Results of the 2019 Font Purchasing Habits Survey

Mary Catherine Pflug
Feb 3 · 13 min read

This article outlines the data shared in the live online webinar presented about the survey results on January 30, 2020. You can also watch the video below!

About Me

I work for Monotype, managing foundry partners who sell their fonts with us and through our online websites. I’m passionate about helping type designers grow their businesses and improving processes to make doing business easier and faster. My daily work involves creative problem solving, being nice to people, and spreading the good word about fonts. I also research and speak about creative customers, the font industry, and design trends. Read more at www.marycatherine.design.

Overview

The 2019 Font Purchasing Habits Survey ran for 45 days and was available in 6 languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Japanese. The survey contained 82 questions, and those that made it to the end of the survey could download a pack of 15 Monotype fonts for free. As always, the survey results are released to the public to support the type industry.

Thanks to the sponsors of this year’s survey!

Special thanks to Google Fonts, who sponsored the printing of the survey results booklet, printed by the lovely folks at Scout Books. Please email fontsurvey@myfonts.com to request a copy.

This year, over 21,000 people took the survey! I’m really proud of how the survey has grown over the past 4 years.

This chart shows where the survey respondents came from. This was tracked using UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) links.

Demographics

Selling Fonts

In addition to the general aesthetic quality of fonts, customers want three characteristics above all else: many styles in the family, good spacing & kerning, and lots of alternates & ligatures. This has changed very little over the past four years of the survey. This makes sense, these are essential parts of font creation. Less than 3% of users care if the font has won any awards. This has been consistently low-ranking over time. Finally, less than 22% of respondents say that the foundry who made the typeface is something they care about when evaluating fonts.

There are clear and specific ways customers want to shop for fonts:

User Feedback

49% of respondents say that user feedback (like ratings, reviews, Q&A, likes) is not helpful when evaluating a font. This is very different from selling physical products online, like clothing, where reviews are essential and generally standard. Think about the customer experience on Amazon, which is filled with a variety of user feedback. It is possible that showing the number of likes influences customers subliminally; unconsciously a more popular product with more likes may be more appealing. It’s comforting to know that many other people had a good experience with the product. This isn’t something that can be ascertained from a survey which relies on self-reporting.

Here are some more results related to buying fonts, and takeaways.

And some interesting stats about discounting and marketing….

Variable Fonts

A variable font is a single font file that allows the user to configure any number of desired font styles. This is a relatively old font technology that has seen a resurgence in the past few years within the type community. Some say this technology is the future of fonts. I’m interested to see what font users and buyers think.

39% of survey respondents have no idea what variable fonts are. This indicates that there is an opportunity for more customer education and awareness campaigns to help users understand what they are, how to use them, and how variable fonts can improve a customer’s workflow. Fonts are tools, after all, and for them to be successful, customers and users must see the benefits.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t changed much since I began asking this question three years ago. While there may be some slight variation in percentages, there hasn’t been any statistically significant changes over the past three years.

When you split the survey respondents into two groups — type designers and non type designers — the data tells a compelling story. Type designers are really excited about this technology, but it hasn’t spread to the greater design community yet. This indicates to me that much more outreach, education, and implementation must be done for this new technology to become viable for the general market. This indicates that there is an opportunity here.

Free Fonts

The idea of fonts as a free product is as important today as it was in the past. Most members of the general public don’t think about fonts. I love meeting new people, telling them what I do, and seeing the lights come on when they realize that fonts are a thing and are made by people. Then enlightenment turns into shock as people hear the large number of fonts released every day, and the money involved. If people know about fonts, they generally think of them as something that comes with something else. And this makes perfect sense. Fonts have historically just come with computers or software. You get a long list of fonts in Google docs, Word and Powerpoint, Adobe products, and Squarespace, to name a few. There is the perception that they are free.

I wanted to examine how often people are buying fonts. 38% buy fonts once every three months. For those who don’t buy fonts (only 6%!), a follow up question was asked to learn more about why. The results are below.

