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Is Renting Fonts for a Website a Good Idea? | DesignNotes by Michael Surtees

Is Renting Fonts for a Website a Good Idea?

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I’m probably going to be excommunicated from the “web community” for asking this, but is it really a good idea to rent fonts for a website? There’s been a lot of positive talk recently about Typekit which allows for more aesthetically pleasing typefaces to be used on a website—though for a cost. My interpretation (which could be wrong) is that a person pays a monthly fee to have certain external files used to render specified typefaces on screen. Anything that allows for more options when choosing a typeface is a good idea right? My concern is what happens the month after I stop paying. All the work I did in designing around my rental typefaces are lost. The design goes back to default.

To me the spirit of using a typeface is something that lasts, it’s not an arbitrary thing. Compare type that has been carved in stone, or type that has been taken off a storefront to a virtual digital sign. One has staying power while the other is at the mercy of the pipe that distributes the typeface. Sure the default typefaces of Arial and Georgia are brutal, but they’re shipped with almost every computer out there. You know what results you’re going to get. If I’m designing a site that will hopefully last a long time, though evolve every month, I can’t possibly see in my own mind about having to worry if I’m paying a monthly font bill. Even if I paid for a full year, I still have to renew the following year. But what about hosting and domain costs you might ask? While it’s true that I pay monthly/yearly, it feels different to me. Type should be a one time cost. It should be like a carving in a stone. The remnants should last forever. But this is the digital age where everything is a service… True, but system fonts are shipped on every single computer out there. They’re not all pretty but no matter what they’re reliable.

If I was designing a simple brochure site for a conference with a short shelf life, renting a typeface might be a good idea. After a couple months no one is going to visit the site and I can kill it. This is probably an extreme example. But let’s say I design the most endearing type heavy site that everyone in the industry thinks is a great example. Years go by and everything we see on the walls at the Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design & Typography at the Cooper Union is on screen. The shows organizers want to show how the site works, not with a screen shot but how it truly interacts. If I haven’t paid my bill for twenty years it’s not going to render properly. The work is lost. Sure this is an extreme example but I think that any type solution to how type is rendered on screen that is based on not owning the file that renders the type is not a good solution.

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  • rschroed

    I'm right with you on this one. I just feels odd to 'rent' fonts as you say. The people seem to like TypeKit though, I guess the market will decide. For me, a bigger issue would be for designers doing client work. It's just so much easier to pass through a one time cost to a client compared to a recurring cost.

  • celinecelines

    Your questions are raising important concerns. However I feel Typekit is still starting, and probably needs money to support its development. Your vision is right on, the work will be lost, and so is the process around pay a month fee for beautiful type. I mean people have a hard time paying a month fee for anything, we pirate music, pirate internet: this culture is intentionally free, and if they miss it, they will miss the culture too. I might be wrong, maybe the audience will adopt the rent a font idea, and go with it. Maybe in testaments, you will start to see monthly fees going to your internet host, domain name, and font kit…

  • whatever

    Err, it doesn't go back to default, it goes to the next available specified font.

  • http://designnotes.info/ michaelsurtees

    well true, it goes to what ever is on that person's computer default of what their browser has chosen if the site doesn't have anything specified. So basically I have to design for more than one option? If that's always the case why bother renting in the first place?

  • angelinasimon

    Yes it sounds good you can keep rent on the fonts of websites because when one will make his own website he will use this fonts for it but not much rent it should be average level of charge.

  • Anonymous

    Great stuff!
    This is really quite informative and interesting post.
    Thanks for sharing.