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Weblog Entry

Free Icons

February 22, 2011
Chalkwork Icons

I’ve decided to slap a Creative Commons license on the entire darn Chalkwork Family and make them completely free for personal use, starting right now.

I’ve been considering doing this for quite a while. These icons represent a lot of hard work for me between 2006 and 2009, so you can imagine I’ve thought through the implications of making them available for free download without a pay barrier: will people use them commercially and not pay? Will they abuse the license terms? Will some redistribute them elsewhere? Will they modify them and claim them as their own?

The answer to each of those questions is, inevitably, yes. I’ve been on the web long enough to know that no matter what you intend to happen, someone will always find a way to do the complete opposite of that sooner or later. But you know what? I can live with that.

I’m of the opinion that DRM and increasingly consumer-hostile content protection laws are kludgy ways of protecting outdated business models. By offering a product for download, I’ve effectively been treating the pay barrier as a form of copy-protection all along. Which has worked well enough for my purposes, but if I’m being honest with myself I don’t think I really need that protection.

People who appreciate your work do the right thing. Just as those who download music are more inclined to buy it, my bet is that those who download these icons for personal use may one day come back and pay for commercial use. If they don’t, were they ever likely to buy them in the first place? I doubt it.

It’s not all philosophy and rhetoric, I’m genuinely curious to see what happens next with the commercial sales since they’ve been on a steady decline over the years. I tried an AdWords campaign for a while, but that didn’t do much to reverse the trend. Will opening them up under a free license provide an extra boost? Maybe, but then maybe I just killed all future sales. Hard to say.

Most of the money I was ever going to make happened at the beginning, the long tail isn’t proving that profitable. Sales over the years have at least paid for the time I spent creating the family so I’m happy with the overall return, but there’s clearly not much left to lose now so I’m willing to experiment a little.

Share and enjoy.

Note: if you’re having trouble downloading the full files, it’s not just you. Downloads appear to be getting cut off halfway through. Lots of data transfer is making weird things happen; I’m looking into it.

February 22, 16h

Probably a good choice considering the point you made about music. If people download these icons now that they’re free, and they find themselves considering them for a client project, they’re more likely to come back and buy a license than they were without getting them for free for personal use.

Regardless, thanks for making these available. I’m not sure I’ll use them myself, but it’s always nice to have another set of quality icons ready to download at will.

Dave S. says:
February 22, 16h

@Patrick - that’s pretty much my thinking too. We’ll see what happens, that scenario means any sales boost would likely happen over the long haul, not immediately.

Jonas says:
February 23, 00h

Thank you so much! I love these icons.

February 23, 01h

Wow, that is a bold move. As one of your customers I really appreciate it. This is a step in the right direction.

Ted Goas says:
February 23, 07h

“my bet is that those who download these icons for personal use may one day come back and pay for commercial use. If they don’t, were they ever likely to buy them in the first place? I doubt it.”

Spot on! I find myself in this camp often for music, software, and (perhaps now) icons.

I’m interested to see what comes of the move.

February 23, 15h

Interesting that you equate personal with non-commercial. I work with web-projects at a large public (non-profit) university (in Brazil), can I use them?

March 01, 02h

Thanks a lot mate. These are my favorite alongside famfamfam :)

March 07, 00h

I think this is a bold and wise move, and I admire your decision as this very excellent icon set has clearly cost you a lot of work and time.

I agree on your position that DRM in general is becoming increasingly user-unfriendly, and am also of the view that this method of providing high-quality content for free personal use with the aim/hope that this will encourage users to pay for commercial use (or may lead to commissions) is the way forward for work like this.

Kudos, sir.

Vekta says:
March 07, 15h

That’s a really nice set of icons and glad to hear you’ve made something back for all your hard work. I feel you’ve made a good decision to offer them as a free download for personal use as designers will use them in mock-ups and if their clients like them, then they will include commercial use costs within the budget. Personally I tend to use online stock photo libraries and happy knowing that a percentage of each sale goes back to the designer. If you need my help in selling these to a wide audience, please do not hesitate to contact me.