How well does selling fonts pay?

A-type's picture

I know, very open broad question. I guess I'm curious at the possibility of being able to create fonts and somewhat make a living of them. I'm going to leave it broad to keep the answers open.

blank's picture

Having a big hit can pay your rent for years, but those things are subjective. For every trendy display font selling a hundred licenses a month there are a lot of similar fonts nobody even notices. And the same goes for every other category of font. Being good and staying in the field a long time will help—the designers making a living off retail fonts spent years getting there.

Tomi from Suomi's picture

I hope I'm about to see. Heh.

A-type's picture

Good points James. Are there anyone here currently selling and making money with their fonts? Care to enlighten us on the economics of it?

Igor Freiberger's picture

I second the ask. It would be interesting to have an idea about how many licenses are purchased from a best-selling, an average and a poor-selling single font and a family package. Not exact numbers, just an idea.

Another question: when a printer (say, a magazine editor) purchase licenses, they use to buy the correct amount (this is, the real number of CPUs using the font)?

Andreas Stötzner's picture

Very few seem to make real money out of it, perhaps Tomi and surely Jos B. count among them. Gratulations. For all others, that means, 99% of the folks offering fonts (from rubbish to high quality) that busines is a mess. Because the market is hopelessly glutted with fonts. – You can hardly say what might push your sales, apart from placing obvious seasonal crowd ticklers (which is not everyone’s part). Even those: how long *will* they pay the rent? Nobody knows.
I have fonts to offer from under $10 up to $300 (package); all do sell but I’m far from earning a living from it. However, if you have spent about ten years on the development of a typeface, like I did, you won’t just drop it because of bad sales.

If you think of earning money, don’t think of making fonts.
And vice versa.

Ramiro Espinoza's picture

In my experience a good selling font sells around 1 or 2 items a week. But that can vary a lot. Some months sells are hot and some other colder. More expensive families sometimes sells one item a month but the amount can be higher that the monthly total of a good selling single font. I think it a good strategy not to offer families in single weights but in small packages. If someone really want or need a font he will buy the pack.

Nick Shinn's picture

Shinntype was founded 10 years ago, but I started 30 years ago, before digital.
I'm sure a "typical" career path would be different today, for many many reasons.
I started out as an art director with type design as a sideline, with fonts published by other "foundries" (FSI, Monotype) but that was before e-commerce, when direct mail was used to market fonts on floppies.
I think you'd have to make a greater commitment today, what with the technical and linguistic demands of OpenType, and the role of Reading and KABK in raising the bar, more players in the game, and the greater sophistication of web design and online marketing -- you can't pick it up as you go along so easily, and the culture is not so "Wild West" as it used to be.

Everyone's market is slightly different.
I make a proportion of my income off commissioned work.
I have around 10 distributors.
My philosophy is Long Tail, incremental -- a lot of fonts, mostly large families, a lot of distributors, over a long time.
I don't follow trends, that way the fonts have durability. But it would be a slow way to get started now. Having a "hit" helps (mine was Fontesque), in fact that's what led me to believe that type design was a viable source of income.
So if you are starting out without a hit, it's a bigger commitment, a bigger leap of faith now.

One advantage of e-commerce is that you don't have to live downtown in an expensive city to service clients.
I recently moved to a small town. People ask if I retired.
Actually, I read an article in Design Edge magazine that some hip young Toronto graphic designers are moving out anyway.

Jos Buivenga's picture

I'm selling fonts because I love making them. I would even make fonts if I couldn't sell any. OK, maybe not with all the CE characters, small caps, numeral sets and ligatures, but still... :)

Museo was my eye-opener (like Nick's Fontesque) to the fact that you actually can earn money from type design. Selling fonts together with a little bit of OEM licensing and custom work does pay for the bills and the peanut butter at the moment.

A-type's picture

Some excellent info. I'm young, ambitious, and naive enough where I think this and supplemental work could actually make for a humble living. Its great to see some heavy hitters in the type industry on here, I should've been a consistent member a long time ago.

Si_Daniels's picture

Mark Simonson on the fonts business... "Who wants to be a thousandaire?"

TypeSETit's picture

I'm a bit leery to put my two cents in here because I've been fortunate to make a living at it.

I'm not sure why though. I know that some of my fonts are popular, but I'm not sure what makes a font popular. I tend to create things that interest me, but since this is my livelihood, I also create things that I think other people would like to have. When I design what becomes a popular font, it tends to have a snow ball effect. The more people see it used, the more they want it.

