Font designers economy

Two articles discovered via Daring Fireball can be interesting in the context of font market quick analyse.

Depending font distribution, there is some way to sold type licences. At Myfonts, it seems that fonts sold by weights are the things people buying. In more traditional distributors, such FontShop or Monotype, families are the first thing you’re pushed to buy. Despite the analogy sound present compared to albums versus singles in music industry as described on the two articles, it doesn’t apply at 100%: separate fonts work mostly for headline, one shot use, compared to typefaces families used for longer time. I don’t cover here bespoke fonts who is a completely different subject.

How much do music artists earn online?
The real death of the music industry

In recent lectures given in design schools, along basics in typography, I have covered the (usual topic) of typeface licences, value of typefaces and so on. Time to time on this blog too. On my analyse — to help the students to understand how typeface designers earn their money — I made this simple calculation, an ideal situation, far from the reality, but simple for my explanation:

  • Four weights typeface family need 4 months of work (much more than that in reality…).
  • This typeface family is available on the market at a price of €200 (average).
  • Let’s say that a typeface designer should earn €200 by day to paid the bills, renting and so on.
  • 4 months of work at €200 by day: €24000 (or €6000 by month).

Direct sales

The question is: How many licences (for use in 1 to 5 computers max.) should be sold to be paid for his four months of work? In mind the fact that some families will be successful, others not, so it can take from 2 years to 20 years. If this typeface designer have a website and sell directly his fonts, we can achieve something along theses two variables:


  1. 5 families sold by month: 2 years to sold 120 licences.
  2. 1 families sold every two months: 20 years to sold 120 licences.

Sales via a distributor

In some cases, the typeface designer signed a contract with a type distributor (in similar way to today music industry). So in this case, the typeface designer will receive between 10% to 50% of royalties from the sales through the distributor. So back to the same figures:


in cases of 50% of royalties

  1. 10 families sold by month: 2 years to sold 240 licences.
  2. 1 family sold every month: 20 years to sold 240 licences.

in cases of 10% of royalties

  1. 50 families sold by month: 2 years to sold 1200 licences.
  2. 10 families sold every two months: 20 years to sold 1200 licences.

Its not easy to compare how marketing will affect the sales, perhaps the very well know typeface distributor will do a better job, than direct sales(?), but it will take much more time to the designer to be paid… well. Its indeed up to the designer to select the best method to distribute his fonts. Always recall that not all typefaces are successful. And if you begin to compare others methods, such web font market, figures will go transform dramatically, as Spotify, lastfm do in music market. Main difference is indeed that fonts are used by professionals and add value to their projects for which they are paid by their clients.

Jean François Porchez, 28 February 2011

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