FontSlice: The iTunes of Typography

David Jones's picture

A feeling of excitement abounds in the world of type — and for good reason. Consumers have never been more conscious of type as they are now, and more and more people are taking graphic design into their own hands. I believe the digital type industry is nearing a tipping point much like the music industry did nearly a decade ago, which is why I created FontSlice. In the year 2000, a typical music purchase was around $15.00 — the average price of a CD. That all changed in 2003 when Apple launched the iTunes Store. In six short years, the music industry nearly doubled in size, going from 800 million dollars to nearly 1.6 billion dollars in sales.

By significantly reducing the average transaction cost, the barrier to consumption was lowered, which caused the actual size of the market to expand. At a recent TypeCon, Roger Black suggested that the type industry might evolve in a similar fashion; his last slide read 99 Cents, though few designers would place such a low value on the tremendous effort that goes into creating a new typeface. Amazingly, the iTunes revolution was accomplished without fundamentally changing the dollar value of the music itself, since the cost of a digital album was about the same as that of its physical equivalent. The music industry followed the path of least resistance; artists would continue to produce music the way they always had — in albums — while Apple worried about the details of dividing and distributing the content to consumers.

FontSlice serves a similar purpose to the type industry. Consumers are able to purchase only the glyphs they need for a particular project, whether it be a few letters or an entire character range. This allows consumers to incrementally purchase fonts via multiple transactions, paying for each glyph individually according to a nonlinear pricing model; the first glyph might be $1.00, the second $0.95, the third $0.90, and so on. After each transaction, the user is able to download an abridged version of the font containing only the glyphs they've purchased. If the user eventually purchases every glyph in the font, the total amount paid will simply equal the retail price of the font. This pricing model encourages consumers to make repeated purchases until a font is complete, much like iTunes users have incentive to complete an album after purchasing several tracks. Using this system, type designers can continue producing fonts the way they always have — in standard font files — while FontSlice worries about the details of dividing and distributing the font to consumers.

FontSlice has come a long way in the past few months — the patent application is filed, the website is developed, and the support system is in place. In fact, there's only one thing missing — fonts. We'd like to see every font available on FontSlice, and we're ready to listen to the type community to make sure that happens. Let us know what you think about FontSlice in the comments below. We'd love to hear your feedback. If you'd like to learn more about FontSlice or if you're interested in a distribution agreement, email me at david@fontslice.com.

Let typographic evolution begin.

Comments

daverowland's picture

I don't think buying a font a glyph at a time is akin to buying an album a song at a time. It's more like buying a song an instrument at a time. For the song to 'work', all the instruments have to be there. I'm not suggesting a font without a paragraph mark or Euro symbol etc. is useless, but implementing this will be a massive task - taking out glyphs from fonts depending on the order - kerning and OpenType coding etc. would all need to be altered.
As a model for selling fonts, this can only really work with display type, and not by purchasing glyphs to put into a font, but by purchasing a word or sentence, to be delivered as an EPS or suchlike. This business model is already covered by Photo Lettering from House Industries.

Sitwosaints's picture

I would rather jump into the Thames holding a lump of lead than buy a font a glyph at a time.
The idea is so comical, so fantastically american, that all I can say is bring it to London and see how it plays.

Sitwosaints's picture

There's daft, there's outright silly, and there a pricing regime like that. Oh, and there's advertising agencies.
Silly me.

Sitwosaints's picture

There's.

Sitwosaints's picture

After a period of consideration, I turned Luddite.
Burn the houses of the typesetters, and the gutters will run with hot lead,tin, and antimony.
Everyone has fun, and no one gets killed (except in the long run).
Only one problem. A severe shortage of monks.
Heh.

David Jones's picture

daverowland: I don't think buying a font a glyph at a time is akin to buying an album a song at a time. It's more like buying a song an instrument at a time. For the song to 'work', all the instruments have to be there. I'm not suggesting a font without a paragraph mark or Euro symbol etc. is useless, but implementing this will be a massive task - taking out glyphs from fonts depending on the order - kerning and OpenType coding etc. would all need to be altered.

