May 6, 2005 at 3:40 pm / Fontleech
What is the commercial typeface industry doing right? What is it doing wrong?
I have a hard time seeing a “commercial typeface industry”. What I see are a loose constellation of foundries, some of them with established histories stretching back to the dawn of print, some of them more recently dominant, most of them one or two people doing client work and trying to scrape by. All of them are subject to the extreme changes rippling through all media, and all are struggling more or less to keep up.
What they’re good at is making high-quality typefaces. I think the last 20 years have seen a revival of quality typecraft, mostly thanks to Adobe, the likes of which haven’t been seen for a few hundred years. We have a huge variety of solid text faces to choose from, Veer seems to come up with entire new collections of bizarre (and sometimes even useful) display faces on a weekly basis, and just about every typeface has two or three variations.
I think type designers have learned to think in terms of systems, which has been a benefit to graphic designers. Even serif text faces often come in a range of weights, with extended and condensed variants. Disciplined designers can pick and choose from the various weights and do really interesting things with them.
Also, I think relatively speaking, quality fonts are pretty cheap for what you get. Pricing is a crapshoot, with some foundries being completely unreasonable, and others basically giving away their best work, but overall I think putting together a solid repertoire of typefaces is at least as cheap as it’s ever been.
On the flip side, shopping for type is a nightmare. Veer, Linotype, and Fontshop all have clean and user-friendly sites. Adobe and MyFonts are sparer but still functional. Agfa-Monotype (fonts.com) and most of the smaller foundries will have to settle for being functional. However, the level of overlap between them is just enough that you can never tell who’s reselling whose design, and each site has enough in the way of exclusives that you have to poke around all of them if you’re trying to find something rare.
The licensing issue is a nightmare, too: I think foundries need to come up with a standard EULA, and bring it more into sync with current copyright law. I don’t want to rehash what we went over last week, but after carefully reading House Industries’ EULA (among others), I think shelling out $500 for Neutraface and Neutraface Condensed would entitle me to install the fonts on my machine and, uh, look at them. Anything you might actually want to use a typeface for (ads, magazines, books) requires further clearance from the company, and that’s dumb. If on the one hand type designs deserve better copyright protection, on the other they need to behave more like other copyrighted design elements, like royalty-free photos.
The big foundries need to take a cue from the smaller designers and stop jerking customers around with OpenType (and any font formats that come after it). This January I bought the Czech Type Library from Stormtype in Type 1 format. A couple months later, Stormtype brought out the same library in OpenType format. When I wrote them to ask how I could upgrade to the OpenType version (because I hate dealing with expert fonts, Small Caps / OSF fonts, etc), they sent me the library in OpenType format for free. I don’t expect that level of support (although it’s sure nice), but the larger foundries seem to take for granted that we’ll all pony up the retail amount to buy “Pro” OpenType versions of fonts we already have.
And, overall, I think everyone involved in making money from type needs to rethink how fonts are distributed and used. The more I get into type, the more I realize that previewing a font onscreen is only useful if I’m intending to display that font onscreen. Foundries have to come up with better ways to allow designers to get a feel for how their products work in print, whether that’s PDF specimens, more extensive print catalogs, or some kind of trial use program like we were discussing last week. A talented designer no longer has to buy very many fonts, what with what gets bundled with the operating system and production graphics packages like Adobe CS. Foundries are only going to have to work harder to catch peoples’ attentions. For a while, fonts were mass-market goods, but thanks to free fonts, rampant piracy, and wholesale bundling, I think they’re firmly back in their niche now. Foundries: try harder!
This post is fairly relevent. http://blog.fawny.org/2005/03/15/sxsw2005-15a/
i’m looking for corporate font
and yours are excellent!
Doesn’t it just speak volumes how few have anything positive to say? Does it fall to this critic of industry attitude and behavior to provide them any significant defense beyond Forrest’s? Is anyone in the industry listening? Are any willing to improve their reputation?
Whatever. Here are some favorable examples.
