The business of a type foundry and font licensing

Hi everyone.

I’m in the process of writing my Master Thesis about Change Management in SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) with a focus on type foundries and the font market. Can anyone point me to recent scientific papers or articles that look at the business side of type foundries and font licensing? I already did quite some literature research but it seems (not surprisingly), that this particular field of business studies isn’t especially well examined.

I’m happy about any leads and thanks in advance!



  • Mary Catherine Phlug from Myfonts present this survey concerning the Font Purchasing Habits. Hope this can be helpful to you. 
  • My upcoming article in Communication Arts will probably be of interest. Not sure about the street date for that. But in general ... you are going to have to interview some people.

    I'd suggest talking to Mary Catherine Pflug and Joyce Ketterer first. Then maybe Matthew Rechs and/or Christopher Slye, Bruno Maag.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,424


  • Thanks for your comments! I also thought about consulting exactly the mentioned people, as well as the font purchase habit survey. What I’m specifically looking for is scientific papers or articles that deal with the business models of type foundries, the particular kind of design service type foundries offer, licensing models and distribution channels. According to the rough structure of my master thesis, I need those sources to give a general overview of the type design industry. The main topic is Change Management, which is a purely microeconomic topic.
    My upcoming article in Communication Arts will probably be of interest. Not sure about the street date for that. But in general ... you are going to have to interview some people.
    I’m intrigued by the article! Please let me know if you have a release date.

    Thanks a lot again for you help!
  • I have an archival recording of my TypeCon talk about font licensing if you'd like to connect with me via DM. To your request, there is very little in the way of scientific papers other than as published by Mary Catherine. And even less about the way each business/foundry is run as a business entity because in effect all font creators are their own entrepreneurs and each prefers its own manner/method of running its business.

    At a macro level there are general models of income generation from font licensing and custom font development work but each comes with its own set of variables.

    I'm not sure how much variation you'll find at the macro level but a great disparity once you start peeling off the layers of the onion.
  • @Thomas Phinney and @Chris Lozos  I can't "agree" or mark "insightful" when you're complimenting me. I wish there was a "hug" button.  

    The request for "scientific" information is what kept me away.  I have a social science degree and so know most of my information is high quality anecdotal.  Also, Not sure how far back he wants to go, I've only been in in the industry for 13 years which sounds like a lot but isn't.

  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,367
    edited February 2020
    Also: drop me a private note and I can give you contact information for some people.

    My article in CA is about some aspects of how the industry has changed in the past decade, and outlook for the near future—particularly with regards to money in the business, how many new fonts are being made, licensing models, who is making fonts, those sorts of things. It got cut quite a bit for space reasons—1600 words on a topic that could very easily have been double that.

    I will likely be publishing a sort of companion piece on my blog, that expands on a few specific aspects that I had to cut from the article. The looks-to-be-final version ended up quoting neither Joyce nor Bruno, for example.  :(
  • @Tobias Reinhardt  I've been doing some research for a talk I'm going to give in May called "How to (and not to) commission a custom typeface".  I put together some questions I thought were sufficiently targeted to get answers that could be compared to each other and was amazed by all over the map responses.  And that's after more than a decade doing this and from people who know first hand they can trust me.  I commend you for taking on this subject and would like you to add to human knowledge.  You may have an uphill battle with this specific topic and may need to be willing to do something a little more foundational.
  • Thomas Phinney Will gladly write you a DM. Thanks!
    Stuart Sandler Will gladly write you a DM as well! Yes, I’m aware that it’s difficult to find literature about the businesses itself. That’s why I also wanted to try Typedrawers. Usually, there is always at least one person, that has such particular knowledge :)
    JoyceKetterer Thanks for getting back to me as well. It looks like I’ve found uncharted territories. First and foremost I have to write the thesis but it is definitely tempting to make the topic my own and find a way to make the material collected in the process available in some way, shape or form. Type foundries as businesses (especially the independent ones) and typefaces as products are really hard to classify in a microeconomic context as they don’t completely behave as classic retail businesses.
  • @Tobias Reinhardt Yes.  I'm happy to help, feel free to email me.

  • @JoyceKetterer Will do, thanks. Just one thing: Poor @Tobias Reinhardt will be completely confused why he is getting so much attention ;)
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,424
    @Joyce, your honesty and your work speaks for itself.
  • BTW, pricing is a very hot topic lately in the font world. Subscription to access library vs permanent license to individual fonts is a big question.

    Also, if one is doing pricing based on individual fonts, how on earth do you price a variable font? (Variable fonts do fit nicely into a “library access with monthly fee” pricing model, however.)
  • How embarrassing!  sorry.
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 699
    edited February 2020
    @Thomas Phinney  This is what I said when they first announced variable, as you might remember.  That is, with the caveat that my main concern was customer confusion rather than pricing issues.  Only font people think that the family is the essential unit.  Customers think it is the style.  

    To your specific question, it's still possible to have an idea of the number of conventional instances in a variable font.  
  • @Thomas Phinney  To your specific question, it's still possible to have an idea of the number of conventional instances in a variable font.  

    It's possible ... but sometimes it can get kind of silly with variable fonts. Typeface I am kerning right now (Science Gothic) has 4 axes, lots of range, and logically would have 315 instances. It gets reduced just because one doesn’t want menus to get too complicated.

    9 weights
    7 widths
    3 levels of contrast (Y opaque)
    2 italic vs not italic
  • @Thomas Phinney  I see your point, but also not because 4 axes is a lot of work!  Pricing by masters makes a kind of sense for all fonts, if you can get customers to understand it.  
  • Tobias, here are two talks worth watching (and people to talk to) for a perspective on font retail concepts outside the large corporate entities (Adobe, Monotype) and small foundries:
  • I gave an overview of the industry as I saw it in 2015. (BTW, the concept I had in mind at that time never came to fruition, unfortunately.)
  • Hi @Tobias Rechsteiner 
    There are two articles from Sebastien Morlinghem ("Renouveau") and Indra Kupferschmitt ("L'avenir est variable") in the 2019's edition of Graphisme en France. The essays are in French, but maybe you can ask the authors for an english version? Hope this helps!
  • @Thomas Phinney Yes, I agree that pricing is a "hot" topic. Variable Fonts will definitely change the price structures. I can imagine that we’ll see (comparable to webfonts at the time) a drop in prices. That will certainly also be a part of my thesis.
    @Stephen Coles Thanks a lot for the additional resources!
    @ronotypo Thanks! I do speak and write French, even if it’s a little rusty lately, after all I’m Swiss ;)
  • Great topic, can't wait to read your findings!

    Research is a good excuse to ask people directly :) You might get data that no one else dared to ask for or publish, simply by asking foundries to fill a confidential questionnaire. It is also more likely to be valuable for you to have answers to specific questions, rather than getting an assortment of more or less validated opinions from various sources that are hard to compare.
  • Also consider how pricing will be affected once Custom Fonts start to gain traction in the iOS App Store, a brand new marketplace for fonts.
  • @Stuart Sandler Do you mean to say custom fonts?  Or do you mean non-system and non-embedded fonts manually activated by the end user?
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 957
    edited February 2020
    @JoyceKetterer Yes. Unfortunately, when introducing the feature, Apple used the term “custom fonts” to refer to any font not already installed in iOS.
  • I remember that from the developer conference presentation but assumed it was excised before release. 
  • what a bunch of dipshits.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,485
    And thus in the year of our Lord 2020, Apple did create a critical semantic distinction between typefaces and fonts. :#
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,237
    Custom fonts for iOS are now custom custom fonts.
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