Is the font design business profitable for you guys?

J. BridgesJ. Bridges Posts: 74
edited May 7 in Type Business
Is the font design business profitable for you guys? I have converted a few of the typefaces I have designed for movie, book and game titles that I created in the last 30 years with font designer partners. Most are big, bold display fonts based on logos or titles that I created. We are not selling very many fonts. Maybe our work sucks. Maybe there are way too many fonts already out there.
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  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,213
    Where can we see your work?
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 699
    edited May 7
    Speaking for myself, finding success as a foundry is catching lighting in a bottle. It is possible to be successful without being like the foundry (I assume Dalton Maag) @Nicholas Garner describes.  I run a small foundry with a small library and we're notoriously terrible at "energetic brand building and promotion".  We just quietly have really good fonts, a really good license, were on the ground floor with Typekit, and we are able to punch above our weight. 

    Objectively we are successful.  But I am very aware that we got lucky.  It might be timing.  It might be Josh's personal charisma that gave us a boost 17 years ago when he started the company, I honestly don't know.  
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 699
    PS - I'm sorry if that came off as a humble brag or false modesty.  
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 699
    @Thomas Phinney, to split hairs a bit... I think it's easier to get custom work than it is to produce a retail font that earns the same amount in a year that you could make from the custom project.  Admittedly, I'm choosing between a very hard thing and an extremely hard thing.  

    However, once you do the extremely hard thing that retail font will probably radically out perform the earnings of the custom project.  This is why some of us choose to focus on retail.  It's also why so many can't or don't, the shorter term guarantee of income is very seductive.   
  • A lot depends on what you mean by “the font design business” for the rest of us.

    In terms of the original question I would think that only the entities that sell fonts or font services, whether individuals or companies, would qualify in terms of standing to make a profit as such, these being the copyright holders or publishers, that is to say the product owners or the service providers. While many people may derive income from the font business, income is not the same as profit. It would be like asking a salaried shop assistant whether the retail business is profitable.

    Furthermore, in order to establish profit you need to establish costs and I don't suppose the thousands of individual font makers have anything but the vaguest idea. Undocumented days or even months can slip by when a font demands attention. It's unlikely that many font makers can identify the point at which their costs are covered and profit kicks in. The idea, of course, is that sales will continue long after development effort is a distant memory. I wish.

    More hair splitting I know, but the distinction is relevant.

  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,367
    A lot depends on what you mean by “the font design business” for the rest of us.

    In terms of the original question I would think that only the entities that sell fonts or font services, whether individuals or companies, would qualify in terms of standing to make a profit as such, these being the copyright holders or publishers, that is to say the product owners or the service providers. While many people may derive income from the font business, income is not the same as profit. It would be like asking a salaried shop assistant whether the retail business is profitable.


    “It would be like asking a salaried shop assistant whether the retail business is profitable.”

    You probably don’t mean to be offensive or insulting here. And yes, of course the profitability of a business is a separate matter from the personal profit/loss of its employees.

    - if the ultimate owner of the work is a company that is not really in the font design business, does that mean the work doesn’t even count? And the hundreds of people who have been commissioned to make open source typefaces?
    - There are a ton of other contractors and folks working on a project basis on fonts. Many of us are doing font design. And in many cases we choose to do it this way precisely because it makes more money (and/or more reliable money).
    - For individuals, “making a profit” is a totally separate issue from owning the material you have made. Being commissioned to make a typeface that is then either owned by another entity or is open source does not mean somebody is not in “the font design business.”
    -  the “salaried shop assistant” analogy is misleading. Just because someone does not own the fruits of their labors does not make them a low-level employee whose work requires no special skills. And a significant portion of the people doing this make a better living than a “salaried shop assistant.”

  • Thomas Phinney said:
    You probably don’t mean to be offensive or insulting here.
    No comment. And the idea that salaried shop assistants do "not own the fruits of their labors does not make them a low-level employee whose work requires no special skills" comes from you, not me. I would never suggest anything of the kind.

    Thomas, you have successfully expanded this thread with a number of interesting observations. You make the point that there are many ways of being involved in and making money in the type design business which is undeniably true. I do not suggest that your comments are off topic - they usefully expand the issue.

    My own intention was to ensure that the spirit of the original question was not lost. James Bridges has a range of fonts for sale, is experiencing poor sales and wonders if anyone can offer any general observations as to why. I don't suppose they can, but any comments on the state of the font design business from the point of view of those trying to sell their own fonts would presumably be welcome. He couches his question in terms of profitability which is why I started picking at it.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,367
    You have placed my quote in a quite different context than I intended, making it seem nonsensical. Perhaps I was unclear. The quoted phrase was referring to the analogy you were making, and was about the difference between salaried shop assistants and type designers who do not own the fruits of their labors.