Although David Nalle of Scriptorium has made himself persona non grata with many in the font community for leadership in shutting down font groups and whining about piracy starving his children (just before he took the family on an extended European tour on income he derives primarily from font design and sales), he is — giving full credit where it is due — doing a remarkable number of things “right.” As a result, he is making what appears to be a successful full-time living from designing and selling fonts, and even more incredibly, primarily into the home user community. Here are some of the reasons:
(1) Energy. He is not trying to make a living on one new font design every two or three years. He produces more like one or two per quarter. Some have criticized his work as of lower quality and technically flawed, unsuitable for commercial work (fonts hang on typesetting machines?) — but it has also been praised by Luc Devroye as wondrous at his WEB site. My point is that he is producing the numbers of product good business sense dictates is necessary to survive and thrive, not lecturing the world why he should be permitted to make more doing less work. I think his library is 500 or more faces and growing. I doubt even his biggest critics would attempt to label him lazy. Unless he has 30 clones assisting him, he must be a relentless blur of focused activity on the job. (Yes, there are other prolific designers; please don’t misread my mentioning only Mr. Nalle as any kind of a slam against them. Many will be more beloved than my example. I’m only afraid if I start listing the Nicks, Rays, Nates, and others, I will still leave out somebody who richly deserves praise.)
(2) Reasonable prices on two levels. Single font sales are often as little as $10, which anyone can afford if they are hot for one of his designs. (Note: compare prices wily fellow sells for at MyFonts and his own site.) Better, if you’re really eager, he offers his entire collection on a CD for around $1 a font, sensibly recognizing that no one who buys 500 or more fonts is going to be using them all, all the time. Really, really smart.
(3) He has released a crippleware demo of almost every one of his fonts. So, if you want to preview or try out a face, you can do so for free. New ones appear regularly at his WEB site; older demos may be available at shareware sites. Yeah, these may be missing a vowel, a period, or a popular consonant — but I believe that by satisfying sampling needs this way, he boosts sales and reduces piracy.
(4) Mr. Nalle is probably not the very best type artist working, nor the very best marketer in fonts. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he were the best combination of both in one person. And that pays off. I think all foundries of any size could learn and profit from his positive attributes. He doesn’t seem to have any difficulty being both artist and businessman.
Licensing exemplar: Canada Type is a commercially-oriented kind of botique foundry. Their prices, while not as low as Scriptorium’s, are affordable by a home user enamored of their work — and a steal of a deal for commercial work. One $20 face may be used for any purpose in any quantity — no tiered pricing. T-shirts, books, magazines, newspapers, etc. (Again, there may well be many others whose terms are similar I did not mention. They deserve your trade, too.)
Professor Harold Lohner’s site offers a great many (maybe half?) of his classy designs for free download, and extremely attractive prices for collections for those who don’t want to bother downloading the free fonts one-by-one, and discounted collections of his commercial faces. He also offers some crippleware demos of his commercial faces. Really impressive. Here’s somebody who knows how to build customer goodwill. Very deserving of patronage.
A nod of appreciation to all the foundries who have permitted the Identifont guy to display sample pictures of their fonts at his WEB site. (A phfft! raspberry to all who force him to post font names with the “picture not available” legend.) Identifont is a really great tool. Applause to all who support it.
A hearty “thank you!” to the distributors and founders who give away sample fonts.
I’ve already opinioned elsewhere that most of the “preview” features at dealer and foundry sites are pretty lousy. Some exceptions which are less lousy: The Linotype preview lets you see more than one line at a time, and in clear, sharp, unobscured dark type. The MyFonts gives you sharp dark type, too, but only a line or part of a line. If anybody permits a one-screen small paragraph preview, God bless you. I don’t know who you are.
Here’s something quite a few are doing: It is becoming more common to provide the name and date of the original historic font inspiring somebody’s new version, and the names of the original and reviving designers, at WEB sites and in catalogs. I like that. Surprisingly, some WEB sites list designer as unknown; but you can visit another source for the same foundry’s font and there find the name and date of the original designer.
Kudos to any who sell by design, that is, if you buy it you get all versions available — TrueType, PostScript, and OpenType — for one price.
One thing many do well is provide interesting content about type and typography on their WEB sites. Designer biographies, layout advice. These are good things.
I did not include any URLs, thinking all these sites were either well-known or just a Google search away. If feedback favors including URLs in future posts, and Commissioner Gordon shines the Saint light onto the clouds over Gotham, I’ll take note.
If anybody permits a one-screen small paragraph preview, God bless you. I don’t know who you are.
There are a few, but not many. See FontShop and the amazing renderer at OurType which allows you to change point size and weight within the paragraph.
saint claude of garamond thanks for telling us about canada type. i didn’t know about them. i will buy jojo and adore as soon as i get a project for them!
i also use scriptorium fonts. sometimes I have some problems with them but nothing i can’t fix myself.
other foundries i like are nicks fonts and blue vinyl and font diner.
i am a web designer and buy fonts all the time. what i don’t understand is why some foundries price their fonts so expensively. designers dont make so much money so why are they expected to pay $40 for one font or hundreds of dollars for some font families? some font designers told me i can bill their fonts to my clients but isn’t expensive for me also expensive for my clients?
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