Thoughts on Monotype and its subsidiaries?

Matthijs HerzbergMatthijs Herzberg Posts: 38
edited September 3 in Type Business
Monotype is, by a long shot, the biggest type firm in the world. They own some of the largest distribution platforms (MyFonts, Linotype, FontShop, FontFont) as well as having absorbed many foundries.
Their main competition appears to be large companies which invest in type as a secondary feature, like Google and Adobe—all other font distributors are small time in comparison.
Because of their market share, they are able to set the rules that the rest of the type world has to play by. Prime example: the 50% commission split on MyFonts (a mediocre website the upkeep of which couldn't possibly warrant a 50% fee).
Many type designers have little choice but to sell on MyFonts and similar websites: the alternatives are smaller distributors which are unlikely to make nearly as many sales, or to build a distribution platform of one's own, which can be a huge investment of both time and money.
While sources are scarce, according to this Quora post (to which none other than @Thomas Phinney replied), Myfonts made roughly $80 million in revenue from retail fonts in 2013. If we assume that only half of this 80 mil comes from typefaces distributed but not owned by Monotype, and that the 50% fee is universal, they would've pocketed $20 million simply by selling other people's work on their websites.
Of course, Monotype can afford more than any others to advertise their platforms, to ensure that they're always the first to pop up on Google, etc, and thereby ensure that they retain their market share. Essentially, they are big because they are big.
In the meanwhile, Monotype is owned by a private equity firm, who profit from your* labor, by "merit" of having purchased a struggling business in the early 90's for pennies on the dollar.
What I see here is concentration and centralization of capital, which consequently leads to a position in which the distributor is more powerful than the designer, and can therefore set unfair rules.
Am I completely off base? Does Monotype not dominate the market as much as it seems? Do they do good in ways I'm not considering? Is it time for a type union? I'm happy to be proven wrong. I welcome your thoughts either way, as little discussion on this topic seems to exist currently.


*Presuming you sell on MyFonts.

EDIT: As a sidenote, I know I'm coming off rather opinionated here, but I don't really have a dog in this fight as I don't sell on any monotype platform.
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Comments

  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 420
    edited September 4
    I've also discussed this with lawyers and am not a lawyer.  It's a bit more nuanced when the "buyer" is presenting one contract to all sellers, I think. Not to suggest that's the case with monotype but for arguments sake.  But yeah, a thing that would exactly be a union probably isn't legal. 

    @Matthijs Herzberg Can you please tell us more about you and why you're asking?  
  • Matthijs HerzbergMatthijs Herzberg Posts: 38
    edited September 4
    @JoyceKetterer Hi, sorry I never did an introduction thread. I'm a freelance designer from the Netherlands, living in the US, came from lettering into type. Wouldn't say I'm a professional type designer but hoping to get there one day.
    I'm asking because I'm relatively new to the industry and because I'm a bit inquisitive when it comes to ethical business practices, and I was wondering how other people feel about the subject.
  • I can state that the small city of Woburn, Massachusetts, is home not to one, but two typographical powerhouses: Monotype, and The Walden Font Co.  :)
  • @Ray Larabie Thank you for your insight! I hadn’t considered the split between desktop and alternative licenses. I really like fontspring as a company, and it’s a smart move on their end to attract customers with more flexible licensing, and foundries/designers with a better split. I hope they keep growing: significant competition would be an effective incentive for monotype to be better as well.
  • @JoyceKetterer I understand that my question might have appeared strangely inquisitive, but yes its just for my personal understanding. Anyway, thanks for your insight! If I may ask: when you compare monotype and adobe's models, what is it that makes adobe's cloud-based service more dangerous for small foundries?

  • That said, I worry much more about cloud fonts.  For now, I'm happy with Adobe but the problem in general with cloud service of music/fonts/etc is that it eliminates a space for indies.  
    Isn't this the problem that type.world is meant to solve?
  • @Simon Cozens Maybe that's how they mean it but it wouldn't address the problem I'm trying to describe because it's still a platform you have to join.  My point about cloud fonts is that there's no way to self publish.
  • @JoyceKetterer Thank you for the thorough explanation, I get it now!
  • @Daniel Benjamin Miller I agree with most of what you said but I think your conclusions are a bit too "desktop" focused (mentally insert quotes going forward). As with everything in this era, shit's getting automated. 

    I think the saving grace from an income perspective is going to be the move from graphic designer heavy output to embedding because I don't see developers wanting hosted fonts for apps or web any time soon. They have various concerns including hosting outages and security. So, I can keep selling those licenses directly.

    The problem is that the desktop users will always be the ones who find and specify the font so we can't just turn our backs on desktop cloud fonts.  

    As an established foundry I'll be fine but I always think about those just starting out.  Everything about how Darden Studio does things is influenced by the ways that Josh got a raw deal with Freight and the awareness that it's a common tale for young artists in music (an industry with a lot of similarities to fonts).  


  • It’s important to remember that “cloud fonts” largely grew out of web font services (e.g. Typekit ➝ Typekit Desktop ➝ Adobe Fonts), so I think to some extent the cloud solutions for desktop fonts wouldn’t have happened so easily if web services hadn’t appeared. And Typekit, et al., provided something that many foundries were pleading for at the time -- to give them a secure web font solution that wouldn’t result in fonts sitting open on servers everywhere. I don’t see it as large companies coercing small designers into a big corporate model. (There are still plenty of fabulous, successful foundries that have done fine without Adobe/Typekit or Monotype’s help.)

