FontSlice: Distribution Evolved

David Jones's picture

Starting a new company is a long and painful process, but we're finally ready to show off the fruits of our labor. We hope that FontSlice will fundamentally change the way fonts are bought and sold on the Internet. Please email me at david@fontslice.com if you're interested in learning more about a distribution agreement. Now, without further ado, meet the iTunes of typography: http://typophile.com/node/91389.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

so umm, maybe you should tell us why and how this will revolutionize font sales on the web? Will every font come with a free order of chicken wings?

Jackson's picture

Questions:

Does your iTunes model mean you only take 30% commission?

How would this work with modern fonts (i.e.: OT Kerning and OpenType features)?

What about version control, particularly with customers who need to share documents?

Have you done any research that suggests there are enough customers setting only headlines for this model to make any money for a foundry partner?

oldnick's picture

Frankly, I don't think I would be persuaded to purchase using this particular marketing models, but I am an old curmudgeon who's hopelessly out of touch with life in a post-PC world—which means, sure: why not? It does appear that many adopters of the later-and-greatest technologies don't always make the soundest financial decisions...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/new-ipad-users-slowed-by-...

Plus, if this process offers an additional revenue stream, what's the downside of giving it a chance?

jasonc's picture

Ummm, not to throw cold water of tech on your plans, but ... hinting? vertical metrics?

Jason C

brianskywalker's picture

Jason, what about them? You include only what is necessary for the purchased glyphs. Why include the hints for 'a' when you only bought 'c' and 'd'?

JamesT's picture

So if I were to buy "abcd" I presume I would download a font containing "abcd" if I then return and buy "efghi" would I get a new font containing "abcdefghi" which would require me to uninstall "abcd" and hope the versions don't conflict or that all caches have been cleared (even though that isn't always a guarantee).

How would the average user go about dealing with multiple variations of the same font?

This, to me, is where it is different than music files.

jasonc's picture

Jason, what about them? You include only what is necessary for the purchased glyphs. Why include the hints for 'a' when you only bought 'c' and 'd'?

which would be true, if all the hinting information was stored in each glyph. But True Type hints (of any value) reference control values stored in the cvt table, meaning you need to parse the CVT to decide what parts you want to keep? And then adjust later if they buy more letters?

And what if I buy a font with no accented characters, are the vertical metrics set for that "font"'s tallest glyphs? But then I come back later and buy a capital A+ring, does the font's vertical metrics change for the new taller glyph? That would respace my documents created using the font.

brianskywalker's picture

Vertical metrics are set font-wide, aren't they? So I think no matter what glyphs you get they'd be the same.

Note: I don't know that I like the idea of this project or not.

David Jones's picture

Ryan Maelhorn: so umm, maybe you should tell us why and how this will revolutionize font sales on the web? Will every font come with a free order of chicken wings?

Hey Ryan! Our goal is to make high-quality commercial fonts more accessible to the average consumer. If that means including a free order of chicken wings with every font, then fire up the oven and break out the barbecue sauce! FontSlice will be the first digital type distributor to significantly lower the average transaction cost of a font without devaluing the font itself. We think FontSlice will allow a whole lot more people to enter the wide world of type — and that would be revolutionary.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Well, as the skeptics already have spoken (consider me one too), I’ll play the devil’s advocate here and picture a scenario where this kind of service might be of benefit:

As a graphic design studio, we receive a number of logotype files from different institutions/companies, to include them in some brochure or poster. Dealing with graphic laymen, the problem is that these files aren’t fit for print: pixelated GIF, embedded DOC, you name it. Very often, this is about a few characters only, from an easily identifiable and common typeface, without any modifications. It would be a matter of minutes to download the font and re-set the damn line. We don’t do that, because we don’t want to spend money on lame ‘classic’ fonts that we don’t like, and won’t ever need again. I prefer spending money on good fonts.

So, what to do? Lose hours of time trying to reach someone who can send us a good file? No, that’s hopeless (“But I already sent you our logo twice!”, “Just grab it from our website! It’s on the top left.” “Speak to our IT guy. He’s back next week.”). Simply send the crappy files to the printer and not care? Hardly.

