Try before you buy

Last week, Dalton Maag launched a new website allowing users to download full versions of its font families for pitches and non-commercial projects free of charge. It’s a bold move, but is it good for business, and are other foundries likely to follow suit?

Last week, Dalton Maag launched a new website allowing users to download full versions of its font families for pitches and non-commercial projects free of charge. It’s a bold move, but is it good for business, and are other foundries likely to follow suit?

When Dalton Maag launched a new website designed by London studio Method, it wasn’t just the visuals that got everyone talking. The site features a great new layout as well as simplified licensing options – but the most notable addition was the option to download its fonts for trial use free of charge.

This concept in itself is nothing new – font libraries have been offering trial downloads to users for years – but usually only a single weight, with an A-Z and a few numerals. On Dalton Maag’s new site, users can download full font families.

When we asked Bruno Maag and Tomi Lahdesmaki (a designer at Method, who worked on the project), the pair said they hoped it would encourage designers to use the foundry’s fonts at pitch stage and help justify bespoke and quality typefaces to clients. But it was also a response to the fact that nowadays, if a designer wants to use a typeface without paying for it, they can do so regardless of whether or not a library allows them to download it for free.

“The reality of the graphic design world is that fonts are distributed amongst designers for free. When a designer begins work on a specific project they often end up emailing all their buddies to track down a copy of a specific font so that they can play with it. If they like it and end up using it, then the designer will most likely suggest their client purchase the font. This is a reality that Dalton Maag embraced with the idea of releasing trial copies for all their fonts for free,” Lahdesmaki told CR.

For creatives keen to persuade their clients to buy a Dalton Maag font, this is great news. It’s also a handy resources for students, and a clever way to attract designers who, reluctant to spend money at pitch stage, would usually work with existing fonts in their library, inexpensive ones, or the single weight trials offered by competitor sites. In a way, it’s simply undercutting the competition to make Dalton Maag’s fonts more accessible in the early stages of a project.

But while it’s possible to download almost any font for free without the right tools, and while it’s a great marketing move from Dalton Maag, Alex Haigh, founder of Hype for Type, believes there is a danger that these kind of trial features could encourage file sharing and lead to complex legal disputes.

“If a company has a small collection of fonts and its end users are brands and agencies whose clients might end up paying five figures plus for one, then this would be a great way of getting products into agencies’ hands at the pitch stage – but it could potentially encourage piracy,” he says.

“There’s no way to really police whether people end up using the font in a commercial project without paying – you could put in any old email address to register – and I’d be concerned that students and young designers could get themselves into real trouble if they download, and go on to use it, without reading the terms and conditions fully,” he adds.

“On top of that, I’d be worried as a foundry, that if people did start widely downloading the font and using it in personal projects, pitches and small commercial ones without permission, that it could, in a way, cheapen the fonts, as they’d be popping up everywhere,” he adds.

As Maag pointed out to CR, however, designers are used to dealing with resources that are rights protected, from music to photography, and most designers, however inexperienced, are aware of the issues surrounding basic rights usage.

Before downloading a trial font from Dalton Maag’s website, users are also required to agree to the terms and conditions set out in a 19-clause document, which expressly states that licensees “may use the Trial Font Software to create any number of documents, designs, presentations, or other such works for academic, speculative, or pitching purposes only. The sale, duplication, publication, distribution, broadcast, performance, or non-academic exhibition of any work created using the Trial Font Software shall be a breach of this Licence Agreement.”

The document goes on to say that ‘The Trial Licence Agreement shall automatically terminate upon failure by the Licensee (or any authorized person or member of the Licensee’s immediate household to whom the Licensee has given permission to Use the Trial Font Software) to comply with its terms,” and that “The termination of the Trial Licence Agreement shall not preclude Dalton Maag from suing the Licensee for damages of any breach of the Trial Licence Agreement’ and ‘The Trial Licence Agreement may be enforced by Dalton Maag or by an authorized [sic] dealer acting on behalf of Dalton Maag.’

Users who download its fonts are made expressly aware that there could be legal consequences for improper use, although Haigh is right to point out that, as with any resource made freely available on the web, it’s impossible to really police how it’s used around the world – particularly in smaller projects abroad.

In an age where people are used to being able to stream or download just about anything they choose, perhaps this is just something all companies that offer creative resources will have to accept. It’s certainly something image libraries have had to respond to – in March, Getty Images launched a free image embed service, allowing users to embed its photographs on their website for editorial use with no watermark, just a link back to Getty and a credit for the image and its photographer.

Jason Smith, founder of Fontsmith, says: I guess [whether other font foundries are likely to adopt this model] ultimately comes down to the value that you place on a typeface and your perception of ‘free trial’ as a concept,” he says. “It’s similar to photographers allowing agencies to use existing images for free, as long as they go back and get the high res images later for the actual campaign, [but] It’s a little trickier to have ‘high res’ versions of a font.”

