Results of the 2019 Font Purchasing Habits Survey

Mary Catherine Pflug
Feb 3, 2020 · 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

Overview

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

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

User Feedback

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

And some interesting stats about discounting and marketing….

Variable Fonts

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

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

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 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

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

Customer Persona: Creative Professional

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

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

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

Think about your customer.

Nothing is as simple as it seems.

Some things change.

Some things stay the same.

Download the PDF slide deck here.

Font Stuff

Your guide to selling type, brought to you by the font…