Type pricing and licensing: as a tool or material?

Hi, I'm Laurensius, beginner in type design, haven't sold my first font yet. I'm currently doing research about type licensing and pricing.
I found ABC Dinamo licensing/pricing model very different to what all other foundries/marketplace have been offering. The only other foundry that's doing the same model, as far as I know, is Production Type (cmiiw). This thinking about tool vs material comes from an article from Klim Type Foundry.

To summarize Dinamo's licensing, the client is the license owner. So if a designer creates brand identity for a brand/company, designer bought the license for their client, and the designer only work with the font for the clients — unless you're your own client (self initiated/personal projects). Pricing in this model is based on the client size, quoting Dinamo: "Our fonts are priced based solely on on the company size of the font’s license owner. Not the number of people working with the font files." (note: for social media license, it's based on the company's social media followers count). I'm calling this "font as material" licensing, because designer buys fonts for each client project. It's like a house builder buys bricks, cement, and paints every time they build a new house.

In the old/common licensing model, the license owner is the designer. I think everyone's familiar with this. This licensing model comes from metal and wood type era, where type is a tool. Typesetter (or designer) bought the metal/wood type from foundries and they can use the "tool" indefinitely to create type on paper that people can reads. I think this mindset carries to digital type era that introduces what I called "font as tool" licensing. The pricing based on how many computer installation, or website page views. The designer buy once to install and can use the fonts indefinitely for many clients, except for website/apps.

Now, I'm leaning towards Dinamo's model. It makes a lot of sense. If you haven't read above, here's the link again https://abcdinamo.com/news/about-our-pricing. It's easier to buys a license with simplified metrics, designer doesn't have to pay for fonts — the client pays, and (my guess) type designers makes more money.

There's a few disadvantages I can think as of now. First, I think it will be hard for people to get familiar with the new model. Imagine having 2 fonts in your computer and that have 2 different usage rules. Second, I can't sell unfinished typefaces like on Future Fonts. If you're not familiar with Future Fonts, you can buy unfinished/in-progress typeface on discounted price (because you're early supporter/tester) and add them to your "tool" box, then you get free updates as the type family grows in glyphs, weights, styles, and increases in price. I don't know how this could work in "font as material" licensing. Third, usually there's a need to provide trial fonts for designer which can be abused. Lastly, you can't sell typeface in bundles (50 fonts for $99!) — but I'm against this anyways.

So, what do you think about font as a tool vs material?
Do you think the industry should move to the "font as material" (value-based) pricing/licensing?



Tagged:
«1

Comments

  • @Laurensius A font is a tool. Don't believe the escape artists (and I do mean artists).
  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 132
    edited May 18
    With the second model described, a designer can buy the smallest single-user license and then an endless amount of big and small corporations could get designs from that person without having to pay for the font. Not sure any foundry actually permit that though, perhaps that’s oversimplified?

    Imagine having 2 fonts in your computer and that have 2 different usage rules. 


    Aren’t there as many usage rules as fonts installed on one’s computer anyway?
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,119
    @Hrant H. Papazian
    I agree, but I don't understand what you mean by escape artists or the parenthetical.
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 568
    @Alex Visi not endless.  It's limited by the labor of one person, which is actually pretty small. This is exactly why I draw the line at embedding because embedding is endless because it's automated to a large extent.
  • @Ray Larabie I mean it's the artist steak in a designer than wants to believe that a font is something like a piece of music, which is an escape from societal duty. One big clue: people who claim that only make Latin fonts...
  • @Alex Visi Isn't current licensing allows unlimited creation when you buy and install? Isn't it mostly the same?

