The 2017 Font Purchasing Habits Survey Results

On August 26, 2017, I presented the results of the second Font Purchasing Habits Survey in a 40-minute talk at TypeCon in Boston, MA. Survey data was originally collected in May & June of 2017. This article contains the transcript of the talk and the original slides.

To go with the talk, I created a tiny booklet containing some of the results. Each TypeCon attendee received a copy of the booklet in their swag bag!

Thanks Scout Books!

A big “Thank you” to everyone who took the survey. I am so pleased with the number of respondents. There are 45 questions, it was live for 45 days, and 2,600 people took the survey. Of those, about 1,900 responses are complete. When it comes to statistical significance, this is fantastic because it provided me with a great sample size. As a comparison — last year, 765 people took the survey.

The views and opinions expressed in this presentation are my own and are not necessarily those of Monotype.

This year, I was also able to provide an incentive for people to complete the survey by offering nine great fonts for free if they get to the end. I think this really helped, and I want to say a big thanks to all the foundries that believed in me and this research, letting me give one of their fonts away to help make this research even better.

Another new thing I did this year was to create an official website for the survey with consistent branding: fontpurchasinghabits.com

Last year I was all over the place with the design and the consistency of promotion and graphics. This year I made an identity that I hoped would appeal to a broad audience, and I stuck with it across all mediums during the 45 days the survey was live. I wouldn’t consider myself a great graphic designer. I like pink and yellow, so I just went for it. Maybe next year I’ll have the budget to pay someone really good to do it. Even though I work for MyFonts and this survey data is technically “owned” by MyFonts, it’s still my project that I retain control of. Thus there was no need to really push the MyFonts brand… it’s not about promoting MyFonts, it’s about collecting info to share and ultimately help the industry.

The primary goal of this survey is to learn what customers what. That’s the ultimate goal of most things in business, right? Let me emphasize the “customer” aspect of this. As someone very involved in the type industry, with friends who are type designers, I hear many opinions, complaints, and ideas about selling fonts. I want to know how people who actually buy and use fonts feel… it seems that the opinions of consumers are equally as important, if not more important, than those of the type designer.

Some of the topics I am interested in learning more about are discounting, pricing, marketing, customer font education, the idea of foundry loyalty, and general purchasing behavior.

I have a housekeeping note about the results:

As with any survey, there is always some inherent bias present. For example, the respondents of this survey represent a convenience sample, rather than a random sample. I didn’t randomly select people from a population but instead distributed the link online and it was completed by people who came across it. Because I work for MyFonts, I was able to take advantage of our platforms to distribute the survey, so of course more MyFonts customers took the survey. I’ll talk in more detail about that later. Additionally, this survey relies on self-reporting. People don’t always do what that they say they are going to do. So, know that these results are not gospel. However, I believe that my sample is very, very solid, but I’ll break down the demographics and you can see for yourself.

Before I get into the demographics, I want to say one thing. A number of people have asked about and even taken issue with the title of my survey. “Font Purchasing Habits Survey.” You may say — but Mary Catherine! Fonts are licensed, not purchased! Yes. Of course. This is true. But! People spend money on fonts. And that is what it means to make a purchase. This survey itself is for graphic designers and the users of fonts. The results are for the type designers. No one refers to songs, DVDs, or basically any other electronic media as being licensed in colloquial conversation, even though it is *technically* licensed for specific uses (as in personal viewing/listening).

Fonts should be no different, and using unnecessarily technical terms in customer-facing instances such as this is counter-productive to my goal of collecting opinions from as many customers as possible. We could get into a much larger discussion about font commerce terminology, but that is a separate discussion altogether.

I intentionally used the word purchasing instead of licensing in order to appeal to a broader number of people, to get the most responses as possible. A survey named “Font Licensing Habits Survey” sounds kindof scary and technical. “Typeface licensing habits survey” is even worse.

Demographics

There are an equal number of male and female respondents!
As you can see, the age distribution is spread nicely. No single group dominated too much.

I asked the question “What age were you when you downloaded and/or installed a font? I’m really fascinated with the point in time when people realize that there are other fonts out there, beyond what is on their computer. This is what I like to call the age of discovery.

I use this question to see if the group that discovered fonts at a young age (25 years or younger) behave differently than those who discovered fonts at an older age (26 years or older).

This question asks the primary field in which people use fonts. I ran into the issue last year with asking about traditional industry of work because often people use fonts (and purchase fonts) for use outside their primary profession.

57% of the respondents are graphic designers, which is expected. I would have liked to see more people in the web design category, but maybe I can work on that for next year.