And the popularity of one font can lead to the sales of other less known fonts. The question is, "What makes a font popular?"

Look at this example... I have done some work that frankly, I think is mediocre, but does well... while there are other things I've done that I am so much more proud of, from a creative point of view, and they seem to fall through the cracks.

The font that I've been updating lately (see the Polish ł thread) is called Corinthia, and it's sales have done quite well. While I'm grateful that it's popular, I know it isn't my best work. In fact, I'm a bit horrified with some of the decisions I made when I first created it many years ago. That's why I decided to update it recently.

On the other hand, one of my favorite fonts is called Babylonica, and it's not well known at all and thus hasn't sold well.

Having said all of that... it's quite possible that the name of the font has a lot to do with its popularity, and so it sells. Another font that has done well for me is called "Inspiration." Could it be the name?

I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts on the naming of fonts. The process by which one comes up with a name.

Rob

blank's picture

The process by which one comes up with a name.

After making the stupid mistake of naming a font “Downturn” after the crap economy I’m trying to think more along Jonathan Hoefler’s advice and give fonts names that show off the better characters in the font and don’t contain any really ugly pairs. I’m also trying to stick with interesting words; Armitage was picked because it’s relevant to the name of my foundry, but also because it has some English bucolic charm (or at least it sounds like it does, I’ve never been to Armitage).

Nick Shinn's picture

Not bad, but Armita would have been better, on the Carter principle of three syllables ending in "a".
But I defer to all those Lovecraft-loving phont phreaks....

You could always re-release Downturn as Stimulus. Sorry, Stimula.

Martin Silvertant's picture

I actually think the marketing aspect of a typeface is most crucial. Granted, I haven't sold a typeface yet myself because I haven't finished a professional one yet. However, I've purchased typefaces and I've realized I ignore many typefaces simply because of the bad way it's marketed. For example, on myfonts.com the section where you can try out the type is brilliant to get a clear picture of what you get, but it doesn't show what you can actually do with it in terms of design (composition, color etc.), and in case the typeface has OpenType features, it can only show the very basic ligatures and nothing more, not to mention the errors some typefaces present with certain letters with punctiation (rare case though). The gallery section of myfonts.com is therefor essential to sell the typeface. Jos Buivenga seems to understand the impact of proper marketing, from his indvidual typeface presentations to the exljbris website itself. I'm sorry to say, but most of the people who posted in this thread - regardless of how many licenses you've sold already - haven't mastered that aspect yet. I really think it's the essential part.

The name of the typeface is secondary to the presentation, but still quite essential. I wouldn't recommend the use of double vowels (oo, aa etc.), but I do recommend the use of 2 or more different vowels whitout making the name unnecessarily long. Every vowel has a different psychological impact and association, so you might want to take that into consideration as well.

As for the process of coming up with a name, I can imagine it's very different for everyone. I often search for obscure words and change them to my liking. I generally think words that have no obvious meaning work better. A typeface I'm working on is called "Célente" . The use of an acute accent isn't a smart thing, so I might remove it before releasing it, although I'm a bit afraid the pronunciation wouldn't be as intended then. In any case, it's a combination of "celeste"/"celestial" and "silentium" from one of my favorite aphorisms "silentium est aureum" (silence is golden). It's also smart to choose a name that contains one or more letters of your font that you would consider best, or characteristic for your typeface.

.00's picture

For example, on myfonts.com the section where you can try out the type is brilliant to get a clear picture of what you get, but it doesn't show what you can actually do with it in terms of design (composition, color etc.), and in case the typeface has OpenType features, it can only show the very basic ligatures and nothing more,

Not every type tester is as limited as the myfonts model.

http://www.terminaldesign.com/Fonts/#/TypeTester

James

Jongseong's picture

For the record, the MyFonts type tester allows you to set the text and background colours from a colour wheel and using a variety of OpenType features including alternates, case-sensitive forms, small caps, different figure styles, swashes, stylistic sets and many more.

Jackson's picture

in case the typeface has OpenType features, it can only show the very basic ligatures and nothing more,

That's just wrong. The MyFonts type samples show all of the font's OpenType features:

Igor Freiberger's picture

I agree marketing is extremely important, with many –and good– distribution channels, a distinctive and appealing name and so on. But I have a question about PDF samples and specimens.

