The 2016 Font Purchasing Habits Survey Results

On August 28, 2016, I gave a 20-minute talk at TypeCon in Seattle, Washington about the results of the Font Purchasing Habits Survey. The survey was originally issued in February 2016. This article contains the transcript of the talk and the original slides. At the end of this article, you can download the slide deck and the text.


To see the results of the new 2017 survey, please go here.


Hi! My name is Mary Catherine Pflug. I am on the board of the Society of Typographic Aficionados, I love doughnuts… and I just joined MyFonts after recently graduating with a degree in international business from Rollins College. If I say 159 words per minute, I will be done with this presentation in exactly 20 minutes. So let’s do this! I will focus primarily on The Font Purchasing Habits Survey, a component of my honors thesis, which was all about the business behind font design. I thoroughly enjoy drawing letters and have produced typefaces in the past but I’ve found that I am most interested in thinking about fonts as digital products. That is how I see myself as a part of this industry.

I care about helping type designers sell more fonts. That is what my thesis focused on, and that is what I was hired to do at MyFonts.

Speaking of my employer:
This survey was created, released, and analyzed and the full thesis was completed while I was a student before I became an employee of Monotype. The views and opinions expressed in this presentation are my own and are not necessarily those of Monotype.

Okay, now let’s get started. Some of you here today may remember seeing the Font Purchasing Habits Survey or even took it yourself. ‘Thank you’ to those who did take the survey. I am incredibly pleased with the large sample size I received, especially for such a long survey. There were 44 questions, and 765 people took the survey. The page on my website that contained the survey received 1,498 page-views, and the survey link received over 40,000 impressions on twitter.

I have a housekeeping note about the results:
I tried to reduce bias as much as possible in the design of the survey. All responses were anonymous, and the survey wasn’t affiliated with any organization in the font community. The wording of the questions was edited and reviewed in order to use the most neutral language. However, 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. Additionally, this survey relies on self-reporting. People sometimes report things differently than the way they actually behave. So, know that these results are not gospel. I believe that my sample is very solid, but I’ll break down the demographics and you can see for yourself.

I created this survey in order to see what the people who buy and use fonts care about. As a type designer with a lot of friends who are also type designers, I hear many opinions, complaints, and ideas about selling fonts. I wondered: How do people who actually buy and use fonts feel?… To me it seems that the opinions of consumers are just as important, if not more important, than those of the type designer. I used this survey to investigate that question.

The target audience of the survey is people who buy, use, love or like fonts… aka “Creative Professionals.” I was thinking a lot about AIGA members when deciding on questions and topics, since that organization represents a wide array of creative professions.

Alright, let’s get into the demographics:

  • 56% of respondents are male and 42% are female. 2% selected “other.”
  • 65% of all respondents are 35 years old or younger.
  • 35% of respondents personally know a type designer.
  • 56.5% percent of respondents work as graphic designers.
  • 55% of respondents have been working as a creative for 1–10 years.

As you can see, the responses were truly global. The three locations with the most responses were the US, Europe and Australia. Not pictured here were a handful of responses in South America and Asia. Some of you might even be able to see your dot on the map.

I am going to cover a few topics that the questions in the survey touched on: Marketing, Pricing, Gender, Emotion & Function, and Licensing Misuse. The survey produced many findings and correlations, but since I only have 20 minutes today, I have selected a few of the most interesting to talk about.

Marketing

Marketing is a big topic. I hear designers and distributors discuss various marketing strategies for selling fonts so often. But when researching “font marketing,” I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of data out there, only anecdotal evidence.

Respondents were asked “which social media do you use daily” (and had the ability to select more than one) and Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter blew all of the others out of the water.

In the font exposure section to the right, the question asked was: “How do you find out about fonts that you want to buy?” and 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 60 and 40% of people selected these, in order of highest to lowest percent.

Respondents were asked to select the features of a typeface that they usually look for (or find important) when making a font purchase. The most important and desirable characteristic selected by respondents was the number of styles, with 89% of all respondents selecting that it was important to them. Other important characteristics include number of glyphs, webfont availability, alternates, and ligatures. 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. If you are limited in space, then your best bet is to advertise the qualities on the screen. It was pretty surprising to me that awards were the least important characteristic to font buyers. They may help to increase exposure, perhaps indirectly affecting sales, however the results show that they aren’t something that people generally look for when buying. So don’t feel bad if you haven’t won any awards or don’t have the money (or time) to submit your work to organizations that give awards. You can definitely still sell fonts without them.