    @JoyceKetterer
    I also didn't think that way, that one person labor is not endless.
    How do you find your licensing for embedding? Because it's easy for developers to just convert webfont from an OTF/TTF file online.
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 568
    @Laurensius I'm not sure I understand your question "how do I find".  Do you mean to ask wether customers violate the license?  Yes, all the time, but not usually on purpose.  Our customers are mostly large companies and they do all sorts of things by accident that they shouldn't.  The real charm of a staking our business model on webfonts is that it's so easy to identify unlicensed uses with a simple crawler and then very easy to persuade the company that they need to pay us for the extra use (as opposed to broadcast licensing, for instance) 

    I do think that finding violations is the main impetus for the shift coming from Dinamo ( @Johannes Neumeier )and Production Type ( @Jean-Baptiste Levée ).  They are my friends and we've talked about it but from here on I'm speculating about their thinking.  I'm pretty sure the logic goes something like this: "If I see a print use in the wild, under the old standard, I have no idea if it's licensed.  I want to look at uses and be able to consult my sales records to see if it is licensed.  This is the only way to do that."

    Sure, but my reaction is "why do you care so much about print?"  If I have to basically give away print (which I don't, but pretend for argument's sake that was the choice) I would in exchange for embedding.  Embedding licensing is just so much easier to explain, monitor, price and enforce when there are errors.  



      
  • the artist steak in a designer
    (I meant "streak", not "steak". Sorry I was ham-fisted.)
  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 132
    edited May 18
    @Alex Visi not endless.  It's limited by the labor of one person, which is actually pretty small. This is exactly why I draw the line at embedding because embedding is endless because it's automated to a large extent.
    Sure, one person’s labor is small, but reproduction is endless.

    Reproduction is the difference between a popular blogger making ads for years seen by some millions of followers each time, and a person making a poster for their backyard sale for a hundred visitors. Should they pay the same? Or a single designer making some prints for Nike that will go worldwide, is that still some $50?

    How do you define “embedding”? Using the font in Photoshop by one person is probably not embedding. If Photoshop is smart enough to generate design with 1 click, is that embedding? If 100 customers send the designer texts to generate 100 designs and he/she copies the texts and does the 100 clicks, is that embedding yet or a single-user license? What if copying texts and clicking is also automated? You see where I’m going with this. :smile:


    It just seems to me that the idea behind any font license is to balance the amount payed with the amount earned from the usage. If so, counting “heads” nowadays, when everything gets automated and sometimes there are no “heads” at all, doesn’t seem to be the most accurate measurement.
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 568
    @Alex Visi I'll try to take your points one at a time:

    When you say "reproduction is endless" I think you mean reproduction of the images made with the fonts? That's not use of the fonts.  We're licensing software here.

    The scenario you describe with the blogger will probably involve a license for web embedding (paid per year and based on traffic) so no, they'd not pay the same as a person making a yard sign. 

    The single designer making prints for Nike that will go world wide is a marginal use case.  In my experience, Nike is much more likely to have a large team for a global campaign.

    Embedding is incorporation of the font software in other software.  Use in Photoshop is not embedding.  The automation scenario you describe (to print products for sale) is likely a web app with an embedded font(s) which is going to get licensed as such.

    I agree about the point of a font license.  However, I measure usage of the software not of the images made with the software.  I do this because it's more intuitive for the customer and therefore less likely to make them quit me and go use a free font.
  • Eris AlarEris Alar Posts: 325
    I’m not a type designer, but a fan and someone interested. As a customer, honestly I feel like type is more similar to a tool, and I would not expect to keep paying a company who makes hammers each time I use the hammer after I bought it. I know that analogy is flawed, but for me a simple “license the type and use it how you wish” or a subscription model are the best outcomes. My only issue with subscription so far is having foundries remove their products from the library. I have more detailed thoughts about the specifics of the different models talked about in the OP, but understand I’m not in your shoes so don’t fully understand the situation. 
  • @JoyceKetterer sorry, glad you understand my bad choice of words. Yeah I meant "how is it working for you".
    I'm interested about that "simple crawler" you mentioned. Maybe for Dinamo and PT, print is a big market for them? I'm totally agree if it's easier that way.
  • @Eris Alar I'm new to this, I haven't even started yet. So I'm learning and gathering knowledge.
    Yeah, I'd totally use the same analogy, a tool like a hammer, but each time I use it, should I pay for it? This makes me think about my analogy above. Maybe buying license each time for a new client could mean buying them their own hammer to use? Does this even makes sense. Maybe I'm going to far with this analogy. I'm trying to grasp a concept I can rely on. Would love to hear more about your thoughts and point of view on this matter.
  • Michael RafailykMichael Rafailyk Posts: 46
    edited May 19
    @Ray Larabie I mean it's the artist steak in a designer than wants to believe that a font is something like a piece of music, which is an escape from societal duty. One big clue: people who claim that only make Latin fonts...
    I live in Ukraine and people here very very poor, with an income 20 times lower than in Europe. This is why they become pirates.
    But last 5 years I see a positive tendency – many of my friends are starting to buy licensed music, movies (subscription), fonts, applications. Consciousness rises in people. Very slow, but it happens.
    Sorry for off-topic.
  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 132
    However, I measure usage of the software not of the images made with the software.
    I see what you mean! Perhaps, the difference may simply be in definitions of the “font usage” — does it mean moving pixels around or does it mean using fonts for achieving certain business goals in a more global sense? I just lean towards the latter :smile:

