Tuesday July 14, 2020
I am, unfortunately, becoming a person who cares about typography. This means I’ve started to look into buying some professional fonts. Should be easy, right? Pick a font you like, pay some money for it, use it. Ah, if only. Welcome to the particular hell that is font licensing.
My requirements feel like they should be simple:
- I want to make a one time purchase, instead of a subscription.
- I do not want to have to have analytics on my websites.
- I do not want to pay thousands of dollars for a single font.
This immediately rules out any font owned by Adobe, since they are only available via a subscription to TypeKit. That’s a pretty large collection of fonts, since Adobe seems to be gobbling up a lot of the font market, but maybe we can look at some independent foundries — hopefully they’ll be better?
I looked at ~25 different “independent” type foundries, and all but three of them had pageview restrictions on their fonts — that is, you buy a license for a given number of pageviews per month, and if you exceed that number, you need to buy a larger license. Many of these foundries didn’t offer an “unlimited” option at all, forcing me to use analytics on my websites to ensure that I remain in compliance with the license. The foundries that do provide unlimited licenses typically charge many thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for them, well outside of my price range.
I’m really curious how this happened — paying for a per-pageview license seems to be the industry standard, and it makes sense as a way of segmenting the market, but it seems both unintuitive It’s a completely different paradigm from, for instance, buying a font license for use in a book, where the number of copies you’re planning to make with it doesn’t typically factor into the license at all. and inefficient — pageviews are worth vastly different amounts to different organizations — why not segment the market in a way based more directly on the amount they can pay?
It makes me sad that font licenses are typically so unfriendly to individuals — I think that font designers do important work, and I want to pay them for the right to use better fonts on my websites, but the structure of the market makes this almost impossible. It’s definitely possible to get custom license terms from smaller foundries, I’ve emailed a few of the foundries that don’t provide unlimited licenses to ask if they would consider offering them, so that I don’t have to add analytics, and I’m hopeful that will work out. but I wish there were licenses that were more person-friendly available by default.
I don’t want to just complain and not offer solutions, so here are a few varyingly unconventional licenses that strike me as more person-friendly, while also allowing foundries to make money off of organizations that can afford to pay:
- Noncommercial license: This is simple and has a well-defined legal meaning, but I haven’t seen any foundry offer this as a standard option. I’m not sure why.
- Natural person license: You can only get this if you are a natural person who also owns the domain that the font will be used on. Very simple way to be friendly to individuals while still extracting money from corporations.
- Revenue stratified: If you have more revenue, you pay more. Probably wouldn’t work well in a world where startups typically have negative revenue but lots of money.
- Website-size stratified: You buy a license for the maximum full page load size (including assets) of any web page that the font is used on. Incentivizes being a good citizen of the web, and most large organizations have demonstrated that they are incapable of making small webpages.
I don’t seriously expect any foundry to change their policies based off of this — I doubt that personal sales of fonts are worth enough for the lawyer-time required to draft up new licenses. But I do wish that it was easier to buy a font as an individual.
If you’d like to buy some fonts, MB Type, DSType, Connary Fagen, and Dalton Maag all seem to have reasonable license terms for individuals. For noncommercial use, Pangram Pangram has many fonts freely avilable for personal use, and has a “Starter Pack” of many of their paid fonts for personal use for $25. I also reached out to Okay Type, and they seemed willing to make special arrangements to allow me to purchase fonts without adding analytics, so that route can definitely work as well.