Options for new type designers?

So, if you were a young type designer, about to release your first face, not sure about the business stuff, what would you do?


  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,281
    I would talk to people who have been through it before.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,713
    Probably release it as a pay-what-you will with a very loose license through Lost Type. And get it added to Typekit. I think young designers see the type establishment as old, greedy, out of touch, and losing relevance. The business purpose of the typeface is self-promotion and not financial reward.
  • old, greedy, out of touch, and losing relevance
    Tattoos all around then.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,281
    Hard to be losing relevance when you are growing by huge chunks.
  • I think I might fit the bill for a young type designer, and I'm interested in eventually putting my work out there. I'm curious what you guys think is best for those just starting out. Is the exposure from sites like Lost Type worth it? Is setting up shop independently a realistic option? I'm still a ways off from putting my stuff out there, but like Chris mentioned, I'd be interested in hearing from those who might have insight.
  • > The business purpose of the typeface is self-promotion and not financial reward.

    Silly old out-of-touch me has always thought the business purpose of a typeface would be problem solving.
  • Although setting up independently is more doable than ever, the question is: Is it worth it? Will your fonts sell better through the monopoly that is currently being formed, or can they live/sell on their own? In my opinion, aside from hosting, slight promotion and some sale assistance, large foundry collosi like Myfonts add very little in making your typefaces an attractive sale, or generate interest from potential clients.

    Although they can still be seen as a reliable source of visitors, sale or not, due to the high amount of visitors. Which might even find your work with the wood of fonts so dense.

    Unless you have an established name, a good specimen is a must. And this is in my opinion why many of the mass-fontselling conglomerates are not a lot of help for new type designers establishing their brand/getting sales.

    The Next Fontshop site is an improvement in attracting potential buyers/clients, but we'll have to see which way it will go now. The mini-sites do an even better job in my view, though I don't know sale specifics, so can't say if they really are worth it or not (due to extra development costs). At least they give your typeface an extra sales talk and showcase webfont quality instead of letting people scroll through waterfalls of pre-rendered images.

    In the end, some designs perhaps live easier in the foundry monopolies that are being formed and are helped by large discounts to get attention and followup into other projects, while others will just get lost in the endless addition of mediocre products.

    If you want to try going solo, I think it depends for a large part on your future plans. If you can support yourself based on other design work, I think it could be an excellent choice, you can bide your time and are not stressed for releases or revenue. You can nurture your brand and designs without pressure. But that's a luxury not everyone will be able to have, and even then not an easy path.
  • Jay LanglyJay Langly Posts: 33
    edited July 2014
    old, greedy, out of touch
    I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not and whether this is your view too??
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,713
    I was being dead serious. It’s not my view, but I do think that many young designers–particularly those working in web and UI/UX design—look down on font designers who don’t give fonts away. They’re too callow and inexperienced to understand why the same open source business model that can work for Wordpress or MySQL doesn’t work for type. And they’ve grown up lazy. These are kids who think research begins and ends with Google, that shopping is only something one does online, and are hooked on instant gratification. The idea of thinking about font licensing, much less negotiating to buy a license, is anathema to them.
  • James, I think you’re talking to the wrong young web/UI/UX designers. I haven’t come across this sort of thing outside of classrooms or internet arguments.
  • I can definitely see what James is saying, but wouldn’t go as far or talk about it as definitely as he does. There’s other people with other views out there, too. A lot of it comes down to understanding why some fonts are better than others, aside from their look. Engineers for example are definitely open to arguments that are easy to understand to them – when you explain font mastering to them, for example.

    As a young designer, I would probably go with a semi-small independent foundry that releases other designers’ material – Typotheque, Typofonderie, etc. We get submissions from time to time, but it’s very rare that they’re interesting to us in any way. Most of the time those designs just aren’t ready for any kind of release in our eyes, but we always try to give feedback that helps the designers grow in some way.

    Young designers that have released through Lost Type told me that they’d probably not release any further designs with them. Not because they didn’t like it, but because the amount of work they put into their third, fourth, fifth design is way above a reasonable amount of work to give away for free. Their earlier designs were often created in a few days or weeks at most.

    I’ve been asked if I’d do it again – found Grilli Type – and I usually answer with no, if I had known all the work that came as a result of it, I probably wouldn’t have founded my own type foundry. But now that I’m here already, it’s of course another thing. When you count all the hours of unpaid work over the years, it definitely wasn’t worth it from a commercial perspective, though, even if it now pays my salary.
  • Young designers that have released through Lost Type told me that they’d probably not release any further designs with them.
    Same here.
  • Why not try starting out with the practice of typography? It's only by designing with type and composing texts that you'll find out what new type might be required, if it doesn't exist already. I'm not talking about monofocus typographic exercises as one does in design school classes, but living and breathing type—and lots of it, in as many intense and grueling varieties as you can—until you really know how to see it and read it. Remember, writers don't start out as writers, they start out as readers.