67% of the population consider themselves professional users. In the survey question, casual is defined as “using them for mostly personal projects that don’t create income” and professional is defined as “using them as a part of their job.”
I also asked about the skill level of users. Of course, this is all self-reporting, and everyone’s definition of these labels are a bit different. But a result of 73% of the population being either intermediate or advanced, with a distribution like this is to be expected.

These are the most used distributors, according to this group of respondents. This doesn’t necessarily mean that these are the best or most used distributors for the entire population. This just shows the distributors used to download fonts in the past 6 months by this group of people. This data more realistically represents the “awareness” of font retailers.

The average respondent uses 5 distributors.
57% of customers purchase 1–10 fonts per year. 11% of respondents say they only download free fonts.
I am really pleased with the distribution of responses, and it is more varied than last year. Each color represents a different country.
  • So, 43% of people say they personally know a type designer.
  • 13% of the survey respondents say they have created and sold a typeface at some point in their life.
  • 63% say they were educated about licenses and fonts at their current place of employment.
  • 49% of people say they have read an entire EULA before.
  • 76% say they have software where they can access OpenType features.
  • 15% of people say they don’t know if they have access to OpenType features.

That wraps up demographics. For the rest of this presentation, I will dig deeper into a few important topics: Marketing, Pricing & Discounting, Customer Education, Gender, Foundry Loyalty, and the State of the Type Industry.

Marketing

When it comes to marketing fonts specifically, there is mostly anecdotal evidence out there, not really any published research or data about this really specific topic. My aim is to change that, because getting information out about these topics is really important!

This year, I asked how people show off their work online. Possibly not a surprise, a majority of people have a personal portfolio website, and 28% have a social media account devoted to their work.

In the font exposure section here to the right, I wanted to know how people find out about fonts they want to buy. Respondents had the option to select more than one response. These were the main ways people find out about fonts. No one way is more significant than the others, and between 77% and 40% of people selected these.

Respondents were asked to select the features of a typeface that they usually look for (or find important) when making a font purchase — besides the visual design qualities. The most important and desirable characteristic selected by respondents was the number of styles, (the same as last year) with 85% of all respondents selecting that it was important to them. As you can see, other important characteristics include kerning, alternates, ligatures, spacing, and then the number of glyphs. This means that you should really advertise these qualities when you market your fonts. Other characteristics that were not as important to buyers were well-designed diacritics, small cap availability, language availability, old style figures, optical sizes, symbols, footprint, and awards. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make fonts with these qualities or shouldn’t advertise that the fonts have them… it just means that the average buyer isn’t going to care as much. Only 6% of customers say they care about the awards won by the typeface. Last year, this was 7%, so it has remained consistently low.

This question wasn’t asked last year. I wanted to see how customers evaluate fonts, not just what features they look for. The top four ways (and the four ways that more than 50% of the population care about) are seeing the entire character set, typing out their own words, seeing the ligatures and alternates, and being inspired by images.

Next I’m going to get into the results of likert scale questions, which look like this. The survey-taker was shown a statement and then responded to it by selecting their level of agreement. All results shown are statistically significant unless otherwise noted. This means that the difference in responses is mathematically different enough to be meaningful. All of these calculations were done using IBM’s SPSS software. To turn these responses into data that can be manipulated, each answer is given a score. Agree is the highest at 5, and disagree is 1, the lowest.

In the following slides, you’ll see averages of the responses on scales. The closer the number is to 5, the more the respondent population agrees with the statement. 3 is neutral.

If we dig a little further into the subscription question and look at different grouped responses.

Dribbble users feel more positively about it than those who don’t use Dribbble. But it is still fairly close to neutral.
Behance users feel more positively about font subscriptions compared to those who don’t use Behance. This isn’t a surprise, because Behance is an adobe product and adobe has their successful Typekit subscription and creative cloud subscription.
Younger users feel neutral about font subscription service plans, while older users feel more negatively about it.

Regarding Google Fonts:

Regarding imagery:

Pricing

I asked two questions to determine the price respondents are willing to pay for two different categories of common products.

Of course it should be noted that people don’t always do what they say they are going to do.

I split out the responses of different groups so I’ll be showing that in the next few slides.

Users who report that they have advanced or expert skill levels say they are willing to pay more.
Those who personally know a type designer are willing to pay more.
Professional users are willing to pay more.
Younger users are willing to pay more than older users.
MyFonts customers are willing to pay more than those who do not shop at MyFonts.

So if we look at this data for all the distributors with a significant amount of responses, a map can be created.

On the y axis is the price people say they are willing to pay, and on the x axis at the bottom are the number of people who say they shop at these distributors. The size of the circles is also the number of people who shop at each retailer.

