Student Discounts and Classroom Licensing

I just watched Young Type Lovers Anonymous. It got me thinking about how a font foundry might provide discounted licensing to students based on the courses they take.

I do offer a student discount through TypeTrust, but I don't advertise it and do not receive many requests. I'm generally suspicious of the offer being exploited similarly to the way any recent (or not-so-recent) grad might flash a school ID for a discounted ticket at a movie theater or theme park, etc. I can only assume that some of my fonts are being shared among students for school projects, and that many of these fonts continue to be used after graduation which is when my concern hardens. I might agree that font licensing seems too expensive for a student’s budget—even with a hefty discount, but I hope the following proposition might be a viable approach to dissuade software piracy, and foster a professional respect among young type users, their instructors, and type designers.

I haven't been a student for a while, I've never taught any college course, and I haven't even had any involvement in academia for quite a while, so I'd like to hear if this approach might actually work in the academic sphere.

Fonts as Course Requirements
Instructors who write their own syllabi might choose and assign textbooks or supplies as part of the course materials. As far as I understand it, these items are ordered in bulk from the publishers/distributors and sold to the students through the university bookstore. In a similar way, could a collection of relevant typefaces be assigned as required materials? One benefit might be that every student completes each assignment with the same tools, which narrows the focus of grading/critiques to how they have used the typefaces, rather than what typefaces they have chosen to use. (I assume this would be most beneficial in first-year foundation coursework.)

Instructor Participation: Typeface Selection and License Request
This approach would absolutely require due diligence on the part of the instructor, and the school as well if all purchases might go through the bookstore. (I'll get to that below.) A typographically informed design instructor (the only kind to have) would know what current/popular/quality typefaces will provide the most potential for good design, a good variety of project applications, and the ultimate goal of good student portfolios. The instructor could even present a wider selection of vetted typefaces to the class for discussion and final selection per assignment, which might even present an excellent exercise in real-world typographic decision-making and type awareness: having the students actively participate in the selection, budgeting, and purchasing of font licenses.

Foundry Participation: Classroom Discounts
From the font foundry side, one multi-user license would be drafted to cover the whole class. The cost of that license would then be shared among the students taking the course at a fraction of the base license price. Apply an educational discount, and the price per student on any current, professional-quality font wouldn't be more than a few bucks. And how much do textbooks cost? Add up the license cost for the collection of fonts that the instructor has assigned. The total might still only come to the average price of a textbook or any heap of assigned tools and studio course materials. The foundry could also set the specific terms of the license. Would it extend to cover use outside of class, or outside of school, or for post-graduation freelance work? I'd say YES to all these. (I still have the compass and French curves I had to buy at art school in 1993.)

School Participation: University Bookstore Distribution
This approach would be most effective with school/bookstore participation. The licensing could be handled in bulk and purchased by the bookstore, an accurate and approved cost to the individual student could be calculated, and the foundry or type designer would receive a single payment per semester based on how many students are taking the courses. Everyone would be appropriately covered under a single legitimate end user license, and perhaps the school might provide a roster of covered students if the foundry requires.

Since I'm so out of touch with academia, I've been wondering whether schools have yet adopted any system of eBook distribution in place of hardcopy textbook sales, and if there's already a third-party provider of eBook licensing for academic use. If there's already a system in place to handle the distribution and licensing of electronic goods, font distribution wouldn't really be any different.

- - -

Let me know what you think. I'd like to hear some perspectives from other foundries and type designers, but more importantly from design instructors and students.


  • As I touched upon above, my proposal would require quite a bit of diligence, sacrifice, and cooperation on all parts. Perhaps the real question to ask is whether it's worth the effort to conjure a new way to license fonts to a certain market that we all agree requires special services.

    I say making things complicated is better than letting things fall apart, but finding the right balance between a system's simplicity and its effectiveness is key. As a licensor, I would gladly make sacrifices to see something like this work. I see that schools and instructors and students would have to cooperate, while infrastructure and consensus among type sellers regarding license terms would have to congeal to a sort of industry standard.

    Awareness is growing, evident by the creation of a documentary on this matter. Perhaps it's time to start building a reasonable solution.
  • I actually had roughly the same conversation with the design professors at my university a few weeks ago (basically, painters have to buy paint, brushes and canvas therefore typography students should buy type). They thought it would be worth pursuing. We also saw it as a way to teach students that there are more options than futura and meta and, as students were expected to spend their own money, they would likely spend more time and effort evaluating their options.