Respondents were asked to select the websites they use to download fonts, and they had the ability to select more than one. As you can see, the top four results were MyFonts, Individual Type Designers’ Websites, Google Fonts, and Adobe Typekit. This in no way reflects the revenue spent at these sites or the volume purchased from these sites. This data more realistically represents consumer awareness of the locations.

The next slides will show the results of likert scale questions, which look like this. The viewer was shown a statement and then responded to it by selecting their level of agreement. There are 26 of this question type in the survey, and throughout the presentation I’ll be showing the results of a few. In the following slides, you will see the statement presented to the viewer, then below it a breakdown in percentages of the responses. 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.

  • 80% of respondents agree or somewhat agree that there are a few foundries that are their go-to for fonts. This indicates that it is highly likely that foundry loyalty exists.
  • 71% of respondents agree or somewhat agree that they are more likely to buy a font if they see it used on hypothetical products in marketing promotions created by the type designer.
  • 85% of respondents agree or somewhat agree that they think about a font for a while before purchasing it.
  • 64% of respondents agree or somewhat agree that they will buy a font that they like even if they don’t currently have a project for it.

Here are some interesting correlations found based on demographic data.

Some of the most interesting parts of the results are the differences between people who personally know type designers and people who do not personally know a type designer. People who personally know a type designer behave in a very different way than people who do not. This behavior is beneficial to font distributors and type designers. People who personally know type designers are willing to pay significantly higher prices for fonts, need a lower discount percentage to buy a font that they want but do not need, feel negatively about fonts discounted at 80% or more, download fewer free fonts, and don’t end up using the free fonts that they do download.

Some of these ideas about marketing may have crossed your mind before… They may seem like common sense or reasonable hypotheses. Now, the data I have shows that these correlations are statistically significant. There is data to back up the ideas that before this, were just educated guesses. That is the thing that makes me most excited about this project and the work I’m doing.

Pricing

In the next section about pricing, I will primarily focus on discounting and the responses to the strategy of providing one weight of a typeface family for free.

Respondents were asked: “What is the discount percent that would cause you to buy a font that you like but do not need.” 57% is the average of all responses.

Interestingly, a majority of respondents disagree or somewhat disagree with the statement “When I see a font that is discounted at 80% or more, I think the font must be of lower quality.”

74% of respondents agree or somewhat agree that they are more inclined to buy a font that they want but do not need if it is discounted.

The statement “Fonts Cost too much money” produced no significant results. I think here that the lack of significance is actually important — there is clearly no consensus from consumers. This also indicates that font pricing is a nuanced pursuit due to the variation of results.

This is another statement that produced no significant results when the entire respondent population was examined. Opinions vary wildly about the idea that if one font that is part of a larger family is free, then people will be more inclined to purchase the entire family. However, when you compare different demographic groups, there are some meaningful significant results.

  • For example, graphic designers agree that when one font of a family is free, they are more inclined to purchase the entire typeface family significantly more than type designers.
  • Women agree with this idea more than men.
  • And people who shop at MyFonts agree more than people who do not shop at MyFonts.

A final correlation related to discounting is this: Type designers believe that fonts with discount percentages above 80% must be lower quality significantly more than all other industries represented in the survey.

For type designers, that’s something to really think about. Much of the survey pointed to the idea that type designers have very different opinions about sales practices and marketing ideas than the consumers of their products. Maybe this is not such a good thing.

Gender

Now let’s talk about fonts and gender. I was driven to include questions about gender in the survey due to recent discourse on social media relating to the use of gendered words to describe typefaces and the idea that fonts have gendered qualities. I believe that the root of this discourse is in anthropomorphism, which is the practice of attributing human characteristics to objects. Humans define their realities by ascribing human qualities to inanimate things and classifying objects based on their features… We’re selfish creatures, it’s what we do… even if we don’t academically want to do it. Studies have shown that individuals ascribe genders and human characteristics to cars and furniture based on the way that they look. My theory is that fonts are no exception.

