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Ilya Ruderman: “It's not the ownership of the file, but its actual application”

All fonts from Tomorrow catalogue have a different licensing policy — we call it the package model. What is it? Why is the package model more suitable for today’s media? Where does the pricing come from? Why do we give away the font files? Darya Yarzhambek, the Journal’s senior editor, asked Ilya Ruderman, type today’s co-founder.



Daria Yarzhambek: Why did you get involved in this?

Ilya Ruderman: Well you know it was you who challenged us by saying that the world of licenses is hellishly complex and incomprehensible! (Laughs) “Come on guys, since you’re always talking about things needing to be ‘up with the times,’ then come up with a model that’s simple and understandable. So that someone presses one button and gets everything they need.”

DY: Tell me, in what way is your new license more convenient than the classic model?

IR: Roughly speaking, with one purchase, the user receives an entire package of font files, and — with some restrictions — the entire package of rights for use.

DY: Let’s say I’m making a small website for a startup. Why should I buy a package?

IR: In the modern world, any micro-project involves the creation of both static and animated graphics, and some kind of activity on the web — or both. Quite often these type of businesses get their start on social networks and this necessitates existing in the current, multi-platform world. Even if you have only a website or just an application, or one small book, you are still based around social networks. So for these, you will want to use graphics — which are very likely animated — because our attention in social networks is increasingly focused towards moving images. With a classic licensing model, you would need to acquire a bunch of different licenses, and you’d end up spending quite a lot on them. Whereas the minimum Tomorrow package will allow you to acquire the whole set of files and rights that you may need for a really fair price.

DY: Let’s look at what you usually need to buy with the classic licensing model. If I have a site, then I need a web license so that I can display the font on the site, a desktop license to draw sketches for this site and create images for social networks, and maybe a video license if I want to do something that’s moving and the copyright holder has restrictions on video use. And perhaps a logo license might still be needed if the copyright holder has restrictions regarding . the use of the font in a logo.

IR: And an app license, if there is an application involved. It’s like a constructor system — you add on options for yourself. This is great if you are just printing a book and doing nothing else. But we are seeing more and more customers who need many different licenses at once. Because they are designing, and publishing on the web, and making applications. Thus, the classic model often necessitates a considerable outlay of money.

We did not come up with the package model. It has been tried at different times by various font distributors. The problem was that it seemed like the buyer was being given “extras” that they did not need. However the world at that time was more fragmented — offline businesses rarely intersected with online businesses, and online businesses had almost no offline presence. For example, if a publishing house bought a large desktop license, it did not need the same large license for the web, as it had very few online activities.

Now the virtual world has merged with the real one. The package, multi-platform model now seems like the right answer to these changes.



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After clicking ’Buy’, you are offered three licensing options for Tomorrow’s fonts

DY: Is a package model of more benefit than separate licenses?

IR: Any license option will be beneficial only to a certain size, or in a certain situation. For example, type.today’s minimum desktop license is for up to three computers, and the next step up is seven. And if you have four designers in the team, then you can’t purchase the three-desktop option anymore, and you have to buy three seemingly unnecessary ones.

But these type of borderline situations will undoubtedly exist, regardless of the model employed. The package licensing system also has similar moments where, when moving from one scale to another, you are forced to pay more than in any another pricing system.

DY: When coming up packages, did you look at any statistics? Why is the small package limited to exactly 15,000 unique visitors per month, and the average to 125,000?

IR: We split all the type.today customers into three different-sized groups and tried to make each package convenient for most of these groups.

The buyer of the minimum package tends to be a freelancer or a small startup — it’s something very small, so there are rather modest opportunities. But still there is a margin built in. Up to 15,000 unique visitors per month — this is quite a lot for a startup. Some businesses do not have that many visits, even at their peak.

When thinking about the medium package, we thought of a small design studio. Or an average business, which does not have very high indicators online or on social networks.

We decided to only allow the use of a font in a logo starting with the middle package. It seemed fair to us that the minimum package does not suit logo use — it’s too economically priced.

The large package is unlikely to be useful to a designer or design studio. Unless you happen to be Art. Lebedev Studio — they have a lot of designers in their workforce — but there are not that many studios like that around in the world. A large package is needed by a significantly-sized business that requires large-scale use of a font.

But even a large package has its limitations. What happens if these limitations need to be exceeded? For this, we came up with an individual package, it is designed for an extremely large operation such as : a television channel or a corporation.



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Limitations of each package are detailed in the Licensing section

DY: What are the majority of the purchases on type.today made up of?

IR: 95% of our sales are for the minimum option — they’re single-user licenses.

DY: There is a limit on the number of employees in the package description. If I have one application, a landing page that no one really visits, one designer, but 10 couriers: do I really need the medium package?

IR: No, by “employees” we mean people working with the font, and the number of computer installations. Nowadays, many people in a company tend to install fonts, not just designers. For example, managers who work with presentations.

DY: Who determines the price of the minimum package?

IR: The authors. But we ask that the minimum package be given a price as low as possible. And they usually get on board — this can be seen in the prices. Currently, the average price of a minimum package on Tomorrow is 2,100 rubles. The average price of one desktop licence on Today is 3,500 rubles.

