Should we make them choose their own fonts?

Chris Rugen's picture

Forgive me if this topic has already been discussed to death before...

There have been a lot of dicussions on Typophile recently that have made me wonder: what would the type industry be like, and what would the public perception of type and typography be, if standard fonts packages were not bundled with operating systems software or word processing software?* (aside from system fonts, of course)

*I believe someone recently mentioned a country where font bundling with OSes is, in fact, illegal.

Just last Friday, I educated a coworker on the wonderful world of fonts, what the actual differences were between fonts like Garamond and Times, and why they cost "so much money," as she put it. After describing all of the basic design and technological components, she completely understood. She also wholeheartedly agreed that people would be much more generally aware, if, instead of receiving a pre-fab fonts package with their software, they were offered the opportunity to choose, say 50 fonts from a larger list. She also said that she would prefer this method.

In my mind, I see the result being a totally different dynamic between the public, and type designers, and their distributors, wherein consumers expect to pay for quality, and are aware that fonts are a consumable good that can help or harm their work, much like a computer, or a piece of software, or a car, or a printer. This would stand in contrast to the current situation, where many people don't even consider fonts to be the work of people, let alone an achievement requiring skill and time. I'd also imagine that this awareness and subsequent attention to a largely rarified and ignored market would drive demand up and prices down. This could also popularize the notion of buying fonts for specific purposes, much like we buy outfits for particular purposes. Of course, the attendant curses of piracy, fads, and pop-culture homogeneity could overrun any positives, I suppose.

Computers and software (and, in a way, the typewriter) have reinforced the idea of fonts as small features of word processing and typing, rather than significant expressive and communicative devices. The OS and software developers remove the necessity of choice, and perpetuate (to some extent) the belief that people don't buy and choose fonts, they select them from menus dictated by software companies. The web completes this triangle of perception by reinforcing the idea that fonts are available for free and commonly exchanged. Would removing fonts from the equation solve some of these problems? Ironically, because of these groups and devices, we are in a unique place in history where the means to output typeset (I use the term loosely) materials are accessible to many at a much lower point of entry, in both price and complexity. Is this an opportunity for positive development, or is this a pipe dream? (ignoring, for a moment, the logistics of changing the current system)

I'm eager to hear more experienced perspectives on this situation, which has been the standard for me throughout my design education and career. I'm particularly interested by the opinions of those of you running your own smaller type businesses.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Nick claims that font bundling with OSes and applications is illegal in Canada. I believe that his interpretation of the relevant law is more than a little suspect. He seems to think that bundling software together is legally the same as giving some of the pieces away for free. I suggest that's a question for lawyers and courts, but I am unaware of any cases relating to that Canadian law which support Nick's interpretation.

In any case, the main problem with giving users a choice of fonts is that it means another variable that you've introduced that makes everybody's setups different. Even though you and I are both using "only what came with the computer" we will have different sets of fonts. From the point of view of diversity that's great, but it makes it harder for us to work together. It also means tons more testing and development for the folks selling the OS/apps, and increases their support costs.

I like the idea personally, but I suspect that app/OS developers are unlikely to take the route to that extreme any time soon.

On the other hand, I can easily imagine with a situation like the Adobe Creative Suite, where you had a choice of "registration incentives" and one of them was a font family, one could offer a choice of several different families instead. Not quite as extreme, but still plays on the same theme.

Regards,

T

Giampa's picture

Tomas,

He seems to think that bundling software together is legally the same as giving some of the pieces away for free. I suggest that's a question for lawyers and courts, but I am unaware of any cases relating to that Canadian law which support Nick's interpretation.

Font specific, no, not yet. But "giving" and "tied products" are both damaging to competition, and in summary could be considered "dumping". All which are founded in Canadian law. Apparently American and European law also.

One law which may be of interest to Nick is "Canadian Content in Broadcasting". Particularly of interest now that the delivery systems come over satellites and cable. Or more commonly understood as "internet".

What may be a problem for Nick however, I can not see anyway he would personally profit from pursuing these lines.

