Font licensing is ill, please help heal it

Font licensing is ill, please help heal it

For some years now I’ve been baffled by the desktop vs. web font licensing, but for the better part of those years I thought and hoped things will turn around.

Instead, it’s 2020 and things are getting worse, sellers are adopting without questioning the same nonsensical model, so I’m finally writing this.

Desktop fonts pricing

For desktop variants, fonts can be used in an unlimited amount of projects and some are even used in television and streaming for series and movie titles, a type of project usually including bigger budget and profitability.

Yet desktop fonts have a fixed one-time payment price and nobody has to pay per project or pay additional licensing fees if the project becomes successful and surpasses a certain number of readers or viewers. Please keep that in mind while I mention webfonts.

Web fonts pricing

It’s very hard to find a shop or marketplace where web fonts are not priced per domain and/or per number of pageviews. The strategy or reason this pricing was based on remains a mystery. With such a big discrepancy between essentially 2 formats of the same font, the decision for this pricing seems to be based solely on “we can’t limit desktop, let’s get money from where we can”.

I wonder why nobody thought of properly pricing desktop based on value it brings, rather than compensating the low desktop price from the web price, the case where fonts bring by far the least value compared to all other mediums. It seems that many times type designers themselves don’t know which formats of their typefaces are used, and after a longer discussion with some of them in which I was shocked to find out that they thought logos on websites use webfonts, I decided to write an article about different font formats and their use.

For desktop, the value is immensely greater than for web. While for graphic, print or TV/media the value is the design itself and so the font plays a most important role, on the web visitors come for content and information, not for the font it’s rendered in. Current pricing is exactly inverse proportional to the value brought by the font.

All these web restrictions really do is to greatly limit the sales and the use of premium webfonts, and no one wins in this situation.

Rethinking licensing and target buyers

I wish foundries and font authors reconsidered this, and replace with something more logical and better targeted. In their quest for big companies buying their product, they’re ignoring and shutting down on a huge target buyer category: web designers.

In a bit of irony, the very clients they’re seeking (big companies and big budgets) started creating their own custom fonts, as a more convenient alternative than paying big subscriptions and the bonus perk of having something uniquely tailored for them. The most well know example is IBM, which created the IBM Plex font family and released it as open source. Many re-brandings started including a custom font.

Unlimited pageviews costs thousands of dollars, and the biggest price tag I found for a webfont version of a typeface was actually 35000 euros. This cost is absolutely ridiculous, and it’s actually cheaper to commission a custom typeface.

Very simplistically put:

Desktopthe purpose is design (movies, magazines, logo/branding, merchandise etc.), so typography plays a key role and brings immense value

mostly paid work, or profitable projects
one-time payment
unlimited projects
small price
Webpeople visit websites for information they’re interested in, not design and not the font in which text is rendered in

the vast majority of websites are not commercial projects
pay per domain and/or pageviews
exponentially increasing price

It’s hard to argue with that kind of “logic”…

Using pageviews as a unit of measure for profit is wrong. Bigger scale doesn’t mean money. A non-profit organization can have a lot of pageviews, but zero revenue. Same goes for personal/presentation websites and many other types.

The desktop variant usually costs less or the same as the smallest webfont price, while the web variant quickly jumps to hundreds and thousands of dollars.

There’s also the website performance issue. To count pageviews some sellers require loading scripts or css or some other external resource on your website. Webfonts should be only self hosted, with maybe cdn options as a beginner-friendly alternative. Otherwise for me as web designer trading a few performance points for having a webfont it’s not worth it.

And imagine this: doing client work and adding a font paid by pageviews. What am I suppose to say to the client? “Please let me know when you reach X pageviews so I can update the license and charge you again?”

One last argument:

There is no extra work in converting a desktop font to web format

It takes 2 seconds to use a conversion tool. So nothing justifies the current situation.

If you can, please help fix the license model and bring it to the logic side!

Thank you for bearing with me on this one.

— Alina