    Some years ago I had to introduce Erik Spiekermann at a talk in Boston. I hand't met him before, but I knew some of his work. The stuff of his that impressed me most was his typesetting of the German train tables, which were remarkably clear and well-crafted. This, to me, was serious typography, the kind of thing from which you learn important things about type design. So, at the end of reeling off his list of accomplishments, I introduced him as the "King of Tabular Matter." That was no put-down, I can assure you. He knew it, too.
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 246
    Erik set train tables?
  • yanoneyanone Posts: 100
    edited July 2014
    My idea as a young guy:

    As a self-publisher you need many years of time to make a name and build reputation for the technical quality of your fonts as professional tools, regardless of the design. Fame is easy to reach, but earning money isn’t related to fame, strangely, in my experience in our field. Or maybe I’m just doing everything wrong.
    If you manage to build a good portfolio over years, big amounts of money can be made, but they will be the result of many years of hard work. I say: seven years.
    And you can’t calculate with 100% margin from direct sales because no one knows your shop. You need to calculate with reseller margins of 50% (FontShop) or 35% (Myfonts) or whatever.
    You need to take care of: Design, mastering (incl. screen optimization), pro online shop, marketing, contracts with resellers, customer support, continuously updating your library for new formats (recent example: web fonts, apps), creating pro documentation for n00b users and last but not least: responsibility for the technical quality (there may be more I forgot). I never want to receive that phone call from that publishing house saying: »Listen, your font just fucked up the 100K print run of our new mag«, though it’s probably a rather small chance nowadays.

    If you go with an established foundry, you normally give away all parts of the work except the design itself, and receive somewhere between 5% and 30% (FontFont) of the sales.

    Comparing worst and best numbers:
    So that’s 35% revenue with all the work for you (self publishing) compared to 30% with next to none of the work (established foundry).
    And the exposure is probably better through a foundry, because no one knows you.
    No-brainer for me.

    So my personal question was: Do I want to bind myself to the office desk for the rest of my life: I don’t.
  • The financial picture;

    There are foundries offering a 50% retailcomtract or even more, but once you take resellers like myfonts into account only 25-30% remains for you.

    Going your own means you get 50% (myfonts), and occasionaly 100%, averaging around, say 5o-60%.

    Initially, the exposute from an existing foundry will outweigh the difference in percentage. If you are confident you can make it on your own, however, and have a few years time (7, I'm hoping 5 will do) to spare, I think starting your own foundry will pay off.

    That, and it's cool to be in control of everyhing. It will always be somewhat of a guess I suppose.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,930
    Last I recall, MyFonts was offering less than 50% for new contracts. No?
  • No. “We pay you 50% of what the customer pays.” — MyFonts
    It used to be 65% several years ago, though, see this thread on Typophile.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,598
    If I was not sure about the business stuff, I would either go work for someone else to see how they do it, or I would develop my own foundry as a side project, slowly, figuring things out as I went along.

    However, if you spend too much time on the business stuff (say, studying marketing, or font production), there is a danger that you will lose touch with the creative side of type design.

    As it is, being a one-person foundry means that a lot of one’s time is spent on business stuff and production.

    So another option is to find a partner who is interested in handling the web design and marketing aspects of a start-up.
  • Yep, MyFonts is 50%, and I for one am glad I don't have to go look for buyers myself as a no-name foundry. Can't complain.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,930
    Oops, right, now 50% down from 65%.
  • I would either go work for someone else to see how they do it
    So much easier said than done.
  • If you go with an established foundry, you normally give away all parts of the work except the design itself, and receive somewhere between 5% and 30% (FontFont) of the sales … the exposure is probably better through a foundry, because no one knows you.
    Those inclined toward the view that “exposure is probably better through a foundry” should read Jürgen Siebert’s admirably candid comments about the FontShop / Monotype deal, where he summarizes some of their financial hardships, and concedes “if we are to face the hard facts, we must also admit FontFonts did not sell that well.”
  • As a young type designer that’s anywhere near releasing my first typeface, I reason about two routes I would be interested in following:

    1) Go the reseller path. Since many of the smaller foundries rely to a certain degree in reseller revenue, pretty much any channel through which a typeface can be published at this point implies the designer is a sharecropper in some large corporation’s field. As uncertainty grows, retaining as much intellectual property as I can would allow me to reshape the way my work is offered, adapting to eventual market transformations. This path also allows some direction control, if I ever wish to extend character support or improve hinting data after the initial release.

    2) Make an open source project out of it by putting the design as-is in some repository such as github and making incremental updates as it slowly reaches an initial “stable” release. My motive for considering this is I think it gathers a larger amount of learning and feedback opportunities, which does precede financial gain at this point. Nevertheless, I conjecture some commercial opportunities could arise if the project ever reaches any substance (e.g. consistency in glyph design and spacing and decent character support), even though It’s impossible for me to evaluate if those would be dryer compared to offering the typeface under the retail model, short or long term.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,072
    Rafael, for (2) then folks like Eben Sorkin and Vernon Adams have been banking additional revenue under the OFL for customising fonts that Google Fonts initially commissioned from them. People who say you can't make money with libre fonts? Don't believe the hype: The most lucrative spot in the type market is custom type, and retail has a lot of thin margins with supersales etc...
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,598
    edited July 2014
    Ditto that, Mark.

    Passive income is better than fee-for-service, no matter how hefty, and there is plenty of it in retail fonts.

    The idea that we should prioritize working for fee is favored by those middle men for whom content is an expense, and those who aren’t in business making fonts, e.g. Gerry Leonidas.

    I don’t know about ethics or ideals, this is all just self-interest.

    Nonetheless, having spent many hours making fonts that no one wants to licence (amongst the occasional “hit”), it is nice to get commissions.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,930
    “ Passive income is better than fee-for-service, no matter how hefty”

    I don't see how that can be true for all possible values of x and y as you seem to be saying here. If the passive income is minuscule, and the fee for service is a kingly sum, then surely the latter is better in that case.

    Don't get me wrong, I agree that passive income is a fine thing. Just not that it is better regardless of the sums of money involved. :)
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