    Eris Alar said:
    As a customer, honestly I feel like type is more similar to a tool
    May I ask why is that? 
  • Michael Rafailyk said:
    I live in Ukraine and people here very very poor, with an income 20 times lower than in Europe. This is why they become pirates.
    Frankly it's completely understandable. And it's not necessarily poverty (because "rich" people in the West pay higher prices for *everything*, as well as being forced to pay for things they might not believe in, like extra insurance if they own certain breeds of dog – true story) it's that buying *from* over-priced economies is prohibitive.

    BTW funny how Eris didn't get a volley of shadowy Disagree reactions for saying the same thing...
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,792
    I don’t see this working simply because many designers don’t want to bill fonts to clients. There are myriad designers out there who primarily use free fonts because they think that they can’t afford fonts when the client should be paying for them. I’ve heard from people who design display fonts that they constantly get the same complaint: “I like your font but I just can’t pay for a font that I’ll only use for one job!”. I explain to them that just like they don’t pay for paper and printing they shouldn’t be eating the cost of the font, but there are just too many kids graduating art school without having learnt anything about business. Convincing those designers that the clients should pay every time is going to be a hard sell.
  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 132
    edited May 19

    "rich" people in the West pay higher prices for *everything*
    Just to add a couple of cents, it’s cheaper to buy a computer in the US (especially in a low sales tax state) than in Ukraine or some other countries. The poor guys have to pay extra for transportation, local taxes, potentially even the company’s additional costs for keeping their business in a low-profit area. And that goes for many non-locally made products, like cars, clothes etc. And it does accumulate to notable differences in the life quality :smile:
  • Eris AlarEris Alar Posts: 325
    Alex Visi said:
    However, I measure usage of the software not of the images made with the software.
    I see what you mean! Perhaps, the difference may simply be in definitions of the “font usage” — does it mean moving pixels around or does it mean using fonts for achieving certain business goals in a more global sense? I just lean towards the latter :smile:

    Eris Alar said:
    As a customer, honestly I feel like type is more similar to a tool
    May I ask why is that? 
    It's a tool as it's usually not an end it itself, but something used to reach an end. I'm making a poster? I need to have text on it? I use a font. 
  • Eris AlarEris Alar Posts: 325
    edited May 20
    As @James Puckett and @Florian Pircher mention, this has happened for me too. Clients often will not pay for fonts. So I often use open source ones because trying to get a client to pay for a license is too difficult. And as @JoyceKetterer mentions, a lot fo the time clients just want the deliverable (like a PDF of the poster). I have also found that even experienced graphic designers seem to either be unaware, or just don't care, about licensing. My day job is with a large non-profit and I have often been sent InDesign packages with the fonts bundled only to find out they are commercial fonts and need licensing. I usually push my manager to sort it out, but it's an extra cost and hassle and honestly sometimes if things are busy or the specific jobs small I just don't fight it. It can be tiring trying to do the right thing when so many around you don't care. 

