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

So Are Publishers Making Any Money with this Ebook Thing?

The session in which three publishers talked about process, discipline, waltzing and the vise. (Not vice)

Liisa McCloy Kelly from Random House said that making an EPUB before EPUB 3 was “like waltzing with both hands tied behind your back and a weight on one foot.” (I think of it more as Tarantella in the dark while the stage shifts constantly underfoot) She said that Random House has 5 different eBook processes, the most complex of which requires teams of product managers, HTML coders, designers, R&D and testing. She recommends encouraging designers to keep an eye on digital conversion, to think about variable sizes.

Bob Young of Lulu stated that the core value of the internet is that it connects everyone of us to everyone else. (Mostly true, but I worry about the digital divide. More tech in libraries!) The role of publishers, he went on to say, is to match people with something interesting to say with people who want to hear it.

Ken Brooks of Cengage Learning was all business. Publishers are caught in a vise, as less cash for operations meets lower profits from products. Efficiently managing process, vendors, and technology is key. If each new project requires a different flow of process, you’re dying the death of a thousand cuts. It’s better to determine one or two ways to work, and have the discipline to stick to them, “ruthless management of complexity and standards is more efficient.”

How do you determine which projects to tackle? You aim for projects that are low in complexity and costs and high in payback, and he put up a great chart:

How to Determine Which Projects to Pursue

A loose interpretation

This is a good way to visualize this common sense approach. But in this new and rapidly evolving marketplace, where do you get the data? Perhaps the scarcity of data prompted these pieces of advice also:

-Brooks recommends that we start with the end in mind, and work incrementally rather than wholesale.
-And stick to standards. “Standards represent our collective experience, you might as well benefit from what other people know.