The Sorry State of Native App Typography Licensing

Jon Schoning's picture

Idan Gazit describes the troubles faced while trying to licensing typefaces for use in mobile apps:

http://gazit.me/2012/12/19/mobile-app-typography.html

quadibloc's picture

I'm not at all surprised that the license for including a font in an application is higher than licensing one copy of the font, since now the font will be used by everyone who buys a copy of the application - even if it is not directly accessible for use in other applications. (Word processors and graphics programs often come with full copies of fonts, usable by any application on the same computer. Their makers pay quite a bit to license those fonts.)

This is not at all the same thing as you using the font, and making documents with it. You are literally reselling the font, from their point of view.

phrostbyte64's picture

It is my understanding that app licensing and other independent software vendor licensing requires more legal expertise and negotiations for contracts. I wouldn't know from personal experience. The bottom line is if you think that the price is too high, don't pay it. At some point foundries and resellers will come to understand that this kind of pricing won't fly. Alternately, there will be enough people willing to pay the price and things won't change.

John Hudson's picture

If you are selling an app -- or making one available free on an ad revenue basis -- then you are making money from each copy of the app licensed to an end user. That means that the font embedded in the app is adding value and contributing to your income from each copy of the app licensed. So app embedding font licensing reflects that, and quite rightly: pricing reflects added value.

aluminum's picture

"That means that the font embedded in the app is adding value and contributing to your income from each copy of the app licensed"

Isn't that true of books, too? Or magazine? Or newspapers?

John Hudson's picture

A book is a static text, and the font is not being 'used' by the reader of the book. A font embedded in an app is, typically, being used by the app or by the end user in a variety of ways, e.g. displaying dynamic text or actually creating text. This is pretty straight-forward code licensing from the perspective of an app developer, like licensing an API or DLL. There's a pretty basic cost/benefit analysis to be made that is the same for fonts as for other embedded code: roll your own, license from someone, or find an open source or free option.

aluminum's picture

I can maybe see an argument for content creation...if the app is, in turn, creating media using the fonts.

For just displaying text, though, I find it more of an arbitrary distinction from any other use of 'displaying text' in the analog world.

I agree totally on the cost/benefit analysis.

John Hudson's picture

For just displaying text, though, I find it more of an arbitrary distinction from any other use of 'displaying text' in the analog world.

Yes, in this respect the analogy is closer to that of webfont. But if part of the complaint re app embedding licensing for fonts is that it is too complicated, trying to make a licensing distinction between apps that display text and apps in which text is created seems unlikely to simplify anything.

Mind you, I don't think simplifying the licensing of fonts for app embedding is necessarily in anyone's interests, and I'm surprised to see some foundries trying to provide generic pricing for such licensing. Different apps have different capabilities and hence different needs, not to mention different value. It seems much more like the custom font development market in which I operate than the retail font licensing market, and I would expect any license agreement in such a market to be individually negotiated and subject to a particular agreement (as would be the case for most other embedded code). I understand that app developers might appreciate the convenience of a single license and pricing model, but that would inevitably mean that some of them would be paying more then they might otherwise, while others would be getting a great deal that fails to reward the foundry for the kind of value the fonts add to the product.

phrostbyte64's picture

I'm glad that someone can explain it rationally. That also explains the negotiations that I have told are required for these kinds of licenses.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

As much as I admire and respect John, I don’t agree with his opinions on this topic. We (www.monokrom.no) offer app licenses priced by units downloaded per month. It is certainly not a catch-all solution, but neither is licensing fonts for web nor print (think huge international magazine vs. student). With our app licenses, one of the goals was to offer a reasonable price for small and/or free projects. Up to 50 units downloaded* per month, the one-time fee per font is only slightly less than a regular 1–5 desktop license.

* Meaning sold and/or given away for free.

aluminum's picture

Just purely my POV/2 cents but a font for display text--be it in book form, or app form--seems to be the same business use to me.

I may be wrong, but typefaces aren't typically sold based on the number of books sold that use them, are they?

I'm not necessarily against the idea of licensing based on a percentage of sale, it just doesn't seem common.

Rob O. Font's picture

"I may be wrong, but typefaces aren't typically sold based on the number of books sold that use them, are they?"

Fonts are typically licensed based on the number of those who will make use of the font's compositional capabilities.

I think this has been a great year for questions about how fonts are licensed, and a bit of a breakout year for ebooks, mags, and apps, while game licensing of fonts just keeps humming along.

Some might be puzzled by the unbelievable choice, but "sorry state" is, I think, a simplification.

John Hudson's picture

Frode, pricing per unit is of course a sensible model, presuming a) there is a trackable distribution model for the app (such as downloads), and b) you can get the client to agree to ongoing payments.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

pricing per unit is of course a sensible model, presuming a) there is a trackable distribution model for the app (such as downloads), and b) you can get the client to agree to ongoing payments.

a) Downloads is always trackable, but probably not for us. We are fine with that and trust our customers to purchase a suitable license. This is not much different from desktop licenses.

b) We operate with a one-time fee, so this isn’t an issue.

Might I add:

c) We are working on a solution for upgrades that allows the customer to deduct previous purchased licenses if/when downloaded units per month increases and they need a new license.

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