Jean-Baptiste Levée on Production Type's transparent, worry-free and easy-to-use font licensing

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Elliott Moody
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Jean-Baptiste Levée on Production Type's transparent, worry-free and easy-to-use font licensing

In finding existing font licensing models, including their own, to be overly complicated, inaccurate and confusing, Paris and Shanghai-based foundry Production Type have decided to take a new approach; launching a fresh model that’s easier to understand and worry-free for creatives, IT managers and purchases departments alike. To find out more, we spoke to CEO and Founder Jean-Baptiste Levée.

EM Hi Jean-Baptiste, how has 2021 been so far for you and the team?

JBL Hi! 2021 Started off as 2020 ended. With masks, gel, and physical distancing. We keep a high spirit whilst wishing for better times. The team in Shanghai has fully recovered its on-site work capacity. We’re even hiring new profiles and moving to bigger offices at the end of this month. In Paris, the team just celebrated the release of a new open-source typeface, Newsreader, and is busy preparing the next font releases for this year.

EM Can you give us an introduction to Production Type?

JBL Production Type is a digital type design agency, founded in 2013 in Paris, currently with offices in Paris and Shanghai. We simultaneously develop our custom type design services for brands and corporations, as well as our retail catalogue. The foundry promotes diverse profiles from all ages and genders, with the single goal of offering contemporary typefaces to design professionals.

EM Has the work you do evolved since the foundry began in 2013?

JBL The company that started as a two-person operation is now a small business with 10 employees between Paris and Shanghai. So you can say that while the work itself hasn’t dramatically changed, our focus on how to do the work has shifted. We can address broader aspects of making type in 2021: communication around the typefaces, long-term art direction of the catalogue, and thinking about our licensing philosophy, for instance.

Jean-Baptiste Levée on Production Type's transparent, worry-free and easy-to-use font licensing

We tend to observe a fair share of potential ‘under licensing’ happening on the webshop.

EM What have you found to be the problem with existing font licensing models?

JBL Digital fonts and their accompanying licenses have been around for about 35 years now, and nobody really gets how licensing works. EULA’s are long and complicated, and nobody reads them. Considering fonts as software only makes it harder to grasp, as it sticks the typeface into the ‘software asset’ category while it truly is a creative asset (that’s also why font servers and font management solutions dramatically fail). Clients want to (and do) circulate this asset in a looser way than the one foreseen by the seller. Also, we tend to observe a fair share of potential ‘under licensing’ happening on the webshop , which we want to believe is unintentional. This means lost revenue for designers and the foundry, and a liability risk for the clients. Nobody wants this.

Furthermore, we don’t think that it’s fair to pay the same for a font that’s only being used for personal use and for a global corporation’s logotype. We’ve also had more and more licensing requests for time-based or zone-based usage, which didn’t require permanent use, like advertising campaigns. So we’ve built this into our pricing as well.

However, clients understand well the buying of photos and art. They are used to licensing artwork for specific usage, for a time period, for use in a geographical zone, and they are used to circulate the artwork across their organisation.

In short, font licenses fail because:

They are structurally thought of as applied to a software asset and not to a creative asset. While a font file is, at best, data, it doesn’t have DRMs or installation programmes, etc.

They use complicated, technical, and unenforceable metrics.

They mechanically create compliance issues from the outset.

Jean-Baptiste Levée on Production Type's transparent, worry-free and easy-to-use font licensing

Our idea is to play at the same level and to use measurement metrics that make sense and are easy to work with.

EM How does your new model address those issues?

JBL Our idea is to play at the same level and to use measurement metrics that make sense and are easy to work with: easy to find, easy to declare, easy to verify. Like: a company size, a number of followers, a number of app downloads, a geographical zone, or a duration. Nothing more complicated than that, more technical, or less enforceable in practice.

For instance, we never adopted the ‘per-CPUs’ or ‘per computers’ count. While it was maybe a valid conception in the 90s-00s, it’s now inadequate in the age of multi-devices per user, multiple portable or handled devices, more often than not. We used to use the ‘per-user’ count, but that also was not ideal, mostly because it’s hard to keep count and to keep track. So we switched to the ‘number of employees within the company.’ Data that’s easy to declare!

The changes vary from license to license, here is a quick breakdown:

For desktop, we now charge by company size. Of course, we adapted pricing so that 10 users ≠ 10 employees. Company size can be estimated and/or verified on many websites and at public registers.

For the web, we now charge by company size. No more looking around for analytics like page views.

For app, we now charge per app download, a public data on the Google Play store.

Because we charge by company size, fonts can now freely circulate across the company.

We wanted to keep freelancers and small studios unaffected by these changes, so the entry-level prices are the same or cheaper.

From the Desktop license, we now separate the most ‘industrial’ uses: packaging, advertising, etc.

We created new models for new uses: architecture, social media, etc. We cover 100% of the edge cases we’ve ever had to manage.

EM What do you hope will be the impact of these changes?

JBL We hope that this change in licensing will lead to a healthier, more profitable business for the whole creative industry. We hope it will bring transparency to the trade, and become a worry-free topic for our clients.

Jean-Baptiste Levée on Production Type's transparent, worry-free and easy-to-use font licensing

EM What does ‘fonts as software’ mean exactly?

JBL You can see fonts as works of design and art. They are original designs, conceived and drawn by artists in the broader sense. You can see fonts as copyrighted pieces of works, registerable, patentable, trademarkable. And you can see fonts as digital objects, where shapes and positions are described as a succession of point coordinates, packages into bytes, with some programming instructions embedded. For some, this turns fonts into software. However, we tend to believe it’s data.

EM Why have you decided to launch three educational websites around the new model?

JBL We can’t just roll out our conception of modern-day font licensing, which is a structural change, and hope that it will just deploy like a charm. No matter how simple and self-explanatory we know it is, we think we owe some intermediation with the designers, users, and licensees. These groups are not reluctant to change (quite the contrary), so I’d hate to miss an opportunity to make the type design business more transparent, accessible, and thoughtful.

EM Can you reveal anything about the typefaces we can expect from Production Type in the future?

JBL Sure. We’re preparing new updates to Alaric Garnier’s Mars, and to Hélène Marian’s PVC type family. We will also release Reymund Schröder’s latest design, plus some surprises. As always, it’s going to be useful type with an edge.

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