Archive through September 10, 2001

hrant's picture

Martin,
Adobe also offers an up-front payment, but I think it just covers your sales upto that amount (you only get more money if the royalties from sales surpass that amount).

But in any case, you're right about the money aspect: there's almost none of it in retail, and to make a living (and I don't mean being a hermit in a barrel) you have to do many years of very high-quality custom work. And even then, you can never catch the Concorde. So, in the end, it's really a labor of love. And I mean that in the best possible way. I have bills too, but I always try to remember that they're evil.

BTW, Stephen, is the Bitstream deal perpetual? If so, $2000 is way too low, unless the royalties are pretty high.

hhp

mart's picture

Hrant!
I must admit, I did my research on font publisher's payments a few years ago when I was submitting designs. (I was only successfull once - selling Eastwood to ITC: http://www.itcfonts.com/fonts/detail.asp?sid=1X7VX1BE6C8S9KPC544DAL9CEE500439&sku=ITC2126) (If anyone wants to know the story of the font, how long it took to make and how much money it has made so far then by all means email me.)
Perhaps I had, by then, learnt to attune my design submissions to ITC's sensibilities. But also, by that time I was tired of my work falling on deaf ears - so to speak - and I gave up.
If I could come out with a new font once a month then $2500 or $2000 might be attractive. We all know though that this work rate is unrealistic.
Also, like every other type designer who ever lived I was self-taught and had to learn everything the hard way, including the commercial side of the profession. Unfortunately I found that all too often, other type designers were simply coy about the commercial aspect of their work and would never get into conversations on the nitty gritty details about how much they were paid for particular fonts and how long the work took. This secrecy seems to continue today, and it remains a mystery to me how online font publishers such as Chank, Larabie et al make enough money to justify the work. I'm quite certain that font design is subsidized by the other professional work such graphic designers do, and is not really a viable economic concern in and of itself.
Sorry that the discussion has gone off topic. I'm new to this forum and just took the opportunity to bring up this subject.

hrant's picture

Well, every case is different, and people mean different things by "living" in "earn a living"... But I think you've hit the nail on the head about "subsidizing": Chank for example sells paintings on e-bay for a lot of money. In my case, I'm a Macromedia Director developer, and even with the crappy economy my de facto hourly rate (as opposed to the rate I quote my clients) is pretty high. Lastly, about secrecy: there's still a lot of it, but all indications are that it's much better now than in the olden days.

hhp

mart's picture

Hrant! - You're right. I think these designers are effectively their own "patrons" or "sponsors". They have a real income from other sources which subsidizes the labor of love that is type design.
The number of type designers in the world that make enough money to call it their sole profession (that's not the best definition, but hopefully you understand what I mean) is probably less than twenty. (And if we put our heads together we could probably come up with a list of exactly who those people are.)
I would be willing to bet that they can only say that because they are the sort of elite graphic designer who gets commisioned for a new font for a magazine or newspaper - NOT because they make so much money on retail sales of their fonts.
(By the way, I am not referring to lettering artists. Strictly designers of fonts available to buy retail.)

hrant's picture

Way less than 20.

hhp

mart's picture

Let's see...

Roger Black
Matthew Carter
Jonathan Hoefler
Jean-François Porchez
Erik Spiekermann
Hermann Zapf

can you add to this list?
(Copy and paste and keep it alphabetical.)

Stephen Coles's picture

My last estimate was 10. When I made the
casein front of a bunch of professionals no
oneargued the number with me. Does that
mean I'm right? No. But we may not be far off.

On the BT deal: I don't think it's perpetual.
But take a gander at the PDF yourself. I'm
too lazy. Also, I'm actually illiterate - I can
only read numbers.

Stephen

Miss Tiffany's picture

Roger Black
Matthew Carter
Jonathan Hoefler
*Rene Knip*
Jean-François Porchez
Erik Spiekermann
*Gerard Unger*
Hermann Zapf

Okay. Technically Rene Knip is known as a *Lettering Artist*.

mart's picture

Yes - Knip is definitely not primarily a font designer.
I was going to suggest Martin Wait:
http://freespace.virgin.net/martin.wait/
but although he has done many fonts, you only have to look at his lettering work to know that's where he makes his money.

So the list looks like this:
Roger Black
Matthew Carter
Jonathan Hoefler
Jean-François Porchez
Erik Spiekermann
Gerard Unger
Hermann Zapf

seven guys. I'm damned if I can think of any more...

flingford's picture

What about Zuzana Licko?

hrant's picture

This can get interesting. But let's clarify
things a bit. Am I correct in assuming that:

1. The List contains those who make *most* of their living from their own type designs (not lettering, not anything else), be it custom or retail. (I think we can all agree that virtually nobody can survive on just retail).
2. Fame has nothing to do with it.

If so, Black and Spiekermann I don't think are on there. Zapf is hard to tell these days. Licko is probably that side of the border (she was commissioned -using the term somewhat loosely- for Journal, I think). Shinn is unlikely (as much as I like his stuff). Unger is a strong contender (but note that he teaches). Tankard definitely. Quay I don't think. Also, Miles Newlyn might be a possibility, but I don't know what he's up to lately. And Tobias Frere-Jones is probably in there. David Berlow might be, if he doesn't make too much money outside his own type designs. And don't forget the Dutch Twins (even though they bend the definition of "type" - good for them).

