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I'd just like to point out that it costs upwards of $1 million USD to design and implement a serious Unicode font from scratch (full TT hinting, all styles/weights, multiple glyph sets). So keep that in mind when referring to licensing fees. The license cost compared to the cost of production is very, very small.

Focusing on the high cost of providing a complex product can be dangerous. The theory of disruptive innovation is that many products are overly complex and priced too high.

As Clayton Christensen put it, "[D]isruptive innovations ... offered less of what customers in established markets wanted and so could rarely be initially employed there. They offered a different package of attributes valued only in emerging markets remote from, and unimportant to, the mainstream." [1]

In this case, a serious Unicode font with full TT hinting, all styles/weights, multiple glyph sets is seriously over-serving the needs of the mobile app market. I am currently building a mobile app that uses beautiful typography, and open fonts are working wonderfully for me. I don't need any of the extra font features you mentioned; I don't even need bold and italics versions of my fonts for my apps.

This form of disruption is called "low-end disruption" and "targets customers who do not need the full performance valued by customers at the high end of the market." [2] Open fonts very much fit that description, and their growth trajectory suggests that they will serve that role well.

Over time, the high-end market players tend to get eaten alive by an innovative low-end disruptor who upgrade their offerings and price points. For examples, see Nucor in steel and Toyota in cars.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_innovation#The_theor...

[2] Christensen, Clayton M. (2003). The Innovator's Solution : Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth

It is more like 20–50k in average, 100–200k for high end fonts from the biggest foundries. I single handedly made an Arabic typeface, 4 styles, ~5000 glyph each (that is perceived by many as a high quality font) over the course of 4 years as a side project most of time. Type design is hard, but making good fonts is no harder that writing good software, it is just a niché market with relatively few professionals.

Can you help me understand that cost?

I'm having trouble imagining 10 people getting paid $100k/year, working full-time for a year on a font. The Ubuntu font family is a serious font, it includes 13 fonts covering 1200 glyphes and 200-250 languages. It took about a year to develop. While 10 people might have worked on it in total, it would have been done in phases, not 10 people for a full year. Maybe Canonical did pay a million dollars... did they?

The Ubuntu font includes Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic glyphs. The website says Arabic and Hebrew are TBA. Then you have other glyphs such as Thai, not to mention CJK. You're assuming 10ppl/$100k, but the company also needs to make a profit. The font work is usually done in phases, obviously delivering base Latin first and other glyphs/weights are added later. I can't speak to how detailed the hinting is in the Ubuntu font, but that requires lots of tedious work if you need to be able to display/render the font at very small font sizes.

edit: Wikipedia also contains this regarding Dalton Maag, the foundry which created the Ubuntu font:

"In July 2012 the Rio 2016 Olympic Games released their brand font created by Dalton Maag. It was based on the letters and numbers within the logo already created by Brazilian design agency, Tátil.[11] The typeface took eight months to create and comprises 5448 characters. The design work was mainly done by Dalton Maag’s Brazilian office, which worked with the London team during the font engineering stage, and also with Brazilian consultant Gustavo Soares, who worked as the technical interface between Dalton Maag and the Rio 2016 team."

There's an example of a typeface built over 8 months using two teams in two countries.

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