The 2018 Font Purchasing Habits Survey Results (Complete Edition)

This article can also be found in a more user-friendly three-part version, starting with Part 1. This complete article is super long and contains the full survey presentation content. You’ve been warned!

Part 1: Demographics & Distributors
Check out Part 1 to see the demographics of survey respondents, this year’s list of most popular font distributors, and how this list stacks up to site traffic data.

Part 2: Font Features, Evaluation, & Pricing
Part two contains information about the font features customers want, how customers evaluate fonts, and the prices they are willing to pay. Additionally, part two contains Likert scale questions and four new questions asked this year about licensing, budgeting, spending, and managing fonts!

Part 3: Font Feelings & Customer Segments
My new favorite section is all about font feelings. See part three for information about how customers and type designers feel about variable fonts, major font brands, and if fonts are still sexy. The presentation will wrap up with a dive into the customer journey and data-based customer segments.


The third annual Font Purchasing Habits Survey ran for 45 days from May 5 to June 20, 2018. I asked 56 questions related to font preferences and purchasing habits. Respondents who completed the survey received a pack of 15 great Monotype fonts for free. The results of this anonymous survey were debuted in August at TypeCon2018 in Portland, Oregon. This article contains the talk and the original slides.

I created and printed booklets to accompany the talk, and all TypeCon attendees received them in their goodie bags. Thanks to the fine people at Scout Books for the expert printing!

I am happy to announce that we received a record-breaking 15,745 responses this year!

This is a really useful dataset. For a population of 17 million creative professionals, we have a confidence level of 99% with a confidence interval of 1. What this means is that if 50% of the survey respondents choose an answer, then we can be 99% sure that between 49% and 51% of the population would choose the same answer.

This is in large part due to our amazing sponsors. Big thanks to them for spreading the word and supporting this research.

Additionally, survey takers received 15 Monotype fonts for free if they completed the survey. This was no easy task as there were 56 questions.

Over time, the survey has grown in unexpected ways. You can see the past three years below. Between 2017 and 2018, we saw the number of responses grow 506%!

The goal of this survey is to focus in on the font user and the font customer. The driving question is “What do customers want?”

The short answer is… fonts! The long answer is a bit more complicated, as we’ll see. In this article, I’ll focus on the following things — survey demographics, YOY comparisons, customer segments, general purchasing habits, and my new favorite category—Font Feelings!

Demographics

  • 65% of respondents are White or Caucasian.
  • We see the skill level normally distributed, with 74% reporting intermediate or advanced skill level.
  • 55% report purchasing 1 to 10 individual fonts in a year on average.
  • 52% of the survey respondents are male and 39% are female.
  • 69% say they use fonts as part of their job.
  • The average age is 41.6 years, with a median and mode of 40.

Responses came in from 119 countries. 46% were from the US.

57% report using fonts primarily in the field of graphic design. Of those 57%, 41% are freelancers.

Font Distributors

Respondents were asked the following question:

“Please select all of the suppliers you have used to pay for or download fonts in the past 6 months. (multiple answers possible)”

They could select as many responses as they wanted.

It should be noted here that the results of this question are specific to the respondents of this survey and do not accurately reflect the behavior of the entire population of type customers because this is a convenience sample.

You can see the top 8, this year compared to last year:

In the chart below, you can see all responses (except the lowest 4, removed because they had less than 150 responses each, making the results not statistically significant). You can read the following chart by saying, for example: “43% of survey takers say they have used Google Fonts in the past 6 months.” Additionally, customers report that they use an average of 4 different distributors. Last year, this was 5.

One way to test the accuracy and relevancy of the survey responses for this particular question is to compare the self-reported survey data to site traffic data estimates. I used a free trial of the SEM Rush service for this.