    My main issue with the 'price scales based on company size' model is that a) number of employees does not equal value (some companies have tiny teams and are worth millions, others have thousands of employees for the same earnings), b) in my case our non-profit is legally multiple entities that share brand IP (and some other resources), and we have little to no connection to the international branches. So even if in the public's mind we here in Australia are the same as the entity on the USA or Japan, or wherever, the fact is in many ways we are not, especially regarding brand and graphic design. Also, even within out own Australia part, each team has it's own budgets, so while team A might have a budget to license type, team b probably does not. So we mostly use Creative Cloud or free fonts. There are some fonts in the national brand style guide, but not practical plan to enable teams to use them (they just say each team needs to sort a license out for itself, otherwise they have MS Office substitutes for 'regular' people to use, it's a mess IMO). 

    And then there is the case of when I do freelance work for tiny businesses, like my sisters cafe. Font pricing is such that small business just struggles to see the value in paying for the type (but I see this as a combination of messaging from foundries as well as pricing just being too high IMO a lot of the time).

    For me personally, I spend less than AUD $500 a year on type, sometimes way less, as I just can't justify buying type when I don't have specific uses for it, but I would absolutely love to support more foundries if I could. I find my self used launch discounts a lot (I've impulse bought many Sudtipos fonts due to their newsletter and the price being fairly low when discounted). I have not got anything from H&Co for about ten years simply due to their prices being high (but I totally love their work and would love to use many of their fonts). 

    Pricing is tricky, I know, there are heaps of factors and people should be paid for what they make. Also, just because I can't afford something does not mean it is overpriced. I have no magical suggestions, this is a thorny topic with many outliers. 

    [edit] I just realised that another comparable digital asset is stock images, they are a tool as well, and often have usage limits on them. I find similar issues to with fonts, where they are shared around with no concern about the license, or I opt to look for free ones when I know a client will not pay for commercial one. One of my hopes with subscriptions) especially Adobe Fonts) what that if I synced and used fonts the foundries would be paid. In this way there was a royalty for each usage. I don't really know how it works, but it seems it's not quite like that. Added to that the frustration when foundries remove their products from the library and I'm starting to use subscriptions less). 
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 568
    edited May 20
    @Eris Alar I agree.  I understand why it would be tempting to a foundry for the price to scale with the size of the company but see so many reasons why it doesn't actually make sense. 

    1. We really do see purchases from large companies for small projects (for instance Nestlé got a license for a little anniversary series for a small sub brand).  I don't want to disincentivize that stuff.  
    2. When big companies violate a license it's pretty easy to prove, especially these days with embedding.  So coming out of the gate assuming they are either clueless or trying to get away with something strikes me as both unnecessarily adversarial and not worth the risk.  
    3. It really does chase customers fully into the arms of Adobe and Google, which does none of us any good.  I mean, most of our customers at this point have some hybrid licensing with Adobe covering some of their users/uses, and I don't want to be hostile to that. 
    4.  This model seems much more suited to custom font licensing than to retail from what I can tell.  In that case the customer is committed, planning on using the font in a brand intensive way, and you already have a relationship in the event you need to negotiate.  That's not compatible with my business model of trying to make most of my money from retail.

  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 132
    Eris Alar said:
    It's a tool as it's usually not an end it itself, but something used to reach an end. I'm making a poster? I need to have text on it? I use a font. 
    By that logic, are photos used in a magazine also tools used to make it? But tools are never part of the end result, are they? I mean, fonts seem to be rather prepared pieces of design for others to use, templates in a way. Like if a car designer takes already existing wheels, nobody would call the wheels “tools for making cars”.
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 568
    @Mark Simonson font are a process artifact.  That's not a bad thing
  • @JoyceKetterer The more the process is self-expression, the less the artifact is good. The highest process of making something is helping the world... which makes a font much more than an artifact.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,377
    "Self-expression" can mean a lot of things. Anything that is designed, at the very least, is an expression of someone's taste and opinion of how best to make that thing. I do feel like the fonts I make are self-expressive in that sense. 
Sign In or Register to comment.