This may sound far-fetched, but it happens all the time. In these cases, I wish for a pay-by-the-letter service. As a workaround. The critical points raised (versions, kerning, OT features, hinting) all hardly apply.

I doubt that this is enough to build a business model on. But maybe the target group of FontSlice is not us professionals, anyway?

daverowland's picture

Yes as part of my old day job I had to vectorise loads of crappy pixelated logos. If we didn't have the font, it was often way more cost effective to trace the characters needed (it's what got me into making fonts in the first place) than buy the font. In this situation a pay-by-glyph system would be useful. I wonder how big this specific Market is. If this system took off I wonder how long it would be before section, paragraph, currency symbol and all the other virtually pointless glyphs we feel obliged to include in our (display) fonts cease to be made.

David Jones's picture

Great questions Jackson. I hope the following helps.

Jackson: Does your iTunes model mean you only take 30% commission?

Our commission can be as low as 30%, but the exact percentage will depend on a number of factors, such as the level of exclusivity (there will be three) and whether or not the font is being actively promoted. We also realize that there's probably not a one-size-fits-all distribution agreement, so we plan on working with each foundry individually to come to an agreement that works for both parties. We want to treat our foundries like royalty, even if that means hiring more employees to handle all of our accounts.

Jackson: How would this work with modern fonts (i.e.: OT Kerning and OpenType features)? What about version control, particularly with customers who need to share documents?

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. The abridged font is identical in every way to the original file, save the missing spline data for unlicensed glyphs. This means that version control would be handled the same way it is now.

Jackson: Have you done any research that suggests there are enough customers setting only headlines for this model to make any money for a foundry partner?

It's true that FontSlice will be most useful to users that are typesetting display copy. However, assuming a 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 for larger amounts of text. We also believe that users will prefer to consolidate their font property in one place, whether they're buying abridged or unabridged fonts.

David Jones's picture

oldnick: Plus, if this process offers an additional revenue stream, what's the downside of giving it a chance?

Nick, you're absolutely right. The intent of FontSlice is not to replace the current model, but rather to supplement it with an additional revenue stream. FontSlice will be the gateway drug for people who might otherwise stick to free fonts.

David Jones's picture

jasonc: Ummm, not to throw cold water of tech on your plans, but ... hinting? vertical metrics?

And what if I buy a font with no accented characters, are the vertical metrics set for that "font"'s tallest glyphs? But then I come back later and buy a capital A+ring, does the font's vertical metrics change for the new taller glyph? That would respace my documents created using the font.

Hey Jason. These are very valid concerns and things that we've considered as well. In my response to Jackson's second question, I explained a bit about how the algorithm works. Basically, the information within the font file will remain perfectly intact, except that the spline data for unlicensed glyphs will be removed (metric information will be left untouched). This means that designers will not be required to re-adjust text positioning after upgrading an abridged font.

David Jones's picture

brianskywalker: Jason, what about them? You include only what is necessary for the purchased glyphs. Why include the hints for 'a' when you only bought 'c' and 'd'?

Your right Brian. Its really only necessary to include hinting, metrics, and OpenType information for purchased glyphs. The upside of this technique is that it would result in smaller font files. The downside is that it would take a bit more processing power since the algorithm would need to make a few more decisions about what information to include or omit. It's not clear at this point which method is more advantageous on a large-scale platform, and we may choose to alter the algorithm after we gather server statistics for the first few months. In any case, the end result will be the same: a fully-functioning abridged font that is otherwise identical to the original file.

Nick Shinn's picture

The “designer fonts” with which you intend to populate your site seem to have been left to the last minute, as if the product, in contradiction, is generic.

In my experience there are two models a new distributor can adopt: either a small, select, carefully curated group of typefaces—or a large enough volume of common styles in which keyword searching can come into play.

The first option grows into the second over time.

For instance, when Apple launched DTP, part of its success was having Helvetica and Times bundled with the LaserWriter software: instant cred.

