As more digital content is moving to flat-rate subscription services, font foundries are concerned that creators of quality typefaces won’t be able to make a living when their assets are controlled by near-monopolies. At the same time, existing font-licensing models are proving unwieldy, and they don’t give customers the option to try out fonts before buying them.
As a response to these problems, on May 22 Peter Bilak and Fontstand BV in the Netherlands launched Fontstand, a Mac OS X application that gives users access to thousands of high-quality fonts from some of the world’s most renowned foundries. Fontstand lets users test these fonts for free and then rent them on a monthly basis for a fraction of their regular price. The revenue from font rentals is fairly shared with the designers, which enables them to continue to create fine typefaces. I asked Bilak to give the Daily Heller more details about this new means of distributing font profits among creators.
Tell me about how Fontstand will address the problem of fairness in type licensing practices.
Adobe Typekit started offering font subscriptions where designers receive minimal royalties (perhaps only a few designers get something, but 90% of the fonts that constitute the collection receive just breadcrumbs). There is an imminent announcement from Monotype that will offer flat-rate pricing. Designers who used to earn their living with royalties will have to find a different source of income, as their previous income will be radically slashed. It is the Spotify/Pandora model that you may hear artists complaining about. An artist may be streamed millions of times, and their revenue decreases per stream.
Fontstand has fixed contractual royalties per font, not flat-rate pricing. Revenue for each rented font goes back to the foundry and their designers.
With type being such a huge commodity, why haven’t regulations like this existed before?
There has been a change of mentality of type foundries since around 2009, when the webfonts services came about ((Typotheque was the first foundry to introduce the idea of webfonts). Before, foundries had been extremely protective of their work, and very hesitant to put their work on servers, where it could be copied. Since then, they’ve become more permissive, seeing that they should focus on legitimate customers, rather than only protecting their work and fighting piracy. Some offered even some sort of crippled demo fonts. Others make PDFs for clients. We finally came to a point where there is a willingness to create a very convenient one-click solution for testing and licensing fonts.
There was a lot of negotiation with foundries, and smaller foundries are resistant to VC money and big corporations. As the owner of an indie foundry, I was in a position to negotiate with my colleagues terms that benefit everyone.
What are the ways independent type designers are able to avoid piracy now? What will Fontstand do that will be definitive for them?
For years, type designers tried to address the problem by regulations, strict licenses and prosecuting those that infringe the rights.
Now, instead of a legal solution, we tried to create a better product. This is what iTunes has done for music. Instead of illegally downloading the songs, people enjoy convenience of legal options. Here is one slide from my presentation:
In Norway piracy has virtually disappeared since users have been offered legal alternatives (digital download services). I hope that Fontstand will do just the same.
How much will it cost the designer?
The fonts are free to test, and will costs 10% of their retail price to rent per month. I hope that this low-level entry will also allow people who have never used quality fonts to get them.
Will this become its own bureaucracy?
There is a smart cloud-based infrastructure behind it, and an automatized royalty sharing mechanism. We are able to operate with minimal overhead costs.
How will you get the world to join this plan?
By transparent discussion about the service. We made a solution that benefits all parties—the font users and makers—and offers affordable pricing of previously very expensive products.
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