If Only Font Pirates All Looked Like Johnny Depp

Font issues in eBooks

Recently, #ePrdctn hour on Twitter hosted @desi_leyba, @sugarlange, @Fontscom (http://www.fonts.com) to talk about fonts in eBooks. The whole hour was taken up with the thorny issue of rights.

It was considered the publisher’s responsibility to get the digital rights to each font they’d like to embed in an eBook. If the fonts come from different designers, each designer must be contracted and a deal worked out, and payment made.

It is only fair that font designers get paid. It takes hours of work, tremendous talent, and nearly obsessive attention to detail to make a good font.

But the system of contacting each font designer is time-consuming work for any publisher who wants to do the right thing. It might not be in the font designer’s interest either  — anything that makes it hard to get paid is bad for business.

Even stranger is obfuscation. (The most appropriately named technology EVER). It seems that in bundling a font into ePub, the font is intentionally obfuscated (scrambled) to prevent someone from extracting the font from the eBook and using it. How many people can crack open an ePub or Mobi file? Unfortunately, not all reading systems will display an obfuscated font, an obfuscated font is so safe from piracy that it is pretty much useless.

Also, it seems that getting the digital rights to use the font in an eBook does not prevent obfuscation.

The easy answer is not to embed fonts at all, or use freeware fonts, and there are many fine choices. (See links below) The downside of this? Talented, obsessed font designers might not be able to make a living making beautiful fonts.

Perhaps another business model?

Could book producers/publishers pay a subscription to a font foundry or font collection, and the eBooks produced during that time could use any of the collection’s fonts? Could a font license be required in the CSS @font-family declaration or the meta tags to be a valid ePub? I know, pirates could steal that, too.  Again, how many people crack open eBooks files?

Maybe just reward the good guys, a “font seal of approval” for companies that negotiate for digital font rights. It would be even more compelling if the big retail outlets required some sort of seal or certificate to sell the book.

This is just like DRM issues. How do you protect the livelihood of creators without technology so frustrating it makes it hard for customers to stay off the high seas with a parrot on their shoulder?

Font design resources

Open-source Fonts


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Book Studio
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 15:08:57

    Thank you Susan for the great summary of this complex issue. My head hurt during the #ePrdctn hour from trying to wrap my head around it!

    One website I turn to frequently for free, commercial-use fonts is http://www.fontsquirrel.com/ and SIL has quite a few fonts up there. Picking a legible font for running text is pretty hard and the standard ereader fonts do a good job of that. I mostly use that site for fonts to punch up heads, sidebars, etc.


  2. Trackback: E-böcker | rekommenderade artiklar – 19 August, 2011 | En blogg om e-böcker
    • sueneu
      Aug 19, 2011 @ 15:06:27

      Thanks for your post! May I include the English translation from Google Translate?
      Tack för ditt inlägg! Kan jag inkludera den engelska översättningen från Google Translate?

      “I wonder every day how the font will be used to best seen in e-books. In this is given at least some ideas on how to solve part of the problem.”


  3. nyrbclassics (@nyrbclassics)
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 15:50:09

    I’m hoping that eventually we will have font licensing conglomerations which will do for ebooks what Typekit has done for websites. Licensing here and there would be very onerous, I think. That’s why organizations like ASCAP exist.


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