Library Subscriptions: The Future of Fonts? Shall We Sing or Cry?

Yesterday, Adobe declared that Creative Cloud is its future. Designers will no longer license desktop copies of Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign and use them “forever” (though that word is obviously limited by each version’s practical lifespan). Instead, they subscribe to a Creative Cloud membership and get access to the apps through an online account.

Along with this announcement came the news that Typekit will be included in the Creative Cloud product. This move was widely expected — once Adobe acquired Typekit in 2011 we all knew that they would use the fonts to add value to their core software, but just how they were going to do that was less clear. Now we know: desktop font syncing. Come mid-June, paid subscribers of Creative Cloud ($50/mo.) or Typekit Portfolio ($50/yr.), Performance, and Business plans will get access to some Typekit fonts directly in their desktop OS. This includes all desktop apps, not just those from Adobe.

Adobe’s announcement comes on the heels of Monotype’s SkyFonts product which offers time-limited desktop access to any of Fonts.com’s webfonts for free. Those who pay for the Professional ($40/mo.) or Master subscriptions get 30-day access to all the fonts from Monotype’s internal libraries, which include Monotype, Linotype, ITC, Bitstream, and Ascender.

For many font users, these services are a godsend. Creating websites without desktop access to webfonts is a major hurdle for designers who rely on apps like Photoshop for comping. Some providers offer workarounds: OurType fonts are licensed once and can be used in print or on the web; FontFont bundles their downloadable webfonts with free (but limited) desktop versions. But Creative Cloud and Skyfonts gives users access to an entire library of fonts, not the individual fonts of traditional sales.

For font makers, these developments raise all sorts of questions. Equating the music and font industries is rife with pitfalls, but the parallels here are too conspicuous to ignore. A few years ago, people bought albums — now they stream songs from a music service. If the font market is headed down the same path, I wonder:

Will easy access to desktop fonts increase piracy?
My hunch: no. While Creative Cloud and Skyfonts obfuscate the temporarily installed fonts in some way, there is always the concern that users will find a way to hack the system or otherwise use the fonts outside the license. I feel the same way about this as I do the silly old debate about PDF embedding permissions: never punish your customers in the attempt to prevent piracy. Fighting font theft is a losing battle. Those who steal fonts will always find easier ways to steal them. Those who focus on making their fonts easy to license and use earn the good will of the market.

Will library subscriptions lessen the perceived value of type?
My hunch: yes. The recent rise of steep discounts and Google freebies has already reduced the value of fonts in most users’ eyes. Cheap access to a vast library of more professional fonts will only add fuel to that fire. Granted, the ease of use and bundling with the Adobe ecosystem will bring new users to the foundries who participate, and Typekit says that providers will be compensated whenever their fonts are used, but it’s unclear whether these things will compensate for sales lost through traditional licensing models. Mark Simonson, for one, is not worried: he says that Typekit has been good for sales via other channels. But I suspect his experience is an outlier, as his Proxima Nova is probably the most popular family in Typekit’s library, raising awareness of the typeface throughout the market. What I hear from other participating type designers is that Typekit revenue represents(ed) a very small fraction of their sales. Beyond hard numbers, I think the more important casualty is that squishy concept of type’s overall worth. As Frode Bo Helland says: “If ‘everything’ is available to ‘everyone’ for a small monthly sum, what does that do to the perceived value of a typeface?” The answer to that question may depend on the definition of “everything”. Right now, there are thousands of professional typefaces that aren’t yet available from these services. Which leads me to my final question.

Will other professional foundries join these libraries?
My hunch: mostly no. Typekit has announced that “7 top-tier foundries” are participating in the initial Creative Cloud offering, and Monotype offers their substantial collection via SkyFonts. The size of these libraries is nothing to scoff at, but it doesn’t represent heavy-hitters like Hoefler & Frere-Jones, Font Bureau, House Industries, Commercial Type, Typotheque, Emigre, and most of FontFont — not to mention a vast and growing crop of small indie foundries that increasingly defines original type design. Given what I mentioned above, I don’t think we’ll see these top-tier foundries join either venture, and if they do it will only be to tease with a few typefaces, as FontFont does with Typekit. If they don’t, the contrast between the major and indie labels will be even more stark than it is today.