Since my company is in Finland it is of no interest to me. What is of concern over hear is this. The EU consumer laws. Customers can return goods "two years after purchase no questions asked". That could pose some difficulty with the "software upgrade path"

Giampa's picture

Thomas,

Sorry, I have trouble spelling your name. Past friendships. Again I am sorry.

rs_donsata's picture

Maybe the fonts could be optionally chosen online and downloaded after the instalation.

Nick Shinn's picture

>Is this an opportunity for positive development, or is this a pipe dream?

Chris, new technology offers the opportunity for all kinds of change, and the coming of digital media would seem to lead to a decentralization and democratization of power and wealth. However, it's a battle that large corporate interests (even if they started out small) always seem to end up winning.

I would love to challenge Adobe and Apple in court, because the way I see it, the situation is hugely unfair, and there are laws against unfair business practices. Here I am, trying to sell fonts to people who have already been supplied, free of charge, with a large selection along with their operating system and major software applications. But really Thomas, easy for you to say this is a matter for lawyers and courts, but what a waste of time and money it would be for me to test the legality of this practice in court.

Leaving aside the amateur or prosumer market for now, my potential customers are design professionals who, by and large (ie 95%) use Apple computers and Adobe software. These software giants are, to all intents and purposes, and notwithstanding Corel and web designers on Wintel, monopolists. So when they bundle fonts, everyone gets them.
I'm very familiar with their customer, because before I started my foundry in 1999, I was one of them (an art director). From 1989 to about 1993, I bought a lot of fonts. Then, Quark and Adobe started releasing their major upgrades on CD, and Adobe started bundling large numbers of fonts on the CDs.

As Pamela Pfiffner says in the Adobe book "Inside the Publishing Revolution", the early years of digital were a boom for Adobe font sales. But the boom levelled off as designers rounded out their font libraries, as more digital foundries entered the competition, as piracy and free fonts became widespread, facilitated by the Internet, and as, most significantly from my perspective as a font user, I was getting a large supply of fonts (spam, according to Gerald) from Adobe every time I upgraded Illustrator.

Bundling is continued with the CS, and Apple has upped its participation, with a large collection of fonts (not system fonts) that come with OS X.

The numbers involved are quite shocking in the disparity between what is acquired by the licensee and what is paid for.
A top selling "indie" typeface may perhaps sell, at a guess, a couple of thousand copies worldwide, during a year. However, every font included in an Adobe bundle is distributed by the million.

Historically, very few type designers have made much of a living at it. Now it's a bit better, but, compared to the potential of digital media, all those hundreds of millions of computer users as potential retail customers, the realization may be even smaller.

Perhaps I am wrong on this, as I have no data to support my claim, other than my own experience and observations, but I believe that the vast majority of independent foundries are able to exist thanks to custom work and niche markets of publications and corporations that require large multi-user licences, while the "retail" mass market of millions of graphic artists/designers does not support them. And of course, many independent foundries are also supported by the "other" work of their pricupal(s), such as graphic design.

There appear to be other niches that are profitable for indie foundries, genres such as pixel fonts, and scripts, but it's worth noting that these are genres that have little or no representation in the bundles from Adobe and Apple.

Giampa's picture

Actually, what is Adobe's spin on the situation? How do they justify it?

Nick Shinn's picture

Gerald, I think Thomas has, in a way, answered:

>I can easily imagine with a situation like the Adobe Creative Suite, where you had a choice of "registration incentives" and one of them was a font family, one could offer a choice of several different families instead.

What a brilliant idea, Thomas!
Rather than continuing to be an adversary, I offer you my support for such an initiative.



Chris Rugen's picture

To run with this notion...

I have a feeling that the "Type Designers and Foundries of the world" would be willing to shoulder the blame for "the decision no longer include a package of fonts with our software," considering they would become the immediate benefactors of such a decision. I mean, Quark doesn't come with any fonts, right? It's not an absolute must-have-to-stay-competitive kind of a feature.