Examining the bars in the same chart but using SEM Rush site traffic estimates will reveal how the survey results map to reality. The goal is to have more tall bars on the left and more short bars on the right…

And overall, it looks pretty good! The only outlier is Envato, which had high site traffic but low survey response. One reason for this could be that it is not just a font website, but rather focuses on many different kinds of creative assets, fonts being only a small part.

Additionally, there is a caveat for the figure for Adobe Typekit Subscription. This percentage does not take into account the fact that it is integrated into Adobe Creative Cloud. We can’t measure the traffic of Typekit inside Creative Cloud, so it is likely that this number is much larger. The data shown here is for the website https://typekit.com/.

We are unable to get estimates for some categories. Google Fonts is a subdomain of Google so there is no data available. The categories “Free font websites” “Other” and “Individual type designers websites” have no data because they are broad categories. We are unable to get data for Future Fonts because their URL ends in .xyz.


I recommend anyone who sells anything, especially fonts, to use a tool like SEM Rush to look up site traffic data when they are considering offering their fonts online for sale or working with a distributor. This is a FREE tool that anyone can use, and there is no reason not to get as much information as possible when making a decision! Site traffic can indicate the number of customers that could discover your products on different sites.


More Demographics

29% of survey takers report that they personally know a type designer, and 8% report that they have created and sold a typeface at some point in their life. It should be noted that this 8% isn’t the type designers who are full time or who make their living with type — this 8% is ANYONE who has EVER made a typeface.

  • 21% of respondents don’t know if they have software where they can access alternate characters and use OpenType features in fonts!!!
  • 44% of respondents use fonts from a subscription service.
  • 67% of respondents are aware that Adobe Typekit is included with an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.
  • 73% of respondents pay for a subscription music or video service.

Font Features & Font Evaluation

There are two distinct but essential parts of the font purchase. The first is what features customers want when they download or buy a typeface. The second is how customers are evaluating fonts. The following two questions dive into these topics.

Font Features

The #1 thing font customers care about are the numbers of styles in a font family.

As you can see, 82% of customers say they care about the number of styles in the font family.

I added two new response options this year — “License types available” and “Foundry that designed the typeface”. In 2017, the results were pretty similar.

Font Evaluation

When asked about font evaluation, customers want to see the entire character set, type out their own words and phrases, see if the font has alternates and ligatures, and select and compare fonts with each other.

Here you can see a comparison to 2017.

One new response option was added in 2018. In general, the results are pretty similar to 2017.

New Questions!

This year, I added some new questions about font licensing, font budgeting, font spending, and managing fonts.

Likert Scale Statements

I showed survey takers a series of statements, and asked them to respond on a scale of agree to disagree. Their answers can be converted to a scale of 1 to 5, with 3 being neutral.

You can see a few of the interesting results below, and any changes from 2017.

It is worth making a note about the bottom left statement “There are a few foundries that are my go-to for fonts. I check their fonts first to see if they have what I need before browsing.” The results of this statement may be misleading. I asked a follow up question to anyone who responded ‘agree’ or ‘somewhat agree’ and asked them to name some of their go-to foundries. Instead of naming foundries, most people named type distributors or other websites, not the people or businesses actually making the type. This seems to indicate that there is brand loyalty, but perhaps not necessarily foundry loyalty. Customers probably don’t fully understand the term “foundry” to mean the type designer(s) who make the font, but rather see it as a catch all for anyone selling type. This shouldn’t be a surprise; this is a very specific industry term. It is worth revisiting our use of this term and evaluate if there is something more customer-friendly that we can use.

Perhaps you’re reading this and wondering where the term “foundry” comes from and why we use it. This harkens back to the days of metal type, when fonts were cast in metal in a foundry. I have the job title “Foundry Manager.” When searching for that on LinkedIn, it’s just me and a bunch of people in the metalworking industry!

The results to these statements indicate that people don’t necessarily have positive feelings about font subscription plans, don’t think the process of buying fonts is confusing, somewhat agree that they look for discounted fonts first, and somewhat agree that font licensing is confusing.