    Aside from that, I do not want to push this thread further into this alternative discussion.
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 699
    edited May 9
    @Nicholas Garner. I feel like I've sorta come sideways at @James Bridges question.  To be more explicate, probably the reason his fonts aren't earning what he'd like is one of three things:

    1.  Quality (as he mentioned, but i've not seen his stuff so I don't know)
    2.  Heavy Display.  (These fonts can do well on volume but each one will only be used in a limited way by a few customers.  sometimes you hit the jackpot with a big client, usually not)
    3.  Fashion. (All things being equal, some things still make no money because they aren't cool right now.)


    Some other possible reasons:
    a) these fonts were all made for specific clients and converted.  maybe they don't have broad enough appeal, or maybe they need more technical refinement for the retail market
    b) it's only a few fonts, maybe the only way this sort of catalogue can do well is if there was more
    c) we don't know where the font licenses are being sold but it could be they aren't in the right spot for them. Fonts are like jewelry stores, they do better when they cluster together with similar stuff.  

    Additionally I can say that lots of people do make a good living from fonts.  But also lots don't.  Some of it is luck.  Some of it is that you really do need to specialize it in. Also, retail releases need research so you know what is missing in the market and what you can contribute that will be original.




  • FontfruitsFontfruits Posts: 37
    Is the font design business profitable for you guys? I have converted a few of the typefaces I have designed for movie, book and game titles that I created in the last 30 years with font designer partners. Most are big, bold display fonts based on logos or titles that I created. We are not selling very many fonts. Maybe our work sucks. Maybe there are way too many fonts already out there.
    There is definitely a bit of 'font saturation' happening out there nowadays....I think it's just getting harder and harder for buyers to sift through everything to find the 'good stuff'. The best thing to do ( I think)  is to just keep trying to get as many eyes on your typefaces as possible, like social media, and paid advertising ( although I don't do the latter personally - not yet anyway).
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 699
    @Fontfruits, I think the best thing is to be on Adobe fonts which, i know, isn't available to everyone.  For now Adobe has the only curated collection of reliably "good stuff".  It's even possible that Adobe is functioning as a catalogue to people who don't have subscriptions, since they can browse the library.  This can and should change but until someone else comes in with a large curated library there's no other way.  Our top referrals are from Adobe, Typewolf and Fontsinuse.  You can tell from that list that users are trying to browse lists of fonts that they can rely on to point them to quality.
  • I'm doing pretty well as a one-man foundry, but not well enough to quit my day job. And having been at this for almost 30 years now, I've seen a bunch of ups and downs. 
  • J. BridgesJ. Bridges Posts: 74
    Thanks Oliver! Me and my partner are not ready to post font samples and ask for critiques at this point but maybe down the road. I was mainly interested if you guys can make a full-time living doing this. I'm a graphic designer not really a font designer.
  • KP MawhoodKP Mawhood Posts: 291
    @James Bridges

    From what I understand, it's a difficult time to get started. If you have an existing library of high exposure typefaces (movie, book, game titles) this may help to set you apart.

    You mentioned you are not selling very many fonts:

    1. What is your existing business model for selling fonts?
    2. Which business models are you exploring / most interested by?
  • J. BridgesJ. Bridges Posts: 74
    KP Mawhood:

    The typefaces we have created have been altered to not look exactly like the book, movie and game titles I have designed. I would never use the actual names as a font name because they are different and that would most likely be a copyright issue. And I made sure any letterform that was used in a logo or title was redrawn to be unique.

    Business model? I'm not that sophisticated at this point. We are selling a few at two retailer sites.

    I am not going to quit my day-job.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,883
    edited May 18
    Are you marketing your type? Because you aren’t going to sell anything on MyFonts and Fontspring if you aren’t promoting your work. There are tens of thousands of typefaces on those sites so yours are lost in the crowd. 
  • J. BridgesJ. Bridges Posts: 74
    edited May 18
    One strange thing I have noticed about MYFONTS over the years is if you type in a search term you get some results that fit your search but you also get the same unrelated fonts they always seem to be promoting or pushing. I don't know if their site still does that since the recent redesign. Their site still does not work properly for me using Google Chrome or Safari on my mac.
  • Matthew SmithMatthew Smith Posts: 68
    edited May 18
    You (or someone else) may find these helpful…

  • Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 696
    edited May 20
    I'm going to be real not just about font sales, but selling visual media in general, and finance portfolio diversification.
    The type business isn't profitable at at all for me  ;) - but I also don't bother with promoting my fonts too much. MyFonts and the overall scene is too crowdy for me.