The registration incentives that Thomas envisioned could be a way to start people off, but then they'd have to go and ::gasp:: buy any others they'd need. And it's not as though Adobe wouldn't be able to put a link to their own font library right on the registration site, so they'd have a leg-up on the competition, but wouldn't be "spamming" them out of the market.

Am I wrong?

(By the way, I'm not trying to target Adobe as the big evil monster of fonts. They're just the easiest example.)

Giampa's picture

Adobe is a good company with good people. They have done much for this industry and I hope they continue furthering that pursuit.

In spite of my sniping at Thomas I think he is a great guy. Family man, patient and good hearted.

But please don't tell him I said that.

Thomas Phinney's picture

I'll be careful not to mention it to him. :-)

T

union's picture

hey, you two have some kind of deal going here, when did all this good will start...hehehe

Giampa's picture

Jim,

At this time it would be innapropriate for either Thomas Phinney, of Adobe or, Gerald Giampa, of the Lanston Type Company to comment. All I can say is we at Lanston are delighted with this new arrangement.

I think you understand.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Of course, I can't comment on the rumors that Lanston is in discussions to purchase Adobe.

T

dezcom's picture

or that Adobe is a tax shelter for Hacienda :-)

DPape's picture

The thread of another thread is that free fonts are not bad per se but knockoffs are bad whether you give them away or sell them. Here you are saying the major players (software houses) shouldn't give away fonts because they also take away business you may get.

While it may appear that the bundled fonts have an impact on your income, the "Type Designers and Foundries of the World" can't control the font market.

(a. There are too many free fonts in the world,

(b. There are thousands of "too too similar for coincidence" fonts coming from every major or minor player (which I can't prove) or anyone who buys some $50 software product and

(c There will always be CD offers of 10,000 fonts for $10.

So, if I don't get it from Microsoft, Adobe or Corel, I'll pay $10 and get it myself, or pay nothing and get it off the web. In the end I'll have a fairly complete library of fonts and still bypass the font designer.

So, stop making new fonts for income as you can't protect the product. Give away your fonts so your design expertise is seen widely. Concentrate on your artwork -- that's where the money and protection is.

Fonts are not like music which has its RIAA because the RIAA enforces the end product of the musicians' efforts not the clefs, sharps, flats or notes. Have another musician record the same song and then give it away and it would be okay with RIAA. The law would do the same for you if I copied and distributed your artwork for instance -- it passes on the font and hangs me on the arrangement. All fonts should be free as they are only "the notes" to compose the music!

Another half thought, after all this time there must not be an original font design possible but at the most only tweaks! Thus to be gainfully working you have to make knockoffs... a terrible overstatement and a terrible dilemma.

ps: I don't know the economics of the Font Design Industry. Who buys? How much do they pay? How much does the Designer get? How many designers can live on their font sales? Does the Fonts-For-Purchase industry support the Sellers or the Designers? Making all fonts free would change this equation, but would the font designer lose all that much?

dezcom's picture

Thomas,
Sorry. It was a bad one, I know.

>or that Adobe is a tax shelter for Hacienda :-)<

"In my Adobe hacienda..."

:-)

hrant's picture

DPape on 30 Jun 2004 — 11:04pm:

The thread of another thread is that free fonts are not bad per se but knockoffs are bad whether you give them away or sell them. Here you are saying the major players (software houses) shouldn't give away fonts because they also take away business you may get.

While it may appear that the bundled fonts have an impact on your income, the "Type Designers and Foundries of the World" can't control the font market.

(a. There are too many free fonts in the world,

(b. There are thousands of "too too similar for coincidence" fonts coming from every major or minor player (which I can't prove) or anyone who buys some $50 software product and

(c There will always be CD offers of 10,000 fonts for $10.

So, if I don't get it from Microsoft, Adobe or Corel, I'll pay $10 and get it myself, or pay nothing and get it off the web. In the end I'll have a fairly complete library of fonts and still bypass the font designer.

So, stop making new fonts for income as you can't protect the product. Give away your fonts so your design expertise is seen widely. Concentrate on your artwork -- that's where the money and protection is.