Pricing

There are two questions to determine price points for two common font categories — a workhorse font family and a script font family. The following results are ONLY respondents from the US.

I asked a separate question about discounting:

I think a font must be a lower quality if it is discounted at:

  • 90% off or more
  • 75% off or more
  • 50% off or more
  • 30% off or more
  • Any discount at all.
  • I don’t associate discounting with lower quality fonts.

The most notable results (and compared to last year):

These results indicate that people don’t think of discounted fonts as lower quality. If you want to discount your products, you should do so knowing that the discount by itself won’t contribute to the quality perception for most customers. If you are worried about this at all, stick to discounts lower than 75%.

Font Feelings

This new section called ‘Font Feelings’ is my new favorite category. Here we’ll dive into how customers and type designers feel about variable fonts and major font brands.

For fun, I asked respondents if they think fonts can be sexy:

Survey respondents still think fonts can be sexy.

Variable Font Feelings

I asked the following question about variable last year too, so now we can compare answers year over year to see how variable font awareness and perception changes over time.

2018 results

These 2018 results may seem very familiar to you if you read last year’s results; very little has changed since 2017.

2018 vs. 2017 results

Additionally, type designers still have very different responses than the rest of the population:

Type designers vs. everyone else. Left: 2017 results. Right: 2018 results

Additionally, I asked four Likert scale questions related to concepts behind or functions of variable fonts. I wanted to see if survey takers may have a need for variable fonts, even if they may not know what they are.

Font Company Feelings

There were five new questions this year to really dive into brand perception. I asked the following question about five major design brands related to fonts: Adobe, Monotype, MyFonts, Creative Market, and Google Fonts. The respondents were also shown the logo of each brand.

This word bank was carefully crafted to reduce value judgement. No overtly positive or negative ‘judgement’ words were used — there was no “good” and “bad”, “ugly” or “pretty”. Instead, the goal was to collect responses to form a more nuanced view of how users see each brand. You may also notice that there are some words with loose foils; monopoly vs. democratic, cutting-edge vs. historic, accessible vs. elite.

The Results:

I was also curious to see how type designers vs. the rest of the population perceive these brands. In general, type designers are using the words “monopoly” and “democratic” more than the rest of the population.

Customer Segments

I’ve had an idea for quite some time, and with this survey I now had data to be able to present and provide evidence for it.

Let’s look at the journey of the type customer. We can start by creating an x and y axis. Y is volume of customers. X is the monetary value that customer brings to the industry.

Customers get on this map by first discovering or consciously recognizing that fonts exist. Perhaps they discover different fonts they like from a drop down menu in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Maybe they see something that is designed with a really illegible font and they have a negative reaction. Maybe they even see a meme or funny tweet about fonts. The first dot appears on our map:

At this point, there are many customers(font users), but they have no or little monetary value; they’re not spending money.

The next step is when those customers decide to download a free font — illegally or legally. They make the effort to go out and search, evaluate, download and install a font.

This dot is lower in volume, because not everyone who knows fonts exist will go out and download a font. But the value increases slightly because perhaps when they do this, they are seeing ads.

Next, something happens to cause the customers who download a free font to make the jump and purchase their first font. Perhaps they download lots of free fonts and their font education increases; they start to encounter technical or quality issues with free fonts and thus need a better solution. Perhaps they encounter a licensing issue and must buy the font to be compliant. Maybe they even get to a place where they have the budget to actually buy a font. Whatever the reason, they’re now in and providing real monetary value.

From here, customers will then move to purchasing fonts regularly.

The next step is needing different licenses.

Finally, the last step is for the customer to become someone who truly values type:

Perhaps they are commissioning custom type, buying very large licenses, or advocating for the considered use of fonts in their business as tools for success. These customers bring the most value, but these are the fewest.

Font subscription users fall along the path in the middle, for people who need to purchase fonts regularly or need different licenses.

