Typography is important, even on the web. Perhaps especially on the web. And while typography is far more than choosing a typeface, that choice is certainly an important one. Unfortunately, the freely-available typefaces that are licensed for use as WebFonts… well, they mostly suck. Maybe not as much as Arial, but still.
And so here I am, completely willing to pay for a typeface that’s been professionally designed so that I can have a good-looking web presence. And yet, I can’t bring myself to do it, because WebFont licensing is horrible.
In the first place, many typefaces are outrageously expensive for anyone who’s not a professional designer. Designers tell us that we “non-designers” should care about typefaces too, and I agree – but then if we do, we end up having to spend hundreds of dollars to purchase a family for use on the desktop. And then spend it again to license the WebFonts, and yet again if we decide to publish an eBook or Mobile App or what have you.
And then I have to very carefully read and understand the WebFont license, because it limits the ways in which I can deliver the font.
Let’s take something relatively simple: let’s say I want to use Gill Sans for part of my site. I can buy a single Gill Sans face for around $30. Not too bad.
Of course, I’m probably going to want 2 or three faces: something for roman text, an italic, and a bold. After all, I respect that programmatic generation of italics and bolds doesn’t look nearly as good as using the tweaked faces the designer produces for those purposes. Now I’m at $90.
Well, actually $180, because I’m not allowed to use that face in a desktop application or “for editing”, so I need to buy those faces twice if I use any kind of authoring tool. $180 pays for almost two years of web hosting for the kind of traffic I serve. It’s kind of a hit to the wallet, but OK.
Of course, I have to probably spend another $180, because I’ll certainly want two different familes. One for headings and one for body text at the very least.
And since I write about programming, I’ll need a monospace font as well, so let’s throw in another $30 there. That’s $390 to license the fonts alone. In other words, buying fonts costs me more than all the software I use to work with text combined.
Still, a well-designed font is important, perhaps $390 is worth it to have the advantages of a professionally-designed font.
Oh, but wait, it can’t be that simple. Here are a few choice licensing terms from the Gill Sans WebFont (emphasis is mine):
You may not Use the Licensed Web Fonts (1) in, as a part of , or in conjunction with an Application, (2) for Editing, (3) in a Commercial Product, or (4) with technologies other than @font-face, such as sIFR, Cufón or Typeface.js.
Ok, so I can’t use my font in an Application. Is my forum an Application? Probably; I can’t be sure. I also can’t use it “for Editing”, so I’m guessing setting the
font-family property on a
textarea is an unauthorized use. Well, that sort of screws over using anything but system fonts for editable controls.
The total traffic, measured in page views, of all Websites Using a Licensed Web Font must be no greater than the number of page views specified in your account
Yes, that’s right – if my site becomes popular, I have to pay more money to continue to use the typefaces I already bought. Note that the desktop license allows (for the same price) commercial printing. So if I choose a typeface for a book, I pay the same no matter how many copies of the book are produced. But if my website is popular, I have to pay over and over.
You must retain the page view tracking code, as supplied
And to enforce this, you must allow the provider to track your users. A great boon for privacy, that.
You are responsible for ensuring that the Licensed Web Fonts can only be used on the Websites for which the Web Font Kit was downloaded and cannot be used or referenced by any website other than a Website.
That’s right, if you use a WebFont, you’re responsible for making sure no one can download and use the files elsewhere. I can see the requirements to prevent people from using me as a host (that’s good for me too), but I cannot adequately protect against people obtaining a copy via their cache, a proxy, or a simple
wget. In other words, I can’t really honor the license, except in spirit.
So, in short, why don’t I buy professional fonts for the web? It’s expensive, and the licensing terms are insane. So, sorry typeface designers: I won’t be giving you my money until the licensing terms for using your typefaces actually let me use them effectively.
Instead, I’ll continue to use the freely-available fonts despite their shortcomings, because it means I won’t have to worry about getting sued over my site becoming popular, or over choosing how I deliver the fonts.