Fonts are not like music which has its RIAA because the RIAA enforces the end product of the musicians' efforts not the clefs, sharps, flats or notes. Have another musician record the same song and then give it away and it would be okay with RIAA. The law would do the same for you if I copied and distributed your artwork for instance -- it passes on the font and hangs me on the arrangement. All fonts should be free as they are only "the notes" to compose the music!

Another half thought, after all this time there must not be an original font design possible but at the most only tweaks! Thus to be gainfully working you have to make knockoffs... a terrible overstatement and a terrible dilemma.

ps: I don't know the economics of the Font Design Industry. Who buys? How much do they pay? How much does the Designer get? How many designers can live on their font sales? Does the Fonts-For-Purchase industry support the Sellers or the Designers? Making all fonts free would change this equation, but would the font designer lose all that much?

Dick, I know it was a long time ago, so maybe you've changed your mind, but there are two specific things I'm wondering about:

stop making new fonts for income as you can't protect the product.

Do you think that being able to make money has an effect on the quality of the results?

Do you believe everybody pirates all the fonts they have?

Thus to be gainfully working you have to make knockoffs.

Does this mean anybody making money in type is a plagiarist?

No pressure to reply - I'm just curious.

hhp

quadibloc's picture

Corel, which bunndles a huge selection of Bitstream fonts with its products, is a Canadian company. And Microsoft Windows comes with fonts in Canada just as in the U.S..

An operating system can't function without a means of displaying text, and for GUI operating systems, that means fonts.

oobimichael's picture

Okay... what I am about to write no longer means anything in Canada, because this is my 2 cents worth: )

1. Fonts that come bundled with PC or Mac OS, are *mostly* non- to semi-professional in their utility... okay for personal correspondence to church newsletters (even Pope Benedict XVI's photobook is apparently being done in Comic Sans... seriously) [ http://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2013/03/07/vaticaan-doet-het-gewoon-comic-sans-... ]... but most folks certainly do not appreciate the art or communication subtleties of typography. But the folks who do appreciate having the correct tools for the correct objective absolutely find value in more professionally designed and marketed typefaces. Isn't this the 'low hanging fruit' of the market, and where type designers, graphic artists, and communication folks should focus their attention?

2. A couple of decades ago, I helped to set up what is called "technology transfer" infrastructures throughout the US (commercializing intellectual property throughout public and private stakeholders, from research labs to universities and corporations). So, a single piece of technology from a small lab in New Mexico (which was designed for a single and specific purpose, would be channeled through the tech transfer process to find MULTIPLE uses, and thus multiply its revenue). Following this example: if a font designer designs a font, and company A produces something which includes the design of the font (say, a logo), Company A is receiving revenues from its product, but the type designer is not... but it could, yes? Couldn't type designers, graphic artists, even basic human labor receive a percentage of the sale of the product, rather than a "token" exchange of value? Why have we all just accepted the notion that the resources necessary to produce a product are just tokens of value? We treat each other as tokens... and we treat the environment as tokens. But what is the REAL value of human labor, or of water, or a font?

Okay, time out...

hrant's picture

FWIW, I think the Core Fonts were great when they came out, as were the CT fonts when they came out... as they are to this day (except for Cambria, which rubs me the wrong way for some reason).

hhp

charles ellertson's picture

Following this example: if a font designer designs a font, and company A produces something which includes the design of the font (say, a logo), Company A is receiving revenues from its product, but the type designer is not... but it could, yes? Couldn't type designers, graphic artists, even basic human labor receive a percentage of the sale of the product, rather than a "token" exchange of value?

As I understand it, in the United States at least, a type face *design* cannot be copyright protected. A *font,* which is a particular software implementation of that design, can. So, it would seem that whether or not the type designer can receive revenues from the use of that logo, depends.

Chris Dean's picture

[to follow]

quadibloc's picture

@charles ellerston:
As I understand it, in the United States at least, a type face *design* cannot be copyright protected.

That was true, but now there is some limited protection for font designs in the U.S..