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Henriette

Based in Vienna, Typejockeys are three young designers — Anna Fahrmaier, Thomas Gabriel und Michael Hochleitner — with a broad palette of activities. They make graphic design for print and web, and have their own digital-to-letterpress project. They are also a typefoundry, to which both Gabriel (KABK, The Hague graduate) and Hochleitner (University of Reading graduate) contribute.

With everything that’s going on besides type design, they aren’t Europe most productive foundry, but when they bring out a new typeface, it is always something of an event. Typejockeys’ fonts are not only beautifully made, they also have content — they are carriers of a typographical culture. Their 2012 Henriette is a case in point. ​​Michael Hochleitner’s versatile family is a functional typeface of striking features that betray the design’s origin in early 20th-century lettering styles — more specifically, in Vienna’s street name signs.

I like it when designers do serious research regarding their source material (as opposed to quickly scanning a specimen they like and begin fontifying); and here, thorough research took place indeed. The story of the Viennese street sign alphabet and its many incarnations is told (in English) on the Typejockeys website; no use repeating it here. The main outcome of it was that, as there had been so many variations on the (anonymous) early alphabet, done by so many companies for various production techniques, Hochleitner felt free to improvise, no strings attached.

The original alphabet came in two distinct versions, for short and long street names — the one a kind of Heavy or ExtraBold, the other Bold Condensed. Developing a family with a broad range of widths, as Hochleitner did, is tricky: it’s like deriving a text family from Cooper Black. The resulting lighter weights are quite interesting, in that they don’t resemble much of what’s already there (Bookman and Candida come to mind) while still building a plausible and usable toolkit for day-to-day typographic work. If you’re looking for something neutral, the typeface’s idiosyncratic feel is a drawback; but for those designers who are looking for a strong and unusual personality, Henriette may be a terrific find. Needless to say, the character set and language coverage are flawless.

With thanks to Florian Hardwig.

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Our Favorite Typefaces of 2012

fonts-of-the-year-2012I’ll be honest. When December rolls around and I ask a group of smart, articulate font users and makers to each select their favorite release of the year, not everyone rushes back with their pick. And when they do, they don’t always have much to say about it. Some years are stronger than others. 2012 was a strong year. The rich diversity in new type design has never been so evident.

I got so many responses this time around, many with texts that were longer and more in-depth than ever before, that I admittedly fell behind in the editing and production of the list. I hope you’ll find it to be worth the wait.

If you need an entry point, might I suggest:

Matthew Butterick’s review of Eskapade, in which he explains the difference between originality and surprise;

Sébastien Morlighem on the unusual stencil family that is Bery;

Indra Kupferschmid on Stan, with history on the unusual designs that inspired it;

Eben Sorkin on Turnip, Typographica’s new text face;

Catherine Griffiths, our newest contributor, on FF ThreeSix;

Florian Hardwig, who offers not only praise, but a bit of critique for Axia;

Shoko Mugikura and Tim Ahrens on the complex beauty of Quintet;

or Patric King’s “cocaine-and-vodka” take on Xtreem, dripping with references to ’80s pop culture.

Brief Thoughts on the State of Type

For the font market, 2012 was a year in which burgeoning trends matured into permanent shifts.

The most obvious example of lasting change is in type for the web. Professional webfonts were available in 2011 — primarily via services hosting previously released font families — but buyers can now expect most new fonts to be issued in both desktop and web formats. And some typefaces, like Turnip RE and JAF Bernini Sans, were designed from the start with screen performance in mind. (Unfortunately, mobile publishing is still left behind, as phone and tablet developers struggle to find clear licensing options for embedding fonts in apps. While there are some exceptions, most buyers still need to contact foundries for this kind of license. Look for this to evolve in 2013.)

The independent foundry has also cemented its place as the new foundation of the industry. Most of this year’s selections are from very small shops, several of which are entirely new to the market. It’s also significant that, in addition to offering their fonts through retailers like FontShop, MyFonts, and the newly revived Fonts.com, most of these indie foundries now sell directly to customers through their own sites. In some cases they have eschewed outside distribution altogether. The “majors” have not simply laid down, however. Monotype, Linotype, Font Bureau, FontFont, and H&FJ are all represented in this year’s list, each with releases that are remarkably characteristic of their respective brands.

