Busy letters. An brief account of Latin type market.
The goal of this paper is to give some insights to see how the so crowded Latin type offer could still find outlets. It raises a question of sustainability: how Latin type diversity finds its audience and how type designers could keep getting revenues from their work?
I am a chartered accountant, but also the founder of Velvetyne Type Foundry, and a keen customer for many years for many foundries. I also regularly teach font licensing and copyright at ANRT and advise type foundries on their type market approach.
I sell a typeface (Forward) on Future Fonts and eight fonts (for now) on Subjective Letters.
I focus here on Latin type, the most competitive segment of the type market.
Speaking of type market, precise hard numbers are difficult and/or costly to get. We know that when Monotype was withdrawn from Nasdaq in 2019, it was bought for $825 m.
What are the main forces? One is in type business, the aforementioned Monotype, the other two are not — Adobe and Google. They control most of type distribution, which is a key success factor.
I am an accountant so I sort things. How many reasons do we have to use a specific font? I see three: comply, compete, conjoin.
Comply, when you have to use a font, as specified by a standard. For instance, the standard of a pharmaceutical product. If you are the sales representative you have to present the product with the proper font. Printed brochures are no longer in use. It is now on a tablet within an app. The salesman must buy a licence app for the font of the product he/she intends to sell on his/her own budget. Pharmaceutical companies — quite a few at least — have the upper hand to enforce such clauses. If you have major iconic typefaces such as Helvetica, Futura, Gotham (all Monotype assets now), the big deal is to ensure that your assets are prescribed in the standards and the rest will follow, not because of design per se, but for compliance issues resolution.
Compete is when a font is used for catch and appeal. Anything goes, streamed assets via Adobe Fonts, in progress or beta fonts (FutureFonts, Vault by CommercialType), the more, the quicker, sometimes the weirder (see Lineto, back to Lineto 1.0) or wilder, the better.
Conjoin is when a font has to deal with everyday life, in app (Microsoft Cloud Fonts, derived versions of IBM Plex in iA Writer, Atlas Grotesk by CommercialType in DropBox Paper, Charter in Medium, etc.) also Google Fonts, available now, everywhere.
The race for general availability
Precisely what is striking is how crucial the availability of fonts is for a wide use. Also a high profile use could make the fonts closer (see Gotham big time with Barack Obama successful campaign in 2008). Heavy discounts at launch, an activation on Adobe Fonts, a copy-paste with Google Fonts API, availability in Google Docs, but also last but not least a clever distribution and signalization to significant prescribers (art directors but also managers) — everything matters to ensure that the asset is here, just ready to be used. This need for persistence of vision so the people in charge see, choose, deploy and spread is tremendous.
My point is: there is still something worth between shock and flow, eye and mind. That’s how busy Latin type is.