DY: How does an author come up with their price?

IR: In different ways. It depends on how they position themselves on the market or how much is invested in the file: variability, hinting, number of characters, the complexity of contours. (Here you can read about the rough principles of pricing in the font industry. — Editor’s note)

DY: Tell me how the price for medium and large packages is formed. Just by multiplying everything by 10?

IR: Yes, we roughly designated it as 10x and 100x. But the price was also determined by the authors themselves. We just showed them how we view the situation. Most of them agree with this. But sometimes authors come up with their own algorithms for determining the price differences between the packages

DY: Does this 10x ratio correspond to the number of opportunities for use you get? On average, the total package is literally 10 times more than the minimum?

IR: Not really. Altogether, this corresponds to a fair point between these scales in our opinion.

DY: You’ve probably studied what distribution models are currently on the market. Art. Lebedev seems to have a similar approach, don’t they?

IR: Actually, Art. Lebedev is the only distributor whose license model I have not studied. As soon as I saw that they offer an option to purchase a license for a year or forever, I decided that this was not the type of principle that I want to study.

DY: Yes, the offer to “rent” a font sounds a bit crazy, although one might say: “why on earth not?” Why do you think this is the case?

IR: I look at this matter as a designer does. In the past I very commonly bought fonts, conditionally, for the future. I used to buy fonts quite actively.

DY: And now you sell them yourself!

IR: I almost always bought fonts from my friends as soon as they released them. I even did this recently. When Alexander Vladimirovich Tarbeev released Gauge on type.today I was the first buyer, because I really love Gauge. Perhaps that’s why the idea that a license bought for the future that might run out really baffles me — because I don’t know when the project for which I bought this font will take place.

DY: Okay, but did you manage to find some similar licensing models to yours then?

IR: Unfortunately, when I needed to study this topic, I wasn’t able to find anything similar around. So if one of our readers knows of a distributor with a similar model that I missed, please write to info@type.today. I’m interested in talking to such a unicorn!

DY: Did you test your ideas on someone? How were decisions made?

IR: The first stage of the verification involved a conversation with the authors. Most of them consciously joined the experiment. They said something along the lines of: “Guys, I like your idea, who knows if it will properly take off, but I want to be part of it. In these conversations, we came up with the conditions that later became the terms of the package.

Then we ran it by some lawyers. And here, too, the need for clarifications arose, because lawyers always look at things from another perspective. These are people with very systemic thinking.

DY: How did you decide on the trials?

IR: Reluctantly. This is where the market is heading. We still think that there is a big risk. But in the contemporary world with Retina monitors, a simple screenshot turns into illegal use of the font at a time. We have a font tester on our site where you can type in any phrase, take a screenshot and publish it. It seems that not the ownership of the file, but its actual application is becoming more and more important. Therefore, we look at the use of the font as the use of intellectual property.

There is one more argument. Previously, we often encountered hacked fonts, somehow taken from sites, and the font file itself always suffered: the kerning, hinting and OpenType features. And the industry just gave up and said: “Okay, you can see for free how this font will look in operation.” None of our partner authors even wanted to shorten this trial version. In the license, we describe the trial as a type of use in which everything is prohibited. This is a file that you can have on your computer, and for a limited time (several days) you can do whatever you want with it, but only on your computer.



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You can add trial version to the shopping cart in the Description section of any font from Tomorrow catalogue

DY: Can a designer use a trial, for example, for making site sketches? So that later on, only the owner of the site buys a license?

IR: No. The trial can be used solely to ensure that the file meets the potential user’s technical and aesthetic expectations. If we are talking about web-use: how, for example, it is pixelated in the sizes at which the designer wants to use it. Or, for example, the potential user can’t choose between Medium or Bold. Sometimes you just need to look closely at the font, and to add it into a layout. But as soon as the real work, production, commercial or non-commercial activity using the font begins, a license needs to be bought.

The reason we do all this is the positive experience that we have gained over the three years since the launch of type.today. We see thousands of users with responsible attitudes to licensing. Thousands. We receive hundreds of letters, questions, clarifications related to licenses. Sure, three years is not a long time. Therefore, it is difficult for us to properly assess the trend. But we see so many responsible, ethically-minded professionals who are excited by interesting and new typefaces, that we are ready to experiment for them.

DY: Have you thought about what will happen next?

IR: It’s hard to guess. Tomorrow’s an experiment, and all experiments are predicated on hypotheses and unproven ideas. A rather interesting process lies ahead. Involving a lot of analysis. And testing on real users is very exciting. And what makes everything all the more interesting is that the feedback, i.e: these subjective views, individual experiences, and comments about small inconsistencies can help us to build something really convenient for everyone.

Please write to us at info@type.today. Let us know if you feel that some aspects of the packages need rejigging or rethinking, or if something is incomprehensible or inconvenient. We are ready to answer questions, and we’re interested in the discussion generated around this experiment. It is possible that dialogue with our users will lead to changes that will improve both the conditions of these packages and the model itself.