Recently, Google has launched its web fonts site, with the emphasis on the functionality of the site as a design tool, and the functionality of the font formats and licensing model, but has been criticized for the overall quality of the fonts available. Nonetheless, its fonts are being used; because Google is massive, a benefit you don’t have.

I would suggest you either solicit particular foundries with product that you think will give you a distinct design profile to match and complement your business model (curation option), or approach a foundry/publisher which can provide you with a large collection that spans the major type categories.

Actively seeking specific content would, in my opinion, be better than just saying “open for business” and taking what comes.

David Jones's picture

JamesT: So if I were to buy "abcd" I presume I would download a font containing "abcd" if I then return and buy "efghi" would I get a new font containing "abcdefghi" which would require me to uninstall "abcd" and hope the versions don't conflict or that all caches have been cleared (even though that isn't always a guarantee).

How would the average user go about dealing with multiple variations of the same font?

Hey James. Great question. This was actually one of the tests we performed in our testing phase. We wanted to make sure users could easily upgrade an abridged font without too much hassle. To the operating system, two different abridged versions of the same font will appear to be identical. Thus, when you install the upgraded version, it will overwrite the older version. Some software applications will need to be restarted before they will recognize the upgraded font, but this is the case when installing any new font, abridged or not.

David Jones's picture

brianskywalker: Vertical metrics are set font-wide, aren't they? So I think no matter what glyphs you get they'd be the same.

Yes, vertical metrics are typically set font-wide. From a coding perspective, its relatively simple to make sure the vertical metrics of an abridged font match the original font file.

David Jones's picture

Florian Hardwig: As a graphic design studio, we receive a number of logotype files from different institutions/companies, to include them in some brochure or poster. Dealing with graphic laymen, the problem is that these files aren’t fit for print: pixelated GIF, embedded DOC, you name it. Very often, this is about a few characters only, from an easily identifiable and common typeface, without any modifications. It would be a matter of minutes to download the font and re-set the damn line. We don’t do that, because we don’t want to spend money on lame ‘classic’ fonts that we don’t like, and won’t ever need again. I prefer spending money on good fonts.

So, what to do? Lose hours of time trying to reach someone who can send us a good file? No, that’s hopeless (“But I already sent you our logo twice!”, “Just grab it from our website! It’s on the top left.” “Speak to our IT guy. He’s back next week.”). Simply send the crappy files to the printer and not care? Hardly.

This may sound far-fetched, but it happens all the time. In these cases, I wish for a pay-by-the-letter service. As a workaround. The critical points raised (versions, kerning, OT features, hinting) all hardly apply.

I doubt that this is enough to build a business model on. But maybe the target group of FontSlice is not us professionals, anyway?

daverowland: Yes as part of my old day job I had to vectorise loads of crappy pixelated logos. If we didn't have the font, it was often way more cost effective to trace the characters needed (it's what got me into making fonts in the first place) than buy the font. In this situation a pay-by-glyph system would be useful.

You both bring up a good point. The problem of vectorizing old logos is certainly one of the many applications of FontSlice. In this case, the underlying problem is that your limited usage of an asset doesn't justify the cost. This argument could be made whether you're designing logos or any variety of other media, such as advertisements, blog headers, brochures, covers, invitations, or posters; all of these applications may only require a small subset of glyphs. Of course, if you only purchase 'good' fonts, then you can use them time and again, but fonts are often chosen for specific projects and designers may not want to commit to a font if they're unsure how useful it will be to them in the future. FontSlice lowers that initial barrier to consumption and allows the user to make this commitment over time. While professional designers are certainly a part of the target market, I believe FontSlice will attract people who previously may have never even considered paying for a font.

aluminum's picture

I can see the niche use where one needs to deal with a slogan or logotype or sign, perhaps. But I don't quite see how this would have much mass appeal.