    But I have noticed that sales spike if I comment anything on some thread on Facebook with, say, 20 000+ comments, or some very popular YouTube video. I have gotten into contact with wildly unexpected clients just because they saw my comment somewhere and that has made them google me.

    I make good coin from these and my other projects, and am willing to buy shares in other peoples fonts sales. Haven't done it yet, but I can see myself sending money to some foundry in exchange for a say in the final design a share of the sales. But it's preferable to just buy stocks like a normal investor, if we go down this path. Maybe some precious metals, that always has value. Or quality alcochol - it actually increases in value over time. Coffee is a good investment. 

    I have comissioned artwork some time ago so I can work on it some more and to sell on sites like shutterstock, but I noticed a great many designs get stolen and reworked by an in-house designer until they can't be proven to be stolen, so I think selling visual media on the web is like selling fonts - a business model that was way more profitable back in the day then it is now. You just need to go to a site like Unsplash to get tons of free images. Let me not mention sites like Freepik - I have a hunch things there are somewhat fishy, but that didn't stop my employers making me download stuff from there and tinkering with it for the company, so I've been in both camps.

    I am reminded of how big of a craze clipart was back when, compared to now, when it has almost disappeared as more and more people got wise to how to do better and better presentations. Or just wise to pay some Indian $20 to do it for them.
  • Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 696
    But BY FAR the best investment you can do is in your health and family, as Steve Jobs found to his detriment. If it gets too bad, you can alaways search health care here in Europe - Sylvester Stallone did his teeth at a local dentist in my city when he was over here shooting the Expandables. The guy is now famous for working on Hollywood actors' star smiles. :)
  • J. BridgesJ. Bridges Posts: 74
    I find it interesting when I mentioned that MYFONTS used to or currently promotes or pushes non-relavent fonts in searches that the locals here were silent. I guess it is not a problem...for them. Do you have to pay MYFONTS to get in the search results? Just curious. I don't care. Just curious how it works. I will not be focusing on making fonts in the future. 
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,883
    The MyFonts search results are garbage because designers can add irrelevant tags that affect search results. So some keywords are just doomed to return garbage results.
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 699
    @James Bridges we were silent because we expect only terrible things from Monotype, not because are complicate.  It just goes without saying that we're in a constant state of outrage with their practices.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,367
    I was silent because it’s a complicated subject. I am absolutely certain that @James Puckett is correct in what he says, and that is sufficient to explain the problem. But that does not mean that it is impossible that @James Bridges speculation is ALSO correct, that one could pay to influence the MyFonts search results.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,424
    We all know that there is something rotten in Denmark.  We just don't know if it is just organic or involves parasites.
  • J. BridgesJ. Bridges Posts: 74
    edited May 23
    I get it. Thanks for explaining. Sorry if I sounded grumpy. Monotype seems to be a good name for them. They are a huge monolithic structure. They seem to own all the classics and so they can OK or veto the clones. There are a lot of clones or copies on MyFonts. I have to say: you type designers are dedicated. It is hard work. It takes me two weeks to build a single weight of a font and I only do the minimum glyphs as my work is mostly display fonts more suitable for titles or logos. I prefer creating the vector letterforms and let my partner do the conversion to font but now we share the hard part. Thanks!
  • edited May 24

    My two cents.

    I'm not a type designer, but I may be your target audience.
    I've been rebuilding my portfolio in the last three months. I was sure that after researching and building a good portfolio, it would "sell" somehow. However, this thought about "what if it doesn't" started to become too present. What if it doesn't "sell" by itself like I was thinking? Maybe I'll need some help with marketing, maybe. An ad campaign? SEO positioning?
    The thing is, we are designers and we are confident about our work, but the internet is a massive place. If we want to be found (and hopefully get paid), we have to get ourselves out there to the right people and make ourselves known. For that, you'll need to pay for the services I mentioned earlier (marketing, ads, SEO, and who knows what else), and unless you're superhuman and DIY everything and succeed, you'll need to pay for those services to get you out there.
    Some have success without any of that, some do need it. I guess you will have to see and try it for yourself if you haven't already.
    For example, about targeting the right people. You can aim at film poster (not me) designers (like me), or film studios (not me) that get paid in USD (so you exclude users from developing countries that won't be able to pay for it, like me), that have recently made online purchases (like me), and that are font hoarders (like me) so they can have a nice and fresh arsenal of beautiful / readable / trendy / fonts ready to go and stand out from designers that use free typefaces. It comes down to understanding a need and then exploiting it. Maybe consulting a marketer on what those needs are that move someone to buy typefaces would be a good start.
    That ended up being more than two cents, haha. I got carried away.
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