    The only fault I see in the “everyone has to license the same type” method would be the potential for a few foundries pushing their products on students.

    The university I attend is able to buy roughly two families per year for the machines in our computer lab. Like Indra, we have the Font Folio and a random assortment which has grown (and corrupted), over the years.

    Despite the faculty’s best efforts, the machines at the university are a mess. Many of the typefaces are corrupted in ways I’ve never encountered before. This has led many of the students simply stealing the type from these machines and installing it on their laptops (it makes me laugh when I’m working with another student and I see a copy of my own typeface stolen from the university machines).

    The real problem I’ve come across is that the students have no idea when it comes to licensing—some simply do not know when they are crossing the line while others won’t think twice about pirating as many typefaces as possible (and then telling the faculty that they bought the license). If they were made to purchase the type themselves, then, hopefully, they would be familiar with the licensing process.

    Also, I know that the texts chosen by our faculty are not based on the university book store but whatever the professor decides is appropriate for the class.
  • Also, I know that the texts chosen by our faculty are not based on the university book store but whatever the professor decides is appropriate for the class.
    And the books are ordered and sold through the university bookstore? How often does a prof assign a book that you have to order on Amazon?
  • Most of the books I’ve had to buy for art classes were not available in the bookstore. A lot of the design books were published by smaller publishers (for example, we used Inside Paragraphs as an additional reading for the Type 1 class last semester), or the decision was made too late to get it in the bookstore.

    In fact, I, and most of the students I’ve talked to, rarely buy any books through the bookstore (as ours has a terrible markup).
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,970
    edited May 2013
    I teach at a medium sized, very expensive, and private university in NYC. I also taught for two semesters at an inexpensive and gargantuan public university. That’s the perspective I’m applying to the following:
    Fonts as Course Requirements
    This is done in some courses at Fordham. But we have an extensive library of fonts in our labs, including Font Folio and fonts from H&FJ, Berthold, Emigre, and FSI. I encourage our students to use these fonts and many do. Unfortunately many schools, especially small private art schools, do not have enough labs and require students to use laptops. In those schools it can be very tough for instructors to keep students working within the bounds of any project brief.
    Instructor Participation: Typeface Selection and License Request
    I might try this during the fall semester, especially now that most of my students are business/marketing/communications majors. I suspect that some design programs would insist they don’t have room to fit this into their classes, especially programs that don’t have a business class just for the design students, or that only require one typography class.
    School Participation: University Bookstore Distribution
    Independent foundries could create a student font packages and makes them available as boxed software. Most American college bookstores are now managed by Barnes and Noble, so that makes distribution a little easier. B&N has digital textbooks but it’s tied to the doomed Nook tablet platform.

    That’s all for responding to the OP, now on to my own thoughts.

    FWIW, last semester (Spring 2013) was the first semester that I remember my students going out of their way to buy fonts. I suspect this has to do with the sudden flood of cheap fonts on the market. I used to sell a lot of noncommercial Armitage licenses at 50% off on MyFonts, but I stopped offering that license because professional designers were abusing it. Maybe what we need is a store that offers steep discounts but only sells to people with a .edu account, or are behind a network with a .edu domain, etc. But then we have to deal with all the schools that let graduates keep their .edu email account for life.

    It’s possible that this will be addressed largely via font subscription services. Within a decade almost all schools will have gone through a hardware and software upgrade cycle that gets them on Creative Cloud. And students are already subscribing on their own. That’s a lot of students converted to legitimate users, similar to what Spotify and are doing for music. It’s probably the best option we have for reaching out to many students from poor families who are getting by entirely on financial aid and can’t even afford all their textbooks, especially during lean years like 2009–10.
  • Thierry BlancpainThierry Blancpain Posts: 201
    edited May 2013
    Grilli Type originally started as a university project itself, so we’re quite conscious of the overall problem. We get quite a lot of emails from students asking for free or highly reduced licenses.

    We decided not to offer student licenses, but I always do explain to them that our trial fonts license includes a provision that allows for non-commercial usage by students. Our trial fonts don’t include kerning data (we may change that at some point), and a very reduced character set (a–Z, 0–9, some punctuation), but especially for English language use and short bits of text it’s often enough.