So you see on the left we have the high value retailers whose customers value fonts more, but there is a lower volume of customers — FontShop, lost type co-op, individual type designers websites. In the middle, there are the retailers who are larger volume but whose customers value fonts slightly less. Adobe Typekit at the top is the highest value, mid-volume retailer. And to the far right are Google Fonts and MyFonts, with the largest number of respondents saying they shop there, and and willing to pay mid-range prices.

Unfortunately I couldn’t plot all of the distributors that I wanted to on this map; I didn’t plot any distributors with less than 250 respondents saying they shop there, because the data would not be as sound. Fontspring had around 220, and Type Network had only 31.

Once again, it should be noted that these results are specific to the respondents of this survey and may not accurately reflect the behavior of the entire population of type customers.


Here we see two Likert scale questions about pricing, and both skew positive. People somewhat agree that fonts are too expensive and assume expensive fonts are higher quality.

Correlations:

Discounting

Here is the question shown to respondents in the survey: “I think a font must be lower quality if it is discounted at:” Note that there is an option for “any discount at all”

And we see that 66% of respondents say they don’t associated discounting with lower quality products

Of those who do associate discounting with lower quality products, 18% say that fonts at 90% off or more are lower quality, and 10% of people say that fonts at 75% off or more are lower quality.

Here we see the Likert results of some statements related to discounting:

Last year, the following question was an open-ended question. I averaged the answers to produce a single discount percent, it was 56%. But this year, I felt like it needed more context, and that I couldn’t realistically trust something that specific. So, I set the responses up like this so that the data could be more helpful. And I think the question works much better this way.

Takeaways: Smaller discounts don’t motivate “impulse buys.” To encourage impulse buying of your products, discounts should be at least 50%.

Customer Education

By education, I refer to a customer’s knowledge of fonts, and everything that’s involved with making decisions to buy them. Knowing how knowledgeable customers are is a good thing for foundries.

The general takeaway here is that customers feel like they are educated about font evaluation and confident about the font purchasing process.

When splitting the respondents in to groups based on their gender, there were some significant results:

Correlations:

Gender

  • The survey shows men keep up with font trends and new font releases more than women.
  • Men agree that they understand how many user licenses they need to buy when they purchase a font more than women.
  • Men responded that they are more confident that they understand how to use OpenType Features than women.
  • The survey shows women wish they knew more about fonts, more than men.

Age

  • Older users report that they keep up with font trends and new releases more than younger users.
  • Older users agree that they understand how many user licenses they need to buy when they purchase a font more than younger users.
  • Older users indicate more confidence in understand how to use OpenType features more than younger users.
  • The survey shows younger users consider webfont usage and licensing when making recommendations for clients more than older users.
  • Younger users report that they think the process of buying fonts is less confusing than older users.
  • Younger users agree that they wish they knew more about fonts more than older users.

Gender

I asked four Likert scale questions relating to gender:

The statement “I think fonts are sexy” produced some of the strongest responses. Here is a breakdown of the specific response to that question. You can see that 56% of people said that they agree with this!

Foundry Loyalty

By foundry loyalty, I’m talking about how much customers think about the foundry name or the name of the designer when they are buying. We know that in traditional retail, brand names are important. I want to know if the same is true for type design; buying a font is different from buying a car or a shirt… when you buy and use a font you may not necessarily be tying yourself to the identity of the creator of the product. The font is a step removed from the brand of the designer. It’s generally agreed upon in marketing that people want to use brands that they align themselves with and who share their values. Is the type industry the same?

Data makes it seem so:

We can also look at foundry loyalty by examining the population who shops at individual type designers websites.

And those who personally know a type designer:

State of the Type Industry

Finally, let’s talk about the state of the type industry.

There’s a lot going on. New foundries and distributors are popping up all over the place. Font creation technology is better than ever, making it possible for more and more people to learn type design. Type education organizations and publications are growing; customers are more educated than ever before. The number of fonts on the market is the largest it’s ever been, and will continue to grow at an exponential rate. Pricing models are being re-evaluated for modern markets. The law has not caught up with technology and our industry. My days are filled with big-picture discussions about pricing, discounting, plagiarism, marketing, licensing models, and our changing industry. I see the ripples of changes to come every time I log on to twitter, am faced with a challenging question from a foundry, or conduct research like this.

When I go through my data, I can’t ignore the incredible volume of statistically significant differences between type designers and the rest of the population.

I asked the following question about variable fonts. We’re all really interested to see what will happen with the resurgence of this font technology. It’s not new of course, but it’s back in the discussion, for now. The type industry may be ablaze with talk, but what does everyone else think? Looking at the general results, 69% of people don’t know enough to make a decision about them. 35% of the respondents don’t even know what they are. This data comes from one thousand, eight hundred and ninety seven people.