Dave, you're absolutely right. Implementing this was a massive task. It took months of careful programming to create the algorithm that produces abridged font files. In a nutshell, the algorithm analyzes each line of the original font file and determines what type of information it contains. The algorithm won't even consider altering the line unless it contains spline data, which is the only data within a font file that is absolutely necessary to reproduce the shape of a particular glyph. If a user has rights to a certain glyph, then the spline data is left untouched. If a user doesn't have rights to a certain glyph, then the spline data is removed. All other information (including kerning and OpenType data) is left untouched. As long as the user has rights to the necessary glyphs, all OpenType functionality will remain intact.

daverowland: As a model for selling fonts, this can only really work with display type, and not by purchasing glyphs to put into a font, but by purchasing a word or sentence, to be delivered as an EPS or suchlike. This business model is already covered by Photo Lettering from House Industries.

You make a great point about display type; FontSlice will certainly be the distributor of choice when users are typesetting display copy, which often only comprises a few words. However, assuming the user is able to predict which character ranges would be required for a particular application, there's no reason why FontSlice wouldn't be used in applications involving larger amounts of text. The abridged fonts produced by the FontSlice algorithm are identical in every way to the original file, save the missing spline data for unlicensed glyphs. Like any font file, they can be installed on your operating system and used in any software application; there's no need for EPS files.

George Thomas's picture

I see a couple of problems with this model from the end-user standpoint:

In the graphics world, we frequently have just a few minutes to make client changes and provide new proofs. So if we have a headline which the client has changed the wording on but we don't have the necessary glyph(s) to make the change, do you intend to offer virtually instantaneous service to enable us to provide the same level of service our customers are used to?

Sometimes the client is sitting in the office waiting on the changed proof because the timing is so critical to them. No one wants to tell a client they will have to wait; it's not good for business.

Given just this one issue, I don't believe I would take advantage of this service. I would continue to buy the complete font or family.

Overall I'm not sure this is a good idea; it's not tunes one is buying for personal use, it's a necessary product for businesses to provide their service with.

David Jones's picture

majus: In the graphics world, we frequently have just a few minutes to make client changes and provide new proofs. So if we have a headline which the client has changed the wording on but we don't have the necessary glyph(s) to make the change, do you intend to offer virtually instantaneous service to enable us to provide the same level of service our customers are used to?

Thanks for the great question. Depending on your internet connection, it should only take about 15 seconds to find and download an upgraded version of an abridged font. When you enter the new headline, FontSlice will automatically determine which glyphs you've already purchased and which glyphs you haven't. The system will also allow you to maintain an account balance, so you won't have to pull out your credit card every time you purchase or upgrade an abridged font. When you install the upgraded version, it will immediately overwrite the previous version and you'll be ready to go.

JamesM's picture

My first thought was that the concept was rather odd, but I guess there have been times I didn't want to buy a font just to set one headline or use one glyph, so perhaps it does have possibilities.

> it should only take about 15 seconds to find and download
> an upgraded version of an abridged font...

Sounds good in theory, and maybe it would work that way 99% of the time, but I remember a few months ago when a major stock photo site went down for 1/2 day due to server problems, and it nearly caused me to miss an important deadline.

David Jones's picture

JamesM: Sounds good in theory, and maybe it would work that way 99% of the time, but I remember a few months ago when a major stock photo site went down for 1/2 day due to server problems, and it nearly caused me to miss an important deadline.

James, great point. We'll be doing everything in our power to make sure an outage like that never happens to FontSlice. However, in the unlikely event that something like that were to happen, we will have customer support staff available 24/7 who will be able to e-mail the necessary file to you in urgent situations.

Thomas Phinney's picture

This ease of replacing fonts seems to me to ignore issues around font caching by OSes and applications.

riccard0's picture

Maybe devise an installer which can take care of font caches?
(not that I like installers, but it could be an option for less technically apt customers, as some distributors already do)

eriks's picture

April 1st comes early this year, doesn’t it?

David Jones's picture

Thomas Phinney: This ease of replacing fonts seems to me to ignore issues around font caching by OSes and applications.

Hey Thomas. In our testing, we've never run into a problem with font caching. We've mostly tested Adobe and Microsoft applications on Mac and Windows platforms, though. It seems that a few people are concerned about this issue, so we will definitely be doing more thorough testing before we launch. Thanks for the insight!

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