    Interestingly, my experience has been that for the most part, those that actually go through the trouble of emailing us, will end up buying the licenses anyway. Maybe that’s because of our trial fonts that enable them to really just buy the styles that they end up using in their projects. $50 or $100 is a lot of money, but it’s also an investment into a tool that they will be able to use for a long time.

    Indra: This is especially true of German art schools. We sell quite a bit to German students.
  • Silas, some time ago I saw that documentary and started thinking about it and having ideas similar to yours. I think you're right about the importance of the subject. I talked about it with some people a couple of months ago at ]TPC10[ in São Paulo, but strangely almost nobody demonstrated interest on the subject. I may be wrong but it seems to me that the most established foundries don't care too much about font piracy, but the point here is not just about font piracy but about creating a stronger culture around typography and type design. Where I live, many 35-years-old-senior-graphic-designers had never licensed a typeface in life, they have no idea of the importance of it, nor how to do it.

    @Indra Are the foundries OK with the students installing them on their private computes, not the school machines? - Sure, why not both?

    But honestly – they are not really helped with 10% off, they’d need at least 50% - In this particular case I would consider even more than 50% (it's different of heavy discounts on Myfonts, in my opinion).

    Are they to keep the license forever they paid at a student rate? - Again, why not?

    @James Maybe what we need is a store that offers steep discounts but only sells to people with a .edu account, or are behind a network with a .edu domain, etc. - Good idea
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 259
    edited May 2013
    @Daniel: standard multi user licenses require the fonts to be only installed on computers belonging to one company or entity. This can’t be realized when student work on their own computers and not in labs. They are obviously taking the fonts home anyway so I think it’s essential to work out a way they can license fonts easily and affordable themselves (and keep, yes).

    Whatever we are going to do, the workload can’t be put onto the schools only if you want to change the problem of piracy. As I said, nobody wants to get that admin work on their plate. I can only speak for my and some other German schools but we don’t have supply shops or any personnel for something like that. Our school doesn’t even have an IT person or admin. We can educate the students as good and true as we can about licensing and how fonts work, but ultimately this is something the foundry has to work out with the student/customer.

    I’m willing to put together a list or site that links to all educational offers from foundries. But as a teacher I don’t want to get involved into distribution of the fonts.

    Oh and keep in mind that European students don’t necessarily have an .edu email address or domain, at least no one in Germany has. How to check student status easily in a different way?
  • @Jackson - And the same big companies maintain control over creativity and industry standards.

    @James & @Daniel - I don't want to have to sell through yet another distributor just to reach a special market just because they need a special discount. But that's just me on my "anti-middleman" trip.

    @Indra - My “Classroom License” would cover exactly the type of situation that a classroom workflow necessitates. It wouldn't be a license for the school machines. It would grant usage rights to each student on an individual basis, but with a significant savings that my standard MUL would provide. I would absolutely grant a perpetual license to each individual student, allow them to install my fonts on their own personal computer, and even keep using them for commercial work after graduation. It's the least I could offer to get a young graphic designer interested in my stuff, and start building a relationship with the next generation of design professionals.

    @Daniel - Font piracy at the student level is of little importance to foundries because there really isn't a way to recoup the lost income. We all know students are personally broke. (Most of us have been in their shoes.) But you're right, the bigger picture is about “creating a stronger culture around typography and type design.” This is already happening throughout the industries that depend on type design—all industries except academia. Ironically, this is the last place foundries are concerned with, but it's the first place to foster this culture.

    Now, in contrast to students being personally broke, tuition fees are rising. There is so much money being pumped through schools (at least in the US) that graduates are crushed by loans for years. Who is going to pay for a $30 font license when they have a $300 loan payment to make every single month? Offering a special license before graduation is in my mind the most sensible way to help a young designer start operating with some respect for the tools of their trade.