Now this may be a nice theory. However, to really make this actionable and useful, we need to look at some data. We can do this by grouping users based on a survey question that maps perfectly to each of these steps:

In the following profiles, there are three primary questions that help to show how each customer group changes: their use of software with OpenType features, the categories of licenses they need, and their skill level. At the bottom of each panel is a grid of other factors that may produce interesting results and could be indicators for behavior.

Let’s dive into each customer group, starting with those who only download free fonts:

As you can see, 39% of these users don’t know if they have access to software with OpenType Features! These users need the most personal use licenses, and the skill levels are skewed towards the lower skill levels. The red blocks are the lowest percentages you’ll see, and the green blocks are the highest numbers you’ll see in the following profiles. This customer group has the highest percent of casual users, the most people who don’t know about variable fonts, and the most percent of people who agree that fonts are too expensive and font licensing is too confusing. This group has the fewest people who know a type designer, the fewest percentage of people who are a type designer, and the fewest percent of people who pay for a subscription music or video service.

With the group purchasing 1–10 fonts, we see that more people now have OpenType software, Desktop licenses become the primary license needed, and the skill level now becomes more normally distributed. The lowest figures are now increasing and the highest figures and now decreasing. For example, the percent of causal users dropped from 56% to 31%, and the number of people who pay for a video or music subscription increased from 59% to 73%.

For those that buy 11–25 fonts, OpenType use has increased, desktop license use has increased while personal license use has decreased, and the skill level is now skewing towards advanced.

Again, we see the same trends as in the previous profile continuing, with more people knowing they have and using OpenType, and the skill level skewing more to the right. Extended licenses use is increasing here too.

In this profile, we see extended licenses jump past webfont licenses. Skill level is high, OpenType use is high, and the fewest percent of people think font licensing is confusing, at only 19%.

Now we jump backwards and look at subscription users. This group has the most need for webfont licenses, and you can see that the skill level distribution has backed down to being more normally distributed, at intermediate and advanced. This group has the highest percent of people who pay for a music or video subscription, at 83%. The pie chart showing results to the question about OpenType use is now most similar to the results for the “11–25 fonts” group.


The goal is to take customers from discovering fonts exist to becoming people who value type.

But the problem is that this graph is going down, because there are so few people who value type. To make the group of people who value type increase in volume, there are a few things we can do.

1. Type Education

By ‘Type Education’ I don’t mean just traditional type education. If someone is going out searching to learn more about type, they’re going to find it. And it is important to ensure that there are good resources out there for those who want to learn more. What we also need to focus on is educating those who aren’t looking actively to be educated about fonts. Finding ways to educate users while they are browsing or shopping, or along the purchase path will generate impact.

2. Font Awareness

Font Awareness is very different from Type Education. Increasing font awareness will get more people into the first step of this diagram. There are so many people out there who become very interested in or curious about fonts once they discover on a conscious level that fonts exist. We can help the public connect the dots that fonts are made by humans, that fonts can be a valuable tool in business, that fonts are intellectual property, and that fonts are actually quite accessible.

3. User Experience

The final step to increasing the number of people who value type is providing a superb user experience. I’m not just talking about UX in the traditional sense, but instead holistically about the experiences of buying, managing, and using fonts. Accessible customer support, font management solutions that are delightful and effortless, and ways to make licensing more palatable are they keys here, because they are the biggest pain points.


Thank you for your time, and for making it to the end of this long article! Please feel free to download the entire slide deck here. For more font research, follow me on twitter and here on Medium.


Thanks to Amber Gregory for the photo.

Mary Catherine Pflug is passionate about the type designers who make fonts and the graphic designers who use them. She leads the foundry team at MyFonts + Monotype, managing 2,500+ foundry partners, and spearheads the Font Purchasing Habits Survey research initiative. She helps run TypeCon as the treasurer of the SOTA board and volunteer coordinator. She also sits on the city council of Bay State Design Shop, a community design organization in the New England area.