You can see that there are a variety of different reasons. 24% would like to pay for fonts but the price is usually too high. 23% say that it is too easy to find great free font options. Only 3% don’t see the value in paying for fonts.

And free fonts are a big deal. It’s compelling from a business standpoint to use something you don’t have to pay for. This is why 75% of survey respondents say that at some point in the past, for a new project, they decided not to purchase a font and used a free font instead. When it comes to existing projects, 55% say they have actively decided to switch from paid fonts to free fonts. These are big numbers!

The good news, at least for those of us in the font business, is that people do still see the need to buy fonts. And there are tons of reasons to spend money on fonts. People need unique designs, trends change, high-quality or recognizable fonts add legitimacy to brands. Fonts are a key part of brand consistency and brand recognition. The people who make innovative and quality fonts need and want to make a living, so it’s likely that they’ll continue to charge money for them. Fonts are just like shoes or cars, constantly evolving in design and functionality, but always necessary.

Foundry Loyalty

Earlier in this article, we saw that less than 22% of respondents said the foundry who designed the typeface is something they care about when purchasing fonts. Now we see that 47% say that there are foundries that are their go-tos for fonts, compared to 80% who say that there are websites or marketplaces that are their go-tos for fonts.

This means that, in general, there is less brand loyalty to foundries than marketplaces. This has many implications.

  1. New foundries who create fonts that resonate with customers and/or tap into a current trend in design can have a good chance of success on a platform where their fonts can be discovered by font customers. This means the barrier to entry in the type industry is very low.
  2. Existing foundries can’t rely on their brand name alone. There are very few foundry brands that are so strong that they impact actual font purchases. This isn’t to say that brands should be neglected, but it should be considered when determining where to spend time and money. For example, if you have a choice between spending time and money marketing your foundry brand vs. marketing a new font release, I’d recommend choosing the new font release.
  3. Because the brands of font makers are less important to font customers (and the fact that there are so many fonts out there to choose from) fonts should be viewed as a commodity. This means that pricing is incredibly important.
  4. When strategizing your font selling business, it’s important to think about the marketplaces you want to work with. Each marketplace (or website) has a different customer base, and in general, the strategy of working with as many marketplaces as possible generates the highest revenue. This is because a different set of potential customers will see your fonts at each marketplace they are available in.

Font Brands

This research also looks at font brands — both font makers and font sellers — to see how the market is changing over time. It’s also important to understand how our customers perceive these brands.

This image shows a comparison of the top 10 suppliers over the past three years. On average, each respondent shops for fonts at three different places (Mean 3.3, Median 3, Mode 3).

MyFonts is the most-used distributor each year. Some of you may see this and think back to the pie chart showing where all the survey responses came from, and how about half came through a channel connected to MyFonts. This occurred to me too. So, in order to make sure my data was solid, I did a statistical analysis where I created two groups — responses from MyFonts links and responses from non-MyFonts links. Normalizing the data, you can see that there are very few differences between these groups, and the few differences that do exist are not statistically significant. The difference in how the two respondent groups rate MyFonts is highlighted in yellow below. Both groups select MyFonts the most.

After survey takers selected the suppliers they’ve used in the past 12 months to buy fonts, then respondents were asked these three follow-up questions. Survey takers only evaluated the distributors they’ve used in the past 12 months.

You can see that MyFonts, Adobe Fonts, and Google Fonts consistently rate highly in trust and preference. However, for Overall Experience, we see smaller suppliers ranking very high, like Lost Type Co-op and House Industries, in addition to larger e-commerce websites. It’s important to note the diversity of brands here; people trust and like a variety of brands, everything from boutique to mass market. There is space for everyone in the type industry.

Brand Association

The question “Which word do you most associate with _____?” was asked for eight popular font brands, and all respondents were given the same bank of words to choose from (shown in a random order). These questions were shown to everyone, not just people who had used those brands in the past. The results are below.

And here is a condensed look at the top three responses for each brand for easy comparison:

Customer Persona: Creative Professional

There are so many responses in this data set that it’s possible to slice up the data into really specific segments to take a closer look at the different font user personas. I’ve begun with this one, and plan to dive into other persons in future research (stay tuned!).

