As designers and developers, we are locked in a constant battle to try and maintain a quality user experience. Slowly over the years, elegant solutions to common problems have slowly crept into the market and have made the overall production and management of this ever evolving product more feasible and enjoyable.
There is however a very big gaping hole in the entire design process for the web. Unbelievably, it is centered on what got the web going in the first place. Type.
Sunday, my wife and I went to see Ben Folds at The Pageant here in St. Louis and in the middle of the show Ben told an anecdote about the music industry being in the shitter and that in 50 years we will all look back and remember when a musician could actually be a millionaire.
The same is true for every medium that finds itself head on with the digital divide. Eventually the demand surpasses the model and the innovators and early adopters are left holding the reigns often to direct it in ways the true standard bearers would never have taken it.
This is where the Foundries have a very myopic view of the future. They, like all other Intellectual Property owners before them are holding on to a market that more sooner than later will be supplanted by those willing to work in a new model.
Take a look at the EULA for type houses and their fine print. For embedding in a Flash movie via sIFR,
...purchase an additional single-computer font license for the web server itself ...
But a few lines down about PDF distribution:
Our end-user font licenses allow only the production of Workflow PDFs, notPublic PDFs. For organizations that need to circulate PDFs more widely, we offer an Embedding License as a supplemental product.
Wait. So they understand the concept that a type face headed to a printer should be allowed as there is pretty much no way to use the purchased license by other methods but on the screen it's different? And how is a web page not "widely circulated"? A font embedded in a swf is being rendered by the clients environment. Thats more "circulated" than a PDF.
Part of this is a value based pricing and do not get me wrong. I am not arguing the value of a typeface. Developing a usable and elegant typeface is time consuming work. As one who sells his time, I fully respect that in every regard. But looking at the state of the art, the needs presented by technology, and the demand from the market, one cannot look at the foundries and not offer to them an anecdote like the one delivered by Mr. Folds.
There is a monumental shift in the type industry right now. For the past 10 years, typography on the web has been playing catch up trying to match brand guidelines that were developed years before. Offline was driving the on screen experience.
Now with brands spending their formative years in the glass, online production needs are starting to drive brand standards. Typefaces that don't play well or the foundries not giving way to the market demands will be passed up in favor of those that will.
So let me offer a few insights as I see it
- Font Rights Management on the web will never reach the level of security the type houses are looking for shy of a proprietary system implemented by the browser makers. That has an ice cube's chance in hell of happening. Just look at what the've done with video
- Younger designers, who've never seen a transparency or smelled a bucket of fixer, will look at the antiquated license model and shy in favor of open type providers such as Google's WebFonts. Why? Less road blocks.
- Typographers who fully embrace the wild west and unsecured distribution model of type faces on the web will become the industry leaders. For all our sakes, lets hope they are talented.
Every slumbering giant before has fallen on the sword of the web. The type industry better wake up and grab the reigns while they still can.