@DPape:
All fonts should be free as they are only "the notes" to compose the music!

That was the actual theory behind the poor protection of typeface designs in the U.S..

The alphabet isn't copyrighted, but just as a unique musical instrument can be patented, the characters of a font embody artistic uniqueness.

charles ellertson's picture

I wonder if that will fly. A better analogy might be plots in literature. Viewed one way, there aren't any new ones. Viewed another, depending on detail, there might be. In any case, if I recall correctly, court cases over plagiarism usually require more than the same plot.

As long as you're talking about a *font*, there is the computer program -- essentially, a set of instructions about "how to draw this shape."

If you're talking about *design* of letters, then you let in all the hand lettering down the years. The main reason we have so many "new" fonts nowadays is anyone with a computer & some relatively cheap software can take their hand-drawn letters and make type from it. Hard to be precise about what's new & what's derivative. Also hard to judge how much society wants to protect what's been judged essentially derivative. Why lawyers & other salesmen get the big bucks, I suppose.

hrant's picture

It's been flying for a while, but it's not copyright, it's Design Patent. Adobe has been making it fly for them for a while, but as with any other type of patent it's open to abuse, since the US government: doesn't want to keep businesses waiting while it tries to figure out whether the patent is valid - they just leave it for lawyer armies to bicker over it eventually; and doesn't mind collecting the patent submissions fees.

This is what happens when you don't have proper copyright protection.

hhp

charles ellertson's picture

Having seen patent design misapplied in an unrelated field, I'd say be careful what you wish for.

The patents tend to be granted without much proof. In the case I'm thinking of, someone got a design patent on something I and others had both built & used years earlier. I didn't care, it's my hobby only, but the patentee got one major company to pay him off before other major companies made it go away.

To put everything in terms of cliches, (1) God fights on the side of the most lawyers, and (2) (in terms of the major company who paid off) if you want to get their the firstest with the mostest, pay the blackmail & get a head start. Business ain't about what's right.

As for Adobe-- let's see, trying to remember, who was suing who over all those fonts? & Wasn't there a Windows/Apple lawsuit over user interfaces? & couldn't Xerox have sued Apple?

As for the future -- if design patents are awarded to typefaces, expect the Monotype Conglomerate to grab all they can, then get injunctions against all the small guys, whether the cases have merit or not. Monotype(conglomerate) seems to be staking out their turf, and they have money for lawyers & lobbying...

hrant's picture

Any honest person (like everybody I personally know at Adobe) probably didn't "wish for" the application of Design Patents to type. But when a society is too stupid to enact copyright for type designs, it's only human to make it pay for that.

hhp

charles ellertson's picture

But when a society is too stupid to enact copyright for type designs, it's only human to make it pay for that.

I'm not the historian many on typophile are, but in reading over the many "is this a rip-off or not" threads, it seems to me the society was smart to make protection a matter of programming, not drawing.

Among the many (perhaps all?) examples, I'd offer Smeijer's Reynard as an interesting case. He calls it a revival, a "true Flemish Garamond."

"Flemish Garamond" is itself an interesting notion.

hrant's picture

I don't see how the existence of discussions/arguments about the nature of inspiration/plagiarism invalidate the wisdom of proper copyright protection for something essentially similar to many other types of works that do enjoy copyright protection (and notably also feature discourse concerning inspiration/plagiarism).

hhp

aluminum's picture

I think it's a a bit of an assumption that bundled Operating System fonts directly take away from sales potential of other fonts.

It makes sense only if one assumes every purchaser of an operating system has a vested interest in purchasing commercial fonts.