    Also, through most of the ’90s, it was still pretty hard to distribute a typeface without the help of one of the established distributors. Before HTML/CSS got sophisticated, I think it was very difficult to a designer to succeed on their own. (It happened, but I think it was not easy.) Given the relative ease today of developing a website with seamless ecommerce, I’d say things are much better today for independents.

    I don’t know what’s in store for Adobe now, but last year I heard a lot about how foundries were starting to feel they had no choice but to join Adobe Fonts. That was a sign of a certain kind of success, but I always wanted Typekit/Adobe Fonts to be a choice designers took because it was a sustainable, beneficial partnership for them (e.g. to reach many, many more users than they could otherwise), not because they had to. I do understand that there are certain unintended consequences of someone like Adobe or Monotype massively scaling up a service for millions of people, but for now it seems like there are still many options for a type designer to succeed on their own terms.
  • @Christopher Slye I think cloud font are predominantly a good thing.  It's an improvement from a licensing perspective but it does represent a contraction.  There's always a price for progress.  
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,247
    Throughout the history of type, type designers have been at the mercy of the technology of their time and, mostly, the gatekeepers to that technology (the Monotype of their day). There was a wonderful period 15 years or so ago when the small foundry had a greater voice in their financial success. That was a beautiful time and type design was mostly about type design. Will it ever happen again or are we tilting at windmills?
  • edited September 8
    Throughout the history of type, type designers have been at the mercy of the technology of their time and, mostly, the gatekeepers to that technology (the Monotype of their day). There was a wonderful period 15 years or so ago when the small foundry had a greater voice in their financial success. That was a beautiful time and type design was mostly about type design. Will it ever happen again or are we tilting at windmills?

    The era of paying for font licenses seems to be drawing to a close, or is in decline. Not in the sense that fonts won't be licensed — they still will be — but rather that the license won't be what is so often paid for. Before digital fonts, people were paying for the physical items necessary for printing. Then, for a brief time, people paid to license the design. Soon, people will be licensing the design, but really paying for the infrastructure to use them as web fonts (or somesuch) principally…
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 420
    edited September 8
    @Daniel Benjamin Miller I don't see it that way at all. We're doing very well and the move to embeded fonts makes it easier for us to observe uses and get paid for them.  
  • There's a new generation that doesn't have the means or knowledge to make use of a traditional desktop font in a zip. That's the main reason I have faith in cloud fonts. But I wonder what kind of visual impact it'll have. Consider Google and Adobe's relatively limited selection. It reminds me of the 1980's where you'd mostly see Letraset/Mecanorma dry transfer display type while phototype catalog typefaces were vanishing. Letraset/Mecanorma had relatively few fonts available compared to phototype services link PLINC.
  • Google, Adobe and Monotype online font libraries are all continuing to grow. Ray is doubtless right that some new folks don’t know how to use desktop fonts, but … for any given user, the selection of fonts available to them continues to grow.
  • @Peter Constable Yeah, I think that all the players missed the window in which an itunes model for fonts would have been desirable (e.i. "desktop licensing that's restricted to an ecosystem).  By the time they got on board music had already moved to a "spotify" model for which the counterpart is cloud fonts.  
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 420
    edited September 13
    Bringing this thread back to Monotype, I don't see their cloud font model competing with other platforms because it misunderstands fonts.  Fonts are component software, not an end to themselves.  The best place to offer cloud fonts will always be document generation software.  For now, Adobe has a near monopoly but it's a matter of time before salesforce, squarespace or one of the design software upstarts makes a better product and starts to get some traction.

  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,247
    I hope so, Joyce, monopoly never breeds good work.
  • @Chris Lozos true.  but it's gonna be hard on established foundries because Adobe has been good to us and no one else show signs of respecting us at all.
  • Since I see myself as font designer in the first place, I feel somehow uncomfortable with the fact that more and more attention shifted towards technical and policy issues over the last years (just have a look at the thread themes in this place). So, for me the favourable merchandise partner will be the one who offers a) a fair share; b) a system of procedures which helps me to concentrate my energy on the design work. This is why I moved from Myfonts towards Fontspring. Myfonts still offers my fonts which have been there for a while, but since 2017 they get no new releases. Also my next release (a handsome sans familiy) is most likely to become a Fontspring-only thing.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,247
    edited September 13
    @Andreas Stötzner  I am also, quite primarily a designer and quite secondarily, a technologist.  I am thrilled that the technology is there as a tool and that there are people who love that arena and the business arena.  I would be happy just drawing letters and crafting fonts.  It seems unfair that those of us who create the product seem to have the least say in distribution and profitability of product.
  • Is it time for a type union?
    You can't have a union unless you're employees. Organisation to protect or extend the interests of independent type designers and foundries would constitute a cabal and be contrary to antitrust laws. As I understand it, the only way independent designers and foundries could collectively organise and not run afoul of antitrust laws would be to cease to be independent and actually form some form of cooperative corporation with the same legal personhood as a company like Monotype.

    [I have discussed this topic in the past with a lawyer, but I am not a lawyer and this does not constitute legal advice.]
    The issue with the antitrust laws making in virtually impossible for independent type designers to effectively unite may be true for the US, it is not necessarily so in European countries.
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