A Creative Professional is defined as someone who works as a Creative Director, Art Director, Graphic Designer, Product Designer, in marketing, UX, or is a business owner. They work for companies or agencies, are not a type designer, has some kind of formal type or design education, and has an average to advanced knowledge of typography. Of the 21,000 survey responses, there were about 3,500 that fall in this persona. You can see their specific characteristics below.

If you segment this group further and split them out between company and agency, you also get some interesting results. A specific question was shown to people at companies, and a different question was shown to people who work at agencies.

If you’re selling fonts, it’s important to think about how your customers are purchasing fonts within the work environment they’re in. Someone at an agency is going to behave very differently from someone at a company. Getting to know your customers workflows is important. It’s not just the people actually designing with fonts who are out there buying fonts.

I plan on creating personas for more user categories in the future. What customer personas can you think of that you’d like to see more information on?

Perception of Type Designers

I work with lots of type designers, helping them to sell fonts. It’s important for me, and the people I support, to think from the customer’s perspective. I was curious to learn what customers actually think about type designers. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked before!

To recap — about 9% of survey respondents are type designers.

Last year, I asked if people personally know a type designer, as a yes/no question. This year, I wanted to dig deeper, and asked a multiple choice question to get more specific results. There is a broad spectrum of different ways people interact with type designers.

Next I asked seven questions which could be responded to on a scale of agree to disagree.

In general, people have had a positive experience with type designers.

Takeaways

With so much data, it’s sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. I imagine, and I hope, that everyone’s takeaways here will be unique. Every one of you has a different relationship to fonts and the type industry. Take what you need, and I hope it helps!

Personally, my takeaways actually aren’t entirely related to fonts…

Think about your customer.

Whether you are in the font business or not, always consider your customer’s needs and experience. Your customer may not be the persona you assume. In the font world, it’s common and simple to assume your customer is a graphic designer using fonts in professional design software. However, the data shows that 42% of font customers are graphic designers — that means that 58% of customers are NOT graphic designers. What do you know about them?

Nothing is as simple as it seems.

There is always more to the story. Always. All of us have our own world-views. How could we not? We can only know what we know. But these views are too narrow, including mine. So, it’s important to not make assumptions, don’t follow the crowd, find out for yourself. Verify with data. Diversify your social circle. Do something (daily, if you can) to expand your worldview. As it relates to fonts, this means talking to font users, educating yourself about marketing, business, and the broader design industry.

Some things change.

The font world is tied to the corporate world more closely than one may assume. For example, in traditional font e-commerce, we see lower sales when people aren’t working (i.e. weekends, holidays) and more sales when people are at their desks. But the world is changing. Corporations are getting larger, more complex, and more international. Fonts are still an important part of branding and design, and becoming more and more important as companies struggle to achieve brand consistency. However, fonts as a software haven’t evolved to match the new world we live in. They’re still a file that can only be legally used with the proper license. From last year, subscription font use, open source font use, and using a font manager has increased. Font users have more complex needs than they used to, and are looking for a simple solution. As the world changes, we must too.

Some things stay the same.

For certain questions in the survey, not much has changed over the years. Users still prioritize the same font features — like overall design, pricing, kerning, spacing, ligatures, alternates. We know how to make fonts that will make customers happy. The main large font websites are still popular and resonating with customers. People still want to evaluate fonts the same way as they did four years ago. We know in general how customers want to shop. Variable fonts still haven’t caught on (yet). Sans Serifs still reign supreme. Desktop licenses are still the most popular. People are still spending money on fonts, and the overall font industry revenue is continuing to increase. There’s plenty of room for new foundries to join and succeed. Most importantly, people still love fonts!


Download the PDF slide deck here.

Font Stuff

Your guide to selling type, brought to you by the font experts at Monotype!

Mary Catherine Pflug

Written by

Fonts, doughnuts, data. Works for @Monotype + @MyFonts Opinions are my own.

Font Stuff

Your guide to selling type, brought to you by the font experts at Monotype!

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