Type sellers, web fonts, and Typekit
You really have to feel for type sellers. Their business is changing.
- Figure out how to get their fonts into web designers’ projects safely and easily, and
- Convince those same web designers that selling type for use on the web is something they actually want to do (really!)
Of course, a foundry could wait for the market to work itself out, but that foundry might forfeit profits today and risk being forgotten tomorrow, even wholly unknown to a new generation of typesetters.
Shrouded in leaden lore
“Foundries” and “the type industry” are misleading terms. Often the type that graces your heartfelt or pays-the-rent work was created by a single individual, or several people.
Sometimes a type seller will simply call their business a foundry; after all, the profession’s rich history warrants the legacy of mechanical and industrial craftsmanship that such a name connotes. Other times, a foundry is called a foundry because it’s been around for decades, and it actually used to make metal type.
As with many businesses, some type foundries are large and corporate, but most are small. Like family farms, they grow their produce and pack it by hand. Whether it reaches us web designers via the supermarket (MyFonts, et al) or a roadside fruit stand, it still has that sunny, fresh, earthen aura.
This is not a “type industry.” These are people selling fonts.
But they won’t sell me fonts!
Right, many foundries won’t yet sell you fonts for use on a website via the recently viable CSS rule,
@font-face. Type sellers large and small could see the Real Fonts Revolution coming like a gathering storm cloud, but there was no impetus to collaborate or react until now, and they’re a little behind.
Now, they watch as strong winds approach their farm stands.
We web designers are jacked up, saddled in storm-chasing vans. Riding the wind. Shouting over the thunder. Looking upward for a summer evening light show. We’re kind of excited, and by “kind of” I mean lathered into a riotous frenzy.
@font-face is much more straightforward than the workarounds we’ve used for years to get good looking type on our websites. We want to use type legally, but we also want to use type now.
“I’ll lead the way. Go ahead.”
Moe from the Three Stooges used this line a lot, and then pushed one of the other two stooges forward into whatever situation they were about to face. Web designers, type sellers, and browser makers are no stooges, and the situation we face is hardly slapstick comedy, but leadership has taken a little while to step forward.
Individuals like Tal Leming, Erik van Blokland, David Berlow, Jeff Veen, Bryan Mason, Jason Santa Maria, Garrick Van Buren, and many others whose names and solutions we don’t yet recognize in this context, are hurrying to please web and type pros alike.
We can hope for, and work toward, another successful web standard like XHTML. What you’re reading right now was designed with web standards because ordinary people like you and I cared enough to get involved in web design and argue for a better way.
Until there is a better way, however, there will be some way.
Ways web fonts will be licensed
Type sellers have a choice to make. They won’t all make the same choice, and that makes sense. They’re not an industry, and opportunities are everywhere to be had. Here are the ways type foundries will approach selling fonts for use with CSS
- Hold out for a standard like .webfont or a permissions table
- License some typefaces (weights, styles) for web use, with the aim of selling other, related faces/weights/styles even though they wouldn’t be licensed for web use
- License only some typefaces (weights, styles) through a service like Typekit, so as to be on web designers’ radars
- License whole type libraries to a service like Typekit, to take full, early advantage of the market and instill loyalty in web designers using real type for the first time
- Create their own service like Typekit, or use a white label version of a service like Typekit
The last two options are the most intriguing, I think, and afford the most room for discussion about the options web designers will have for using real fonts in their web projects before a standard for web type is realistically available.
Typekit and the generic brand
I was invited to preview Typekit, and the service is every bit as simple, quick, intuitive, and beautiful as Andy Clarke says it is. Knowing the folks behind the project, and having already used Typekit myself on an upcoming Nice Web Type likes review, I can’t imagine that Typekit will do anything less than set the standard for all web font selection and hosting experiences.
Recently, Peter Bilak of Typotheque explained their upcoming web font service to me, saying that it, “is probably very similar to Typekit,” and suggesting that it would simplify print/web combination licensing. I look forward to learning more about the Typotheque system, and any comparable efforts from other type foundries and distributors.
I hope to be impressed by Typekit competitors, be they similarly independent services or in-house foundry systems, but the bar is set very high. The average web designer’s decision to use the typeface she wants will be weighed against the cost of deviating from Typekit’s polished experience (she will know the Typekit interface even if she isn’t yet a Typekit subscriber).
Also, participating in several foundry-based services, even if they work well, could be like online banking with its various passwords and paths of action; here, Typekit poses another significant advantage, especially for smaller type vendors, in that it will offer a single experience for typeface browsing and licensing.
Wow, real fonts in our web projects. This is fun.
But then, I’m not selling type.