So, I think it's a bit silly. But, then again, I thought Typekit was (well, still is) a bit of a silly model as well, so what do I know?

brianskywalker's picture

Reminded of Google web fonts: Google web fonts can do the same thing already. It splices up the kerning and hinting data of the fonts and allows you to use any subset of a font, including a single glyph. Of course this is not useful in the same way—all of the Google web fonts are already free. This is only intended to allow you to increase page load times. At the core it uses sfntly.

David Jones's picture

Nick Shinn: Actively seeking specific content would, in my opinion, be better than just saying “open for business” and taking what comes.

Nick, the idea of actively seeking specific content is very sound advice. Although it may take a bit longer in the beginning, having the right partners will help legitimize FontSlice and carry it forward. Thanks for your insight.

David Jones's picture

brianskywalker: Reminded of Google web fonts: Google web fonts can do the same thing already. It splices up the kerning and hinting data of the fonts and allows you to use any subset of a font, including a single glyph. Of course this is not useful in the same way—all of the Google web fonts are already free. This is only intended to allow you to increase page load times. At the core it uses sfntly.

You're right Brian. The idea of font subsetting certainly isn't new. It's really the business model and platform that is unique. The technology is rather straightforward.

David Jones's picture

aluminum: I can see the niche use where one needs to deal with a slogan or logotype or sign, perhaps. But I don't quite see how this would have much mass appeal.

I definitely see where you're coming from, but I do believe the mass appeal is there. If you look through the top 100 most-downloaded fonts of all time on dafont.com (a free font website), you'll find that most of these fonts are downloaded hundreds or thousands of times per day. You'll also notice that nearly every font in that list is a display font (very few would actually work for body text). The font market is massive, but I don't believe its currently in equilibrium; consumers can either pay $25 or $0 with very little in-between. FontSlice offers a simple model for bringing the market into equilibrium. People who may have never paid for a font before might be able to justify paying a dollar or two for a font through FontSlice. This will acclimate consumers to the idea of paying for high-quality fonts in general, which may expand the market even further.

David Jones's picture

{More to come}

aluminum's picture

"The font market is massive"

No doubt. But be careful assuming Dafont is any indicator of the font market.

But, best of luck. Hopefully something will come of it!

ralf h.'s picture

I was first checking today's date to see if we already have April, 1st. But now that I think about it, there’s a fair chance it might work. It will of course stand or fall with the content of the font catalogue.
For the people who usually use Dafont or Google Webfonts you need to offer something special, which these sites don't have in order to have people pay for your fonts.
For the scenario of "recreating logotypes" you need to have all the classics from Monotype/Linotype first or it won't work.

From my foundry's point of view: If people can buy my fonts for a fraction of the regular price they pay at MyFonts, then your service would need to license a lot more of these subsetted fonts – otherwise I won't be too interested in participating.

Té Rowan's picture

@Ralf – As I understand it, their business plan is to sell small subsets of fonts. A font with, say, a C, a D, a P and some custom kerning would be useful for a certain political party's identity but utterly bloody useless for anything else.

Rob O. Font's picture

I’m not sayin’ this kind of purchasing model isn’t right for anyone:

but for those who need to finalize the simulation of a design before the editorial work is complete, like, e.g. Roger Black, stopping composition to “buy a vowel” is a joke we talked about in the past.

there are 300,000 free, 80,000 commercial, 400,000 floating on the web and 5,000 or so people offering custom fonts, fonts & fonts. I think, and there’s plenty of evidence to back it up, that $25-$40 for great commercial fonts is not a barrier for someone who wants to pay something; while 15¢-$1.00 is too much of a barrier for someone who doesn’t want to pay anything.

technically this model is not a big deal for those who serve subset fonts to speed their way along the web. Off the web, serving identically named fonts potentially with 1,000’s of different glyph repertoires, and having those loose legally or illegally in local and wide area networks — is an IT/IP/I think/IC a nightmare.

it should be interesting, what vendors and what users will go for it.

Good luck David Jones!

tourdeforce's picture

What if I firstly buy license for letters from A to G, then from H to M, then from N to T and from U to Z, and then do the same for a to z.

