find there is a very long part of the scaling curve where your project is popular enough to attract people who have labor-increasing requests (e.g., bugs to be fixed, features to be added) but not popular enough to attract labor-decreasing resources (e.g,. people who want to dig into the codebase and make contributions).

For instance, I often hear from LaTeX users who are desperate for someone to alleviate their agony by developing a LaTeX replacement. Is it possible? Sure. “Well MB, why don’t you just do that?” I could, but then I would literally spend the rest of my life doing free tech support.

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