    Rather than offer a deep discount to any individual who claims a .edu email account—nevermind the impossibility of verification and policing—what I'm trying to do is rationalize a discount within my own existing license schedule. The base TypeTrust license covers 5 CPUs and costs an average of $30. I use an algorithm to calculate each individual user above that, the per CPU price is roughly the same, but decreases on a sliding scale as you increase the number of CPUs covered. When you license 50 users, the price per CPU is not $6, but almost half that. With an additional 50% educational discount, the price is less than the proverbial cup of coffee.
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 259
    edited May 2013
    @jackson Font API
  • RalfRalf Posts: 170
    edited June 2013
    I’m willing to put together a list or site that links to all educational offers from foundries.
    This is based on an earlier TypeDrawers thread on this matter:
    I would absolutely grant a perpetual license to each individual student … and even keep using them for commercial work after graduation.
    IMHO individual licenses are the way to go. With today’s diverse font market, I can't imagine how school/class licenses would be feasible. Even if the teacher or IT admin would go through the trouble (→paperwork) to license fonts from 10 or 20 recommendable foundries, it would still only cover a fraction of the fonts that students might want to use for the next assignment.
    (Not that these kind of things shouldn't be done — I just don't think they will work on a broader scale as solution to this student piracy problem.)

    Concerning school work vs. commercial work: From my experience it doesn't make sense to license fonts to individual students for school work only. It just doesn't reflect reality any more. During their study, graphic design students will start to do jobs for friends and family, for small businesses and so on. It's all “kind of commercial“ (because they are getting paid) but still so low-budget, that it doesn't cover a $300 type family. So they will either “steal” a font anyway or use the student license for this commercial work.
    Adobe once had student (non-commercial) and education (no limitations) packages for their CS products but then only offered the latter. The offer just reflects the smaller income of the customer, but doesn't have any other limitations. That is a good way to go for student font licensing as well and it's a good deal for both sides.
    We are selling our fonts this way and students take these offers quite often.
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 259
    edited June 2013
    Thanks for reminding me of that list Ralf. I couldn’t find our discussion on Typedrawers neither on Typographica anymore. I updated the info (e.g. FontShop DE and Linotype lowered the discount) and links and added some more here:

    Please let me know of more offerings, especially from smaller foundries, and I’ll add them.
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 996
    edited June 2013
    Indra, you couldn't find mine because I asked on Twitter and made notes in a draft blog post which no one could see. Useless! So, here's what I gathered to add to your list:
    • ARS Type offers discounts for educational purposes/academies (but not specifically for students), per request – starts at 25%.
    • Mota Italic does 30% off for students & educators.
    • Typolar offers to schools, depending on the volume, up to 60% off. For nonprofit student projects free, “if we are convinced about motives”.
    • MyFonts reports that about 1/4 of fonts are available for an edu discount (it varies by foundry). Discount is usually 15-20%.
    • DSType Foundry offers 50%. It’s unclear what the requirements are.
    • BAT Foundry offers a discount of 30% for schools, educators and students.
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 259
    Thanks, do you happen to have some links to go with that info? Otherwise I’ll try to research the details next week.
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 996
    edited June 2013
    These are all direct quotes (with minor editing) from Twitter replies. Here’s what I could find working around Twitter’s lame archive: ARS Type, Mota Italic, Typolar, DSType, BAT.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,970
    I handle education licensing on request, the contact form is
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,970
    edited June 2013
    It occurred to me that this thread seems focused on student licensing for the recent past. But now that design school is transitioning away from print projects to web and games/application design, will that change student font licensing? Will type designers who aren’t on Typekit or Creative Cloud be willing to sell cheap web font licenses to students?
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 259
    That’s why I said with served (web) fonts it’s much easier to grand students access to specific fonts or a whole library for a certain period of time, for instance until they graduate. Not as easy for self-hosted webfonts. Something the foundries should talk about with the webfont hosting service they work with.
  • Will Typekit and Creative Cloud end font piracy?
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 259
    edited June 2013
    We all read the comparison of Spotify and Rdio like streaming services and pirating music. Might not end it entirely but will make it much less worthwhile. The micro royalties of these mega services are a different topic. Although Tim Ahrens just wrote on twitter “A small piece of a big cake can be bigger than a big piece of a small cake.” I still hope there will be alternative font hosting options besides Adobe/Typekit and Monotype’s Skyfonts, and offers less fixated on a whole library.
  • @Indra - In the same metaphor, the majority of recording artists are not getting enough cake to bother eating. But that's a whole other discussion that I'm more than happy to engage in, as long as my broke musician friends are present.

    @James - I'm already willing to sell really cheap licenses to students, regardless of the application. I'm just trying to find a way for students to gain some respect for the business world they'll graduate into, and to do so without completely compromising my existing licensing model. In the end, it's not even about the money. It's about building a working relationship with future professionals.
  • No offense, but I'm skeptical of the Hostess opinion on cake.
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