London type foundry introduce free and fully functional font licenses

Published:  September 24, 2014

Dalton Maag has recently undertaken an experiment in a proposed new method of selling type. The foundry has created a font licensing model that offers fully functional fonts free of charge, to be used in pitches and design developments, or for students to use in their academic projects.

Founded by Swiss typographer Bruno Maag in 1991, Dalton Maag has grown to become one of the world’s most renowned digital font foundries. Based in London, the type design studio is truly international, with employees drawn from 18 nations and a scope of projects completed in over 100 languages.

We spoke to the studio about their new font licensing model, and what it might mean for copyright and licensing on the internet.

What led you to release free trial versions of your commercial fonts?

It was precisely because it is so easy to download and share content on the internet that we decided to take a pro­active approach. Instead of keeping our customers in murky waters, potentially exposed to copyright and licence infringements, we felt that giving our customers access to a legal way of testing our fonts and using them in pitches to clients was a far smarter approach both for them, and for us.

We also know that budgetary constraints are often the reason why customers do not try out new font designs. It’s why, so often, the same fonts appear time and time again in company branding, advertising and other communications. A fully functional Trial Licence allows a design agency to play with our fonts, and if suitable, recommend them to their clients. And once all parties are happy with the font choice the simple purchase of the appropriate licence allows the fonts to be used commercially.

Our Trial Licences are fully functional, some even have quite an extended language support. We see no sense in providing trials with a diminished product that has characters, or other parts of vital functionality, missing. A Trial Licence must allow for thorough assessment and informed decision making.

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How did the recent redesign of the site facilitate the distribution of the  font licenses and free trials?

I have always felt that font licensing needed to be shaken up and revolutionised but was never quite clear how to achieve that. Working with with collaborative design studio, Method (, on the redesign of our website presented the opportunity to address this issue seriously. We conducted research with our user groups and the result of this research was our new approach to licensing.

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Do you think it’s problematic for the industry if clients can potentially gain free and instant access to commercial type?

Our Trial Licences are free as they allow you to test the fonts in your work, or if you are a student, to use the fonts in your academic projects. However, you do not have permission to exploit the fonts – you still have to pay for using our fonts commercially. So, in effect, we’re just helping our customers to reach an informed decision on font choice without fuss and expense.

The feedback I get is not that our customers expect our fonts to be free of any financial recompense. On the contrary, in all my conversations, my experience is that the vast majority of font users understand how much effort goes into making a font that ticks all the right boxes aesthetically, and functions in all the environments they need to use it in. That, most people are willing to pay for.

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What do you think would be the result if similar methods of distribution were adopted across the industry?

Personally, I think this would lead to a proliferation of font usage, and to increases in revenue for foundries. Of course, our model is not necessarily suitable for every font foundry, and others may innovate in a different way. Today, users expect instant and easy access to content, whatever that content may be. Users are happy to pay for content if its price correlates with their perception of the value of that content.

In our own research, we have learned that customers do not want to be tied into contracts and complex recurring agreements. After the trials, our webfont and app licences are one­off fees, to be paid annually. We make it so easy that you don’t have to think about it ­- you’ll get a reminder when your licence is about to expire. Getting a webfont or app licence is a process that takes about three minutes, and the licence is so simple that you don’t have to agonise over where you can use the font, and where you can’t.


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