As a font buyer I make decisions based especially in PDF samples –although on-line tests are also important. But as a font designer I'm afraid from these extracts some people do from PDFs. What is your experience/opinion?

A 128-bit secured PDF does not avoid extraction? Text converted to outlines print a slight bolder, so this is not a good option? Or one could ignore this risk as extraction lost all spacing, kerning, hinting and OT features?

BTW, I loved the Celeste promotional art FF produced. Their PDF specimens use to be insufficient to get a real fell about a font, but this illustration is outstanding.

dezcom's picture

I spent 45 years working as a graphic designer/manager for others. Now is my time to work for me and do something I am happy to do. Sometimes you just have to cast your bread on the waters to see which birds appear.

blank's picture

But as a font designer I'm afraid from these extracts some people do from PDFs.

After I had a laptop stolen and found out my backups weren’t working properly I had to recover a font in progress by extracting it from a PDF. It’s a pain in the ass. It takes less time to download a torrent of every commercial font released in the last twenty years. Anyone putting that much effort into stealing a font isn’t buying them to begin with.

.00's picture

I'm curious at the possibility of being able to create fonts and somewhat make a living of them.

I don't know if you will be able to make a living making fonts. I have. Quite a good one actually. The type business is, well, a business, and a lot more complicated than most of you are aware of. When these threads came up in the past it always amused me that all the naysayers on earning a living in the type business were not in the type business. Thankfully this thread is taking a bit of a different track.

What I find really interesting is that on Typophile the same dozen or so type designers names come up, as if they are the only ones whose work is of interest, but there are so many people in this business making a good go at it, whose names are hardly ever mentioned.

As to worrying about your pdf samples. Password protect them against content extraction and stop worrying, as Mr Puckett points out, anyone putting that much effort into hacking a font out of a pdf is not a customer you want, need or will ever get.

TypeSETit's picture

I’m trying to think more along Jonathan Hoefler’s advice and give fonts names that show off the better characters in the font and don’t contain any really ugly pairs.

That's something I have done. I've changed the name of a font I really liked because the name didn't show it off well enough.

Having said that, I have a question about the ethical question of naming a font. I am presently working on a font that emulates a piece of Villu Toots' calligraphy. Since his work is the inspiration for the font, I'm considering naming it Villu, or Toots, or VilluToots. An Estonian calligrapher, Villu Toots passed away in the early nineties, so I don't have the opportunity to ask him if it's ok with him.

I know other fonts are named after well known typographers... so my question is, would I be out of bounds naming this new font after Villu Toots? Would I be crossing any ethical boundries?

P.S. I believe Jovica Veljovic may have known VIllu. Is there anyone here on Typophiles who knew him personally?

_Palatine_'s picture

It's a business like anything else.

Offer a solid product and you'll do well. Take it seriously, treat it like the form of art that is, and you'll get noticed.

Don McCahill's picture

> After I had a laptop stolen and found out my backups weren’t working properly I had to recover a font in progress by extracting it from a PDF. It’s a pain in the ass. It takes less time to download a torrent of every commercial font released in the last twenty years. Anyone putting that much effort into stealing a font isn’t buying them to begin with.

That would be okay if the b*gg*rs just kept the fonts to themselves. But they post them on BBs and warez sites, and then anyone can get them without problems.

Don

blank's picture

That would be okay if the b*gg*rs just kept the fonts to themselves.

Yes, but the people swapping them aren’t sharing the versions they get by extracting them from PDFs. They use stolen credit card numbers to buy them and post the originals.

Nick Shinn's picture

...would I be out of bounds naming this new font after Villu Toots?

IMO, script fonts should be named after the calligrapher's work on which they are based.
I named Duffy Script after Amanda Duffy, and she likes the idea.
The worst thing you could do is name it something silly, like Hairspray instead of Steinweiss Script.

apankrat's picture

For the record, the MyFonts type tester allows you to set the text and background colours from a colour wheel

Have you noticed how it is virtually impossible to set the color to either pure white or pure black?

.00's picture

Have you noticed how it is virtually impossible to set the color to either pure white or pure black?

Who cares!

Si_Daniels's picture

>Who cares!

The eBayers and scrapbookers who use font testers to set text for use on eBay and scrapbooks.

TypeSETit's picture

Since I got off track a bit with the naming fonts question... I've started a new topic.

Please see, "In the name of Villu Toots"

Rob

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