Stylistically, no single classification or genre dominated the selections this year. This is a good thing. It indicates that me-too-ism is limited and that designers are open to a variety of styles. If you cast your net wide across all areas of graphic design, that trend for diversity is confirmed by today’s practical typography, too. Speaking of Fonts In Use, we are now adding links to that site from Typographica reviews, so you can see how the typefaces perform in the real world.

There are plenty of open questions about how fonts are marketed these days, but I am very optimistic about the proficiency and creativity of type design as a whole. The Golden Age of Type lives on, and it’s growing up.

Thanks to Chris Hamamoto for his continual design and dev prowess. Tânia Raposo also joined the team this year, designing many of the specimen images that represent the selections (now double-density for Retina-level displays). I’m also very grateful to Tamye Riggs for copyediting help, to Laura Serra for production assistance, and all the contributors for their insightful reviews.

The “Type of 2012” title graphic features Stan, Signalist, Trio Grotesk, and Bery Tuscan.

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Our Favorite Typefaces of 2012

fonts-of-the-year-2012I’ll be honest. When December rolls around and I ask a group of smart, articulate font users and makers to each select their favorite release of the year, not everyone rushes back with their pick. And when they do, they don’t always have much to say about it. Some years are stronger than others. 2012 was a strong year. The rich diversity in new type design has never been so evident.

I got so many responses this time around, many with texts that were longer and more in-depth than ever before, that I admittedly fell behind in the editing and production of the list. I hope you’ll find it to be worth the wait.

If you need an entry point, might I suggest:

Matthew Butterick’s review of Eskapade, in which he explains the difference between originality and surprise;

Sébastien Morlighem on the unusual stencil family that is Bery;

Indra Kupferschmid on Stan, with history on the unusual designs that inspired it;

Eben Sorkin on Turnip, Typographica’s new text face;

Catherine Griffiths, our newest contributor, on FF ThreeSix;

Florian Hardwig, who offers not only praise, but a bit of critique for Axia;

Shoko Mugikura and Tim Ahrens on the complex beauty of Quintet;

or Patric King’s “cocaine-and-vodka” take on Xtreem, dripping with references to ’80s pop culture.

Brief Thoughts on the State of Type

For the font market, 2012 was a year in which burgeoning trends matured into permanent shifts.

The most obvious example of lasting change is in type for the web. Professional webfonts were available in 2011 — primarily via services hosting previously released font families — but buyers can now expect most new fonts to be issued in both desktop and web formats. And some typefaces, like Turnip RE and JAF Bernini Sans, were designed from the start with screen performance in mind. (Unfortunately, mobile publishing is still left behind, as phone and tablet developers struggle to find clear licensing options for embedding fonts in apps. While there are some exceptions, most buyers still need to contact foundries for this kind of license. Look for this to evolve in 2013.)

The independent foundry has also cemented its place as the new foundation of the industry. Most of this year’s selections are from very small shops, several of which are entirely new to the market. It’s also significant that, in addition to offering their fonts through retailers like FontShop, MyFonts, and the newly revived Fonts.com, most of these indie foundries now sell directly to customers through their own sites. In some cases they have eschewed outside distribution altogether. The “majors” have not simply laid down, however. Monotype, Linotype, Font Bureau, FontFont, and H&FJ are all represented in this year’s list, each with releases that are remarkably characteristic of their respective brands.

Stylistically, no single classification or genre dominated the selections this year. This is a good thing. It indicates that me-too-ism is limited and that designers are open to a variety of styles. If you cast your net wide across all areas of graphic design, that trend for diversity is confirmed by today’s practical typography, too. Speaking of Fonts In Use, we are now adding links to that site from Typographica reviews, so you can see how the typefaces perform in the real world.

There are plenty of open questions about how fonts are marketed these days, but I am very optimistic about the proficiency and creativity of type design as a whole. The Golden Age of Type lives on, and it’s growing up.

Thanks to Chris Hamamoto for his continual design and dev prowess. Tânia Raposo also joined the team this year, designing many of the specimen images that represent the selections (now double-density for Retina-level displays). I’m also very grateful to Tamye Riggs for copyediting help, to Laura Serra for production assistance, and all the contributors for their insightful reviews.

The “Type of 2012” title graphic features Stan, Signalist, Trio Grotesk, and Bery Tuscan.

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