The assumption has a bit more validity with Adobe products...products targeted specifically at a consumer that *is* more likely to have an interest in purchasing commercial fonts--but those types of users *do* just that...meaning they likely have a need to purchase fonts whether or not Myriad is bundled with PhotoShop or not.

gabriel00's picture

Back to the original post many years ago... How many people, out of everybody that bought a computer in 2012, do you think would want to choose 50 fonts instead of just getting a standard bundle? How many would even be able to name more than 10 fonts without looking at a list?

hrant's picture

I actually think people are much more aware of fonts now than back in 2004.
http://typophile.com/node/101246
Many now would love to spend a few minutes customizing their ride.

hhp

oldnick's picture

The last time I bought an HP computer (about six years ago), it came with several of my—and Ray Larabie’s—freeware fonts pre-installed. Go figure…

Thomas Phinney's picture

Hrant wrote: “Any honest person (like everybody I personally know at Adobe) probably didn't "wish for" the application of Design Patents to type.”

Hrant, you make this sound like a new thing. But US design patent #1, back in 1842, was for a typeface by George Bruce. http://www.google.com/patents?vid=D1 So it is hardly an Adobe innovation. Are you saying Adobe was the first to resume this practice in the digital age? That may very well be.

Aluminum wrote: "I think it's a a bit of an assumption that bundled Operating System fonts directly take away from sales potential of other fonts."

Which is true, but it seems that at least the fonts that are bundled are sure to sell less.

"It makes sense only if one assumes every purchaser of an operating system has a vested interest in purchasing commercial fonts."

That is clearly not logically true. It makes sense if you assume that SOME purchasers of OSes would be interested in purchasing fonts if hardly any were bundled, and that SOME portion of their demand for fonts will be sated by bundled fonts.

Even when I was at Adobe, I don't think I ever disputed Nick Shinn's arguments that bundled fonts reduced the sales of other fonts. Of course they do. It's only a question of how much, and whether it's perceived as "good" (value for end users) or "bad" (reduced sales for folks who are not the lucky ones whose fonts got bundled).

Regarding bundling of fonts vs whether "average users" would pay for fonts, there was a brief period in the early 90s when computers were taking off, few fonts were bundled, and quality fonts were sold in high volumes to average users, but in heavily discounted bundles (not so much with apps, except Corel's, mostly just fonts).

Then once large numbers of fonts were bundled with OSes and apps, and the cheap bundles had sold lots, the retail market for full-price fonts collapsed in a hurry, around 1994 or so. The big corporate version of the type industry has never been the same since.

Charles E wrote: "As I understand it, in the United States at least, a type face *design* cannot be copyright protected."

Quadibloc replied: "That *was* true, but now there is some limited protection for font designs in the U.S."

Perhaps Quadibloc is under some misconception that design patent for fonts is the same as copyright, and that this is new? But as mentioned above, it is 170 years old. I know of no new, limited protections for font designs in the abstract (as opposed to their instantiations as specific computer font files).

US design patent has a very brief term, and only exists after an expensive registration process. That's why pretty much nobody besides Adobe uses this approach.

hrant's picture

Thomas, I do remember reading about that first patent in Lawson's Anatomy; IIRC it was for a Clarendon. I didn't mean that Adobe pioneered the idea, although I think they might in fact have been the first (and still only?) to get a Design Patent for a digital font.

US design patent has a very brief term

How long is it for?

hhp

quadibloc's picture

Patents last for around 20 years, as opposed to around 100 years for copyrights.

I'm aware of the old design patents for typefaces - ATF had several that I've looked up online - but I thought, perhaps mistakenly, that the U.S. had recently amended its copyright laws to include font designs, but under some new category so that they didn't get the same treatment as literary works. I perhaps misread a reference to design patents.

hrant's picture

With time nicely converting plagiarism to flattery. :-)

hhp

AzizMostafa's picture

We don't need to pay to use your software + fonts!
http://www.wordandnumberpuzzles.com/faq.html
Applicable to fonts too?!

Thomas Phinney's picture

"I thought, perhaps mistakenly, that the U.S. had recently amended its copyright laws to include font designs, but under some new category so that they didn't get the same treatment as literary works."

Nope. The abstract design (typeface) is not protected by copyright in the USA. However, the implementation of that design as a font file is protected like software.

Status quo in the USA: The copyright office accepts registrations of the font file code, and the Adobe v SSi case upheld the principle in federal district court. But that's not new: registration of fonts dates back about 20 years, and the court ruling was 15 years ago.

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