  • 51% of respondents agree or somewhat agree that fonts convey different genders.
  • 55% of respondents disagree or somewhat disagree with the statement that they use gendered words to describe fonts to colleagues or clients.

There is no significant difference in responses for the statement “I identify script fonts with having feminine characteristics.” However, between demographic groups, there are some significant differences.

Here’s the most interesting thing to me about these gender questions. Women believe that fonts convey different genders and identify script fonts with having feminine characteristics significantly more than men.

Emotion & Function

Another way to examine if anthropomorphism applies to fonts is by looking at how we view fonts… through the lenses of emotion and function.

This question was included in the survey. People were asked about their favorite font — what it was and why it was their favorite. I got some pretty good answers to this question. Quite a few people really criticized this question, saying that it was naïve… that you can’t have a favorite because fonts are tools and you need different fonts for different situations. Some people were seriously passionate about disliking this question! However, they told me exactly what I needed to know. This question wasn’t really about people’s favorite fonts. I never intended to look at what every person listed as their favorite. The question I cared about was why. I was looking specifically at the language people use to describe their favorite fonts.

Some people used words like “love” “feel” “perfect” and other emotional words, talking about how the font meant something to them, or felt that it represented them as a person. Others predominately used functional words in their responses, like “useful” and “versatile” and then talked about how it worked in a specific setting. Many of the responses included both emotional and functional language to describe the font. This means that 67% of respondents have at least some emotional connection to fonts and 73% of respondents have at least some functional connection to fonts. My advice is this: Don’t underestimate the emotional connection people have to fonts.

It can be a powerful marketing tool, one that is just as powerful as seeing and showing fonts as tools.

Licensing Misuse

The final section of this talk is about licensing misuse. I asked some tough questions in the survey, asking people to tell me about their practices as it relates to legality and font use. There is far more data than I can present here and it would be more suited for an article form, however, I will show the results of three yes or no questions. I will re-iterate the fact here that these are self-reported answers, so it is likely that underreporting occurred since not everyone is comfortable being honest about issues such as these.

81% of respondents say that they have never used a font without having a proper license for it

58% of respondents say that they were not given information about the licenses of their company’s font library and were not instructed on how to share and use fonts at their current place of employment.

60% of respondents admit that they do not check the licenses of their fonts when generating and distributing InDesign packages.

This is what I want you to take away from this talk today:

  1. Know your buyer. 
    As you have seen, different demographic groups have different purchasing behavior. Identifying a specific group that purchases your products, then tailoring your promotion and marketing to them, to me feels like a no-brainer. Additionally, it is seen that customers have foundry loyalty. Why not use this to your advantage?
  2. Make an effort to meet new people. People who personally know type designers behave very differently from people who do not personally know type designers. Attend graphic design events, meet new people, tell people what you do. By doing this, you’re actively creating a more informed customer base and benefiting the entire industry.
  3. Make your marketing personal. We’ve just seen that people have emotional responses to fonts just as much as functional needs for them. Test out storytelling or other emotion-driven strategies in your marketing.
  4. Data is important. Font design may be an art but it can also be a business driven by data and research. With more and more type designers entering the market and more foundries being created, it is up to you to differentiate yourself. A good product simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Think about marketing and the font industry in a way that is driven by data and research rather than anecdotal evidence or random made-up statistics on twitter.

From my past experience as a type designer — my very, very limited experience making and selling typefaces — the marketing that I put together wasn’t based on data. It was an educated guess, looking at trends, deciding how the font should be presented, creating panels that may or may not work to help it sell based on my limited, singular understanding of the market. But with this research, and future research, it can now be more of a science. This survey just scratched the surface. And I am so excited to learn more.


There is one thing I want to let you all know about before I go. I am going to be creating and issuing another independent survey, because all good experiments are repeated to test the results. I am looking for more questions to ask this time, so if you have a burning question about font marketing, licensing issues, EULAs, sales, pricing, or anything else, or have a topic that you think would be interesting to learn more about, please find the link here and submit your questions to me.

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: Akagi Pro, Directors Gothic, Couture, Magneta, and ITC Chino Display.


The PDF slide deck can be downloaded here.
The PDF talk transcript can be downloaded here.