TypeCon 2010 is providing an opportunity for the webfonts enthusiasts in the font software industry to make some noise. At the keynote by Roger Black, (liveblogged by Dave Crossland), he raised the possibility – the challenge – of the ‘¢99 webfont’. This, he said, means individuals will soon all have their signature font, enabled through the online communications and document-sharing systems they use, and it won’t be Comic Sans but a web font. At the other end of the spectrum Font Bureau, in a consortium along with the selfsame Roger Black and others, have started webtype.com (note: not ‘web font’ – that’s significant). This is a subscription service that provides font families that have been optimised for screen display. They’re not fonts designed for the screen but re-hinted, re-shaped versions of what might be termed ‘regular’ typefaces. They really do embody expertise in the optimisation of glyph outlines for reading on-screen, a contentious and misunderstood problem as Black acknowledged, and this puts them ahead of the offering of the more established land-grabbers TypeKit as far as visual designers are concerned.
The strategy seems very sensible, and Roger Black’s allusion to the total commoditisation of fonts online points to the scenario that has been latent ever since the first designer cried because they couldn’t use the typeface they wanted in a site design. It’s taken a long time for the font software industry to drag itself here, but the day has now arrived when people who publish fonts will differentiate themselves on the rendering merits of, and generate regular revenue, from web fonts. There is a lot of money in those hills.