If we dig a little deeper and split the population into type designers and everyone else, you can see the differences even more clearly. Only 25% of non-type designers know enough to have an opinion, either saying they are optimistic or pessimistic. Looking at the difference in length of the yellow bars to the black bars, you can see that the graphs have fundamentally different shapes.

This is a big deal. It tells me two things: The first is that some serious outreach and effort needs to be put into making variable fonts an understandable thing. It’s going to take a lot of development to make variable fonts supported in a way that can be broadly relevant and viable for customers. If customers don’t even know about it, and nothing indicates that an investment into supporting the technology will pay off, no company will step up to develop it for use across platforms. The second thing this tells me is that variable fonts are not yet a viable font format for type designers to invest their time in learning and selling, at least from a retail perspective. Some serious work has to go into raising awareness and building support. We have a long way to go.

Take a moment to think back to the pricing section of the presentation. You can see here the comparison between type designers and everyone else.

These are really big differences, statistically and numerically. I’m not necessarily advising type designers to go out and lower their prices. Pricing type is complicated and has implications outside of the traditional retail space. What this indicates is another example of how different type designers expectations are from the rest of the population. Of course it makes sense that type designers would pay more for type; it’s what they make and design and care about. It’s only a problem when type designers are pricing their products in a vacuum, without input and perspective from those outside the type industry.

There are many differences between type designers and everyone else:

This demonstrates the volume of significant differences between type designers perceptions compared to the rest of the population. My hypothesis is that the type industry is in a bubble. And the data I’m finding is backing it up.

I’m not necessarily talking about a financial bubble here. I’m talking about a social bubble. The type designer respondent group thinks so differently from the rest of the population. I just spent 20 slides on that! One could draw a lot of different conclusions from this disparity. I’m not going to do that here. My goal here is to let everyone know that this data indicates that the bubble exists.

It’s not a surprise. I see the way twitter, for example, has developed, with the emergence of “font twitter” and “design twitter” as two separate and distinct communities. I’m lucky to work with people every day that are from diverse backgrounds and not just font people. I have to pull myself out of the bubble constantly, fact checking my assumptions that I have about the needs of type designers. Sometimes I come up short, without any hard data or evidence to back up things I just have internalized over time and could potentially be wrong about. Then I plan how to figure it out and collect the necessary info.

We have to reconcile our differences with our customers. Four small ways to get started are:

  1. Make friends. As we’ve seen here (and in the data from last year), those who know type designers are better customers. They pay higher prices, they are more educated about fonts, and have more foundry loyalty. But making friends with graphic designers can go beyond just trying to convert people to better customers. We need allies who know what’s going on in the graphic design industry, what issues they face that we could potentially help with, gaps in product offerings we could fill, ways to make font users have a better experience. Even better, make friends who are willing to help you in areas where you may not be as strong. Not great at marketing your fonts, or designing compelling work to show off your fonts? Pay someone you trust to do it for you, who is in touch with current trends and what clients of graphic designers may want.
  2. Get diverse opinions. Talk to people in industries tangential to ours. Follow men and women designers on twitter. People of color. Those with diverse gender identities. Develop a group of trusted individuals who are different from you who can provide diverse perspectives on the aspects of selling fonts that are the most customer-facing.
  3. Expand your twitter by following non-type people. I think this is self explanatory. Social media is designed to only show people things that are similar to them. It creates bubbles. I’m afraid font twitter is isolating type designers from their customers.
  4. Verify your assumptions. “Why” is a great question. Direct it at yourself, direct it at others.

On the theme of examining assumptions, I’d like to keep doing it, and I need your help. I’ve created another survey, this time specifically for Type Designers.

This survey asks the hard-hitting questions… perceptions of discounting, threats to our industry, plagiarism, the challenges faced selling fonts, and more. There’s no reward at the end, no free fonts. It’s anonymous, and shorter than the survey I’ve just discussed. And the results will be shared with everyone, publicly, as usual.

My job is not as a researcher, with directives from on high to answer specific business questions. I’m a foundry success specialist. It’s my job to study ways to help foundries succeed. Collecting data, analyzing it, and sharing the results will help everyone in our industry. I hope you all participate, even if you don’t sell on MyFonts, it doesn’t matter. Your voice counts and will help develop the best big-picture view of our industry, from both the customer perspective and the foundry perspective. To succeed in the changing times ahead, we must go forward with a clear picture of the challenges we face. We have to be better, and we have to do it together.

Please email me (fontsurvey@myfonts.com) if you have any questions — if you couldn’t tell, I love talking about this stuff — and I look forward to continuing my research to shed light on our industry.


Many thanks to everyone who completed the survey, shared the survey link, and all who graciously assisted, advised, and edited the research, slides, and wording of the talk.

Fonts used in the presentation include: 
Scotch by Positype & Din Next Pro by Linotype