Would I get an set of A-Z + a-z cheaper then buying regular font license from i.e. MyFonts?

Edit:

Or if I understood it well (just saw your website), you will establish first the price of an font (i.e. $25 for full character set, like from i.e. MyFonts). Then based on (total) font price, you'll assign an "glyph price"?

I don't understand fully the way how will you determine the price of an glyph set the customer chosen to buy.

David Jones's picture

tourdeforce: Or if I understood it well (just saw your website), you will establish first the price of an font (i.e. $25 for full character set, like from i.e. MyFonts). Then based on (total) font price, you'll assign an "glyph price"?

Great question. The price for an unabridged font is established by the foundry. In most cases, it will be the same price as MyFonts and other distributors. When a user makes a purchase, the price is calculated using the following formula:

PF = The price of the unabridged font (set by the foundry)
GO = The number of old glyphs (purchased by the user in the past)
GN = The number of new glyphs (not yet purchased by the user)
GT = The total number of glyphs in the font
b = The sharpness of the pricing curve (normally set to 2)

Note that if the user purchases all glyphs in the first purchase, then GO must equal zero and GN must equal GT. Thus, the formula reduces to PF (the price of the unabridged font set by the foundry).

I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any more questions.

riccard0's picture

GT = The total number of glyphs in the font

So all glyphs are equal under the sky?

marcox's picture

I think there's evidence from the success (however brief) of deeply discounted typefaces on MyFonts that $25-40 is actually a barrier to entry for some people. I've personally made impulse purchases when the price dips ridiculously low (as in $9 for a 6-weight display family). This is not same thing as purchasing a subset, but it does suggest that even professional and semi-pro users of type aren't immune to deep discounting.

riccard0's picture

By the way, hangman anyone? ;-)

Don McCahill's picture

> So all glyphs are equal under the sky?

What? You want to buy the period and comma for a lower price than the g and the a, because they were easier to create? That is asking a bit much, I think.

aluminum's picture

THIS WEEK ONLY: VOWELS 30% OFF! PUNCTUATION = BUY 2 GET ONE FREE!

:)

David Jones's picture

riccard0: So all glyphs are equal under the sky?

You make a fair point Riccardo. Our pricing model does assume that each glyph represents an equal amount of effort, which is certainly an oversimplification. We realize that some characters require a great deal more effort than others. For example, building an accented character takes far less time than designing the components that it references. When we were designing our pricing model, we considered adding terms that would account for these different levels of complexity. In the end, however, we decided that the addition of such complexity would breed further complexity. We didn't want to end up with something akin to the U.S. tax code, so we decided to stick with a simple formula. However, our ears are open. If this pricing model doesn't work for the type community, then let's start that discussion.

David Jones's picture

aluminum: THIS WEEK ONLY: VOWELS 30% OFF! PUNCTUATION = BUY 2 GET ONE FREE!

:)

Hmmm. Not a bad idea... :-)

riccard0's picture

You want to buy the period and comma for a lower price than the g and the a, because they were easier to create?

I was just asking, and surely not inferring that a comma is easier to create that an a.*
I was wondering if the price could be subject to market demand (either by charging more the most requested glyphs, or the more specialised ones).
For what is worth, I think the simpler the price plan is, the better.

* But probably it is more easily substituted with one from a different font (like the generic sorts of metal past).

riccard0's picture

THIS WEEK ONLY: VOWELS 30% OFF! PUNCTUATION = BUY 2 GET ONE FREE!

Hmmm. Not a bad idea.

Well, for some indy foundries, the "freemium" model has worked.
So, maybe a foundry could offer a limited number of glyphs for free (indefinitely, or for a limited time, or upon a newsletter subscription...).

eliason's picture

To the operating system, two different abridged versions of the same font will appear to be identical. Thus, when you install the upgraded version, it will overwrite the older version. Some software applications will need to be restarted before they will recognize the upgraded font, but this is the case when installing any new font, abridged or not.

