Introducing the Colophon to the Web: a New Business Model for Fonts?

For hundreds of years, printers and publishers have included a Colophon in books. That’s a section – usually a page, often at the back of the book – which describes which fonts were used to set it, and perhaps gives some history of who created those particular fonts and when.

Here’s an example of the kind of information it might contain. I’ve used the font Baskerville Old Face, which is part of the Linotype Library, and information I reproduced from the Linotype website.

“This book is set in Baskerville Regular Old Face, which was designed by John Baskerville in 1750, and belongs to the Baskerville Font Family, comprising 6 fonts in Windows TrueType format, which is part of the Linotype Originals.

John Baskerville (1706-1775) was an accomplished writing master and printer from Birmingham, England. He was the designer of several types, punchcut by John Handy, which are the basis for the fonts that bear the name Baskerville today. The excellent quality of his printing influenced such famous printers as Didot in France and Bodoni in Italy.

Though he was known internationally as an innovator of technique and style, his high standards for paper and ink quality made it difficult for him to compete with local commercial printers. However, his fellow Englishmen imitated his types, and in 1768, Isaac Moore punchcut a version of Baskerville’s letterforms for the Fry Foundry. Baskerville produced a masterpiece folio Bible for Cambridge University, and today, his types are considered to be fine representations of eighteenth century rationalism and neoclassicism. Legible and eminently dignified, Baskerville makes an excellent text typeface; and its sharp, high-contrast forms make it suitable for elegant advertising pieces as well.”

Baskerville Regular Old Face (graphic from Linotype website)

If you love type as much as I do, you just lap up this sort of information. But even if you don’t, isn’t it cool to find out that the typeface you’ve been enjoying has been around for more than 250 years?

So I always look at the Colophon in a book…

Anyway, as readers of this blog will know, I’ve been trying to drive the establishment of Embedded OpenType as a Web standard which would allow the legal use of high-quality commercial fonts on the Web.

People are stuck today with a limited choice of fonts they can use on their websites which they’re sure will be on the computers of everyone viewing them. But if we can embed any fonts we’ve bought, then the Web will explode with great design and high-quality typography. There’s absolutely no reason your website can’t look as great as the beautifully-set magazine you buy every month.

And that started me thinking: Why not introduce the venerable concept of the Colophon to the Web? Could it be used to drive a new business model for fonts which would benefit the font industry, web developers and designers – and the people who visit their sites?

I’ve run the idea past a few font folks I know, and they’re quite excited about it.

Here’s how it might work:

You’re a web designer or developer, and you want to use a font, or a number of different fonts, on your site. You’ve bought legal copies of all the fonts you plan to use, and they all come with Web embedding rights.

You create a Colophon page on your site which tells users about the fonts you used. But it doesn’t just give their history and interesting information about the font. It also includes a link to the font vendor(s).

If your readers like the fonts you used, they simply click on the link, and it takes them to a site where they can buy the fonts, download them, and start using them right away in their own documents and websites.

Now, you could see how this could be taken further, with a business model like, say Google’s AdSense. If the font vendor wished, they could pay you a small commission every time someone bought a font using the link from your site. The fonts you use might actually end up paying for themselves, or even making you money!

For the industry, Web Font Embedding would change from being perceived by some as “a potential threat to their valuable Intellectual Property” into a marketing, advertising and sales vehicle with the potential to really increase their font revenue by exposing their products to more customers than ever before.

Another alternative thought I had was that perhaps the End User License Agreement for a font with Web Embedding permissions turned on might require the website designer or developer to put a Colophon on their site in return for the embedding permissions, or perhaps a price discount.

I’m brainstorming here, just putting out a couple of ideas. Perhaps developers would find a compulsory Colophon too onerous a requirement. I don’t know. It would be up to the industry and the Web to work out the details and create a workable business model that benefits everyone.

I’d be interested in readers’ thoughts. There are probably even better ideas out there I haven’t yet considered. But I’m quite taken with the concept of fonts as a viral marketing channel. The more people who use fonts, the more people who buy fonts, the more we’ll be sure of a healthy font industry for the next 550 years. And we do need