Fontsmith’s FS Emeric and 10 years in type microsites, also demonstrating a creative approach to showcasing type

For smaller foundries, this kind of model is a risky one. Jonathan Hill, founder of The Northern Block, says his site offers single-weight fonts under a freeware license, for use in commercial and non-commercial versions, which in turn encourage customers to return and purchase commercial licenses for the full families.

“Our policy has less risk than trial versions, but also encourages the customer to return and purchase commercial licenses. I would say if The Northern Block offered the entire font library as a trail version then the revenues would be reduced and would potentially be at a higher risk of font piracy and illegal distribution,” he explains.

Hill adds that The Northern Block’s business is largely based on royalties received from internet sales direct from its website, as well as distributors such as Monotype and MyFonts. “This simple business model whereby each party shares in the risk of the investment is used by a majority of individual type designers and small type foundries. I would say if Monotype or MyFonts decided to offer free trial versions of fonts … then the majority of type designers including The Northern Block could potentially go out of business,” he says.

The Northern Block

When we spoke to Maag, he admitted Dalton Maag’s new trial model isn’t for everyone, and it’s unlikely to be adopted by websites selling work by other foundries, but when a well-known company offers this kind of service, there is undoubtedly pressure on smaller foundries to respond. Other large font libraries, too, are increasingly looking to make it simpler to browse for and buy fonts online.

In the past few months, several leading font libraries have radically reinvented their licensing model. Hoelfer & Co launched its ‘cloud’ service for web type last year, Dalton Maag introduced fixed price annual licenses for web and app fonts with no limits on users or page views with its site launch and this week, Monotype revealed its new service, Membership by Monotype.

The membership service allows paying users access to unlimited use of over 14,000 typefaces for a monthly subscription fee (between $500 and $2,137 a month, dependant on the number of users). Subscribers are given access to Monotype fonts, which are “cleared for use across any medium” (print, web or apps), and its Typecast design tool, which allows them to prototype and test font rendering.

The basic package still only covers up to 25,000 page views, but this can be extended to 2.5 million, says Monotype, and as soon as you click the font family you want to experiment with, it is immediately available to use in your drawing tool, “offering unlimited experimentation and clean-cut licensing.”

A spokesperson for the company told CR the new service was launched in response to growing demands from customers for a simpler service, particularly when buying fonts for use across multiple platforms and devices. “Customers’ needs have changed pretty dramatically over the past several years. For instance, a few years ago, a creative team for a major brand may have been tasked with designing packaging, print, and perhaps a web page to launch a new product.  Now, they are being asked to create content that spans across print, multiple digital screens (with a variety of resolutions and sizes), in-store experiences, and apps.

Monotype’s new membership service, which offers access to 14,000 fonts for a monthly subscription fee

“That can radically change the design process.  A particular typeface may look stunning in your drawing tool, but does not translate well into a digital environment.  That creates a problem with brand consistency. It is crucial that customers have the ability to try different fonts as they are doing the prep work for a project to see how that looks across different mediums.  They also can’t be bogged down trying to track down which rights they have for which font.”

Unlike Dalton Maag, Monotype only offers access to free fonts for the duration of subscriptions, and those using a 30-day free trial have access to fonts for only 30 minutes, but it does also offer a simpler, more flexible licensing model and the ability to endlessly experiment with its font library (provided you pay the necessary monthly fee). As Monotype told CR, there is a real push across the industry to create more transparent pricing and ‘try before you buy’ models.

Commercial Type’s new showcase site (above and below)

Aesthetically too, there has been a major shift in the way font foundries present their products online, reflecting a growing demand from consumers for libraries that aren’t just functional but visually engaging. Method says this was a clear finding in its audience research when planning a new website for Dalton Maag, as was the need for responsive sites that work on any device. Dalton Maag’s site now features a bold and simple layout, with fonts presented alongside original photography and illustration to reflect their ‘character’, while case studies offer an insight into the development of each font.

Commercial Type also launched a new ‘web showcase’ last week; made up of 16 microsites featuring interactive tools which demonstrate fonts in context, and showcase their personalities. There’s a digital therapist asking questions about how you’re feeling in graphik, as well as poetry, headline and poster generators. As well as adding a little humour and interaction to the browsing process, it’s a lovely way to showcase Commercial’s products.

When it comes to trials and licensing, Dalton Maag’s website is certainly more radical than most. For now, it’s unlikely that other font libraries will be adopting quite the same approach to its trial features but what the new site, and new releases by Commercial and Monotype show, is a wider change going on across the industry. Buying and looking for fonts has, in the past, been a complex process, but it seems foundries are finally responding to the changing needs of creatives – embracing ways to showcase type in a lively and visually appealing way, and adapting their prices to reflect the increasingly multi-platform nature of creative campaigns.

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