I wonder if, even still, you'll run into the caching problems that JamesT brought up. In my experience, if you keep reinstalling fonts with the same name, eventually you'll run into trouble like disappearing glyphs, etc.

kentlew's picture

Those of us who regularly load and re-load versions of fonts during development know that Adobe’s font caches are notoriously prone to corruption and unpredictability under these circumstances. FWIW.

aluminum's picture

"So, maybe a foundry could offer a limited number of glyphs for free"

Only fear there is a resurgence in the Ransom Note style. ;)

dezcom's picture

Being an old fart and remembering what it used to cost to get a few lines of text set for one-time use, I have a tough time seeing how $25 dollars could be a barrier to anyone for the purchase of a font. I made a little experiment. I started off the sale of a display font with 640 glyph character set at what to me was a very under-priced $20 ( I felt that $35 was the fair price I should have set to begin with). Later, I put it on sale at half price [as in 50% off or only 10 bucks]. The funny thing is, I sold more fonts [units] in less time at $20 dollars that I did at half price by a two to one margin! Here is an example:
20 units @ $20 sold in TEN days equals $400
10 units @ $10 sold in THIRTY days equals $100 [this also came with added advertising on MyFonts on Sale list].

Clearly, the scrapbookers are not interested enough in my $10 dollar font to get anywhere near close to matching either sales or profits from the real professional type users who were happy to pay only $20 and perhaps were wondering to themselves, "There must be something wrong with this font if it only costs $20."

There are two ways to look at this. I could drop the price to a ridiculous five dollars to entice the scrapbookers or decide they are not worth the effort. For me to make five dollar fonts, they would need to be bare-bones minimum character set and not all that carefully done. There are plenty of folks happily making money doing this who are content with themselves and their work doing this. Hats off to them. For me, I just don't want to make shit and call it type just to make some money. I would so hate that! I might as well work at McDonalds and serve shit food at minimum wage. I would rather just ignore the hobby market and try to appeal to the people who really care about type. Maybe I will fail at that and misunderstand what the professional market wants, expects, and is willing to pay, but I can live with that kind of failure. I could not live with the other kind of failure though, where I make shit type that sells for shit but makes a profit because that market does not give a shit.

butterick's picture

Certainly there’s room in the font world for new approaches to marketing and sales. For instance, Webtype and Typekit introduced the idea of subscription-based fonts as a way of meeting the needs of webfont customers.

Those services, however, actually exist. FontSlice’s service does not. So while I wish FontSlice well, as long as it has neither fonts nor customers, it’s not good enough to criticize (nor compliment).

tourdeforce's picture

@ David Jones

What you're talking about in this topic is more or less like this:
http://www.photolettering.com

With few different points, but overall the concept is the same.

Am I right?

David Jones's picture

tourdeforce: What you're talking about in this topic is more or less like this:
http://www.photolettering.com

With few different points, but overall the concept is the same.

Am I right?

There are certainly some similarities in our business models, but there are some major differences. At its core, FontSlice is just another font distributor. At any given time, FontSlice users could own any number of abridged and unabridged fonts, meaning that our platform could completely replace their previous distributor of choice. Our sights are set high: we want to be the MyFonts replacement. (I know, I know — that may take divine intervention — but why dream at all if you can't dream big?) We think we can get there by giving consumers more options.

Every font distributor has their niche — something that sets them apart from other distributors in hopes of encouraging consumers to shop there. Our niche will be incremental ownership; you can think of it as zero-interest financing for fonts. This concept doesn't come into play at Photo-Lettering. When a user purchases an abridged font on FontSlice, they are actually purchasing a font rather than a vector image. If they already own a portion of a font, they will have incentive to use it again for future projects, purchasing new glyphs as they go. Most importantly, users can still purchase entire fonts as they always have. Thus, FontSlice will be one-stop shopping for the font industry. Like I mentioned earlier, FontSlice will be the gateway drug into the font world. When users are ready to try the hard stuff, they'll already know a dealer. (Okay, maybe I should stop with the drug analogies...)

tourdeforce's picture

Thanks.

OK, so let's see when it goes live.

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