An Open Letter To Retail Font Vendors

Nov 2, 2009

Call me Webmail.

I make web pages. And now that the latest browsers are supporting @font-face, I’ve been taking to the sites where fonts are sold.

I’ve never needed to go shopping for fonts before. And I’m distressed by what I see. And I’m distressed by what I don’t see.
First, let me tell you what I want: I want to see a browser-friendly and well-categorized selection of fonts. I want prices that make sense within the overall cost structure of the sites that I make. And I want licensing terms that give me the flexibility to do what I need to do. I don’t design signs, or magazines, or advertisements. Those folks have their needs, and I have mine. I make web pages. If you don’t have anything to sell me, or you just don’t want to deal with customers unfamiliar with your ways, that’s OK. Just tell me up front and I’ll move on. But please don’t waste my time. Or lead me on. Or ask me to fill out a special form or in any other way subject me to a level of scrutiny greater than your other customers. I won’t be vetted. I won’t be frisked. I’ll just get angry. And I’ll Twitter about it. I like Twitter.

So let me say it again one more time: I want a browser-friendly and well-categorized selection, at prices that make sense to me and my clients, and with liberal licensing. This is what I need.

Just so we understand each other, here’s some dos and dont’s:

Show Me Browser-Friendly Fonts

By browser friendly, I mean fonts that look halfway decent in a browser. I know that quality will differ from font to font. But if you have fonts designed strictly for print work, that look like hell in a browser, weed them out. I don’t want to see them. Fonts either look OK, or they don’t. Details like hinting, no hinting, TrueType, OpenType CFF – that’s your business, not mine. If I’m using Flash, or Cufón, or some other font embedding technology, I already know my choices are greater and I’ll look at your other fonts then.

Show Me A Web Font Specimen

I can’t tell what your font looks like in a browser unless I view it in a browser. How you do that is up to you. Find a way or don’t waste my time. Perhaps some sort of glyph-limited set is the answer. Or one without kerning. Or perhaps the methods developed by font-obfuscation services like Typekit can be used. Or maybe a combination of these. But if you can’t or won’t take the time and effort to show me an accurate sample of what I’m buying, I won’t be buying. At least not from you. I make web pages. It’s very competitive. My clients don’t make allowances for me, so I can’t make them for you, either.

Tell Me What The License Is Up Front

I want to know what the web licensing terms are before I do anything. In plain language. With a link to it on the home page and not buried away somewhere. If you feel the need for legalese, have it follow the plain language version. If the EULA says that if my site succeeds I have to come back and give you more money. I’ll probably walk. More visitors does not necessarily mean more cash. If the EULA contains all sorts of “if this, then that” provisions that require a lawyer to interpret and an assistant to keep track of, goodbye. In my world, I usually buy once and then I’m done. I’m good to go. That’s it. Adios, amigos.

Don’t Restrict Me To Pre-Processed Files

If for some reason you insist on delivering only WOFF or EOT files, I’m not interested. I’ll just convert them to TTF or OTF anyway so you might as well leave the conversions up to me. Unless it’s as a part of a courtesy package with the source files included. I might need or want to install these fonts in the operating system as part of the development process. I won’t inconvenience myself for you. If this bothers you, like I said, it’s OK. Tell me the licensing terms up front, and I won’t hold it against you.

Don’t Ask Me To Enforce Same-Origin Restrictions

Like I said, I’m not going to agree to assume additional costs just to please you. And sometimes I don’t have complete control over the administration of the server. I can probably comply with a request to not enable hot-linking to my site, but that’s all I can or am willing to do.

To sum up:
I don’t find anything I’ve asked you to do to be unreasonable. But even so, you may disagree. You may feel that somehow, you can reap the benefits of digital distribution without accepting the disadvantages. If so, I wish you luck with that, and all the best.

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