BTW, another great on-line source for designers (and others in related fields) is:
http://www.myfonts.com/Person
You can also search by "Activity", like:
http://www.myfonts.com/Activity1.html

So here's my "cut":

Matthew Carter
Tobias Frere-Jones
Jonathan Hoefler
Jean-François Porchez
Jeremy Tankard
Erik van Blokland
Just van Rossum
Gerard Unger

Sorry for not really growing it... :-/
If we're lucky, I'm wrong. Plus I'm sure
there are some smaller names we're
missing, like maybe Frantisek Storm?

So, Stephen, it's looking like 10 is a *great* estimate!

hhp

mart's picture

I guess you'd have to be a typographic news junkie to know the current standing of any one of these people.
Frere-Jones is high profile due to being the most prolific designer at Font Bureau - I think. Maybe he does commissions too. So there's a tentative yes.
Zapf at, what is it, 85 could still walk into most any big corporation and they'd hire him as a consultant. But I think I agree that perhaps he isn't that active compared to the younger professionals on this list.
Licko's reputation seems to rest as much on her other work and that of her partner, Rudy VanderLans as her type work.
I don't believe Tankard should be on the list. I think his case needs to be made.
The Dutch twins I think shouldn't be there as they most probably make a fortune as the hottest graphic designers over there, doing stuff for tv etc. I'm sure their font design work doesn't earn that much.
Unger and Carter are automatically on the list.
Porchez is probably the Jonathan Hoefler of France.
Roger Black - yes - what have you done for me lately? But he does have an impressive track record. That's why I first put him in.

I think we can only get there by discussion and consensus.

Please throw your 2¢ in...

Stephen Coles's picture

Jared may want to move this monster thread into the
General Discussions category (or create a new category
for "Wild Speculation") but it's still good fun.

The Font Bureau boys, Licko, and Hoefler/Jones
(they work together now) are in a special category
because a substantial portion of their income is
certainly from their respective corporations (foundries)
consisting partly of designs other than their own.
So perhaps this is a list of designers who *could* make
a living designing type but happen to supplement
those earnings with other work. In that case the Dutch
fellas and Quay and Sack would be back on board.
What about the folks at Dalton Maag and Wolff Olins?

Of course this opens up a big ol' can of subjectivity
worms. Who's to say these folks could or could not
make a living solely from their own type designs?

I suppose the original goal was to decide how good
you have to be or how rare it is to make a decent
living designing type. Which category of list brings us
closest to that goal?

Stephen

mart's picture

I thought we were talking about individuals and not firms.
Clearly there are less than 20 individuals (that we know about) who make enough money to call type design their sole profession. So the point has been made about the commercial (non)viability of the field.

In which case I think I'll contribute to the nit-picking:

I can't see any fonts at Wolff Olins. And it's a firm, not an individual.

At Dalton Maag they obviously do a lot of custom font work. Bruno Maag is the owner, but is he the individual responsible for all those fonts? So without knowing the details I'd put DM down as a firm and not an individual.

I didn't know Hoefler and Jones worked together. But shouldn't Hoefler remain on the list seeing as he seems to be very active in high-profile custom font design?

flingford's picture

I'd have to affirm that Zuzana Licko and Rudy Vanderlans make "most of their money" from font sales... at least according to Vanderlans' interview at http://emigre.com.

I suppose if you're focusing on retail font sales it's good to be married to a magazine editor and run your own 'zine...

//joe

hrant's picture

Stephen:
I think we shouldn't go hypothetical - it's too distracting. As for the "corporation" aspect you bring up, that's definitely something to consider, but only case-by-case. I have to agree with Martin, and restate that -to me at least- the most useful question to [try to] answer here is: who makes most of their living from sales of their own designs? In the case of FB, it's difficult to say who gets how much of what (I'm sure some of you know, though); in the case of Emigre, it's clearer (see below); and in the case of HTF, although it's getting less clear, it's still relatively very clear: Hoefler's library is mostly his - he's the one who worked on the bulk of the designs, and he's the one who gets most of the cash. TFJ is his partner now (but an equal partner?), so that makes it trickier, but I don't think HTF is really a "font house", so I suspect TFJ gets most of the money from his own designs. Insiders please correct me if I'm wrong.

Joe:
In the case of Emigre, I have to ask: fonts designed by *whom*? In the past three years Licko has designed one new font family. And surely RvL doesn't live off of Suburban... Like most font houses, Emigre gives between 10-20% royalties to its designers, and the rest could be enough to make a living (although less and less with each passing day), but to me that's really beside the point: we're talking about investing time designing type, not leveraging a powerful brand to profit from the design work of others, as smart as that is (or at least used to be).

hhp

anonymous's picture

A couple of Brits that might make the list:

Jeremy Tankard
David Quay

And perhaps a Canadian:

Nick Shinn

anonymous's picture

Licko may well fit in this category, although I don't know if she has ever been commisioned to do a whole font for a big client.

David Quay and Jeremy Tankard are small potatoes compared to the others in this list and I'm sure fall into the category of subsidizers of their own font designs

Here is the best list anywhere of font designers:

http://www-cgrl.cs.mcgill.ca/~luc/designers.html

Syndicate content Syndicate content