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Licensing Web Fonts: why Google dominates the web fonts market

23/01/2021

#fonts, #typefaces


I have spent the past few days to locate a good webfont for a business project. During the process of licensing and analysing several webfonts I now understand why google dominates the web fonts market.

Part of the fault is the absurd "pay as you go" pricing offered by most famous (but even niche) font foundries (here an interesting article about the non-sensical pricing model https://fontsarena.com/blog/font-licensing-is-ill-please-help-heal-it/ ).

Now, for starters I am all for paying for fonts, especially for commercial use. With my limited experience in fonts development it takes a lot of time, patience, skills and an 🦅 eye for detail. This said, you can't ask a business to install your counter: this creates a lot of privacy problems too, beside making your site slower.

For example, let's assume you want to license some very common fonts: enter image description here

Helvetica is THE king of Sans Serif fonts. While you can specify Helvetica or Helvetica Neue in your CSS without paying a dime, if you want to preload the font in your website (@font-face) you need to license it. You can't license it at a flat fee: only pas as you go. And only with installing a counter.

enter image description here

Arial is the most famous Helvetica clone. Yet to license it you need again to pay as you can and a counter! (see https://www.myfonts.com/fonts/mti/arial?tab=licensing)

So here is my list of hassle-free web fonts and foundries:

Google Fonts

If you want to pay nothing you can get a variety of free fonts at google. You can use their server to server the fonts (very easy to add in your CSS or html code) or also host them yourself. This is why Google is kind in this market: they made it easy, hassle free to access open fonts. I read some professional type designers saying that the quality of google fonts terrible I don't agree. You will find some true gems like Source Sans by Adobe https://fonts.google.com/specimen/Source+Sans+Pro Noto Sans https://fonts.google.com/specimen/Noto+Sans by Google and even the webfont used by the British Crown https://fonts.google.com/specimen/Rufina?query=rufina

Adobe Fonts Excellent fonts included in the Adobe Creative Cloud (https://fonts.adobe.com) some heavy weight foundries like Monotype, Adobe Originals and Dalton Maag offer fonts through adobe. Unlimited personal or commercial use: the only caveat you need to use their link to use the webfonts. You can't self-host them.

On the more commercial side the most honest prepositions are from: https://www.swisstypefaces.com web fonts and even app usage is always included in the main license, very fair https://www.fatype.com A Swiss foundry, with honest pricing. No need to upgrade your web fonts license if you traffic increase, highly recommended.

Dalton Maag https://www.daltonmaag.com a very famous fundry with lot of options. Available not just via adobe but also directly for self-hosted fonts. Web fonts licensing is per domain not per user/visitor so more fair.

Inter This is another Sans-Serif that took the world by storm. Perhaps is an ideal Helvetica replacement ? https://rsms.me/inter/

I reviewed at least 30 additional foundries and I can say that there is no other option I found that either doesn't ask you to pay as you go (and upgrade when needed) or asks you to install a counter. Some literally asks in excess of 1K just for 10,000 pageviews a month. It makes no sense since the cost to develop the font is the same. Especially when your competition, Google, is free.

So why Google dominates yet another market? 1) Removed barrier of entry: fonts are free; 2) Made the fonts easy to use in seconds with a simple link (they have the power to host the fonts and delivery it globally with good latency); 3) Offers a wide variety of fonts

This said if you are a designer you don't want to have the same font as everyone else and Google Fonts (roboto anyone?) suffers a bit from over exposure. if external hosting is not an issue Adobe has probably the best option. If you plan to self-host the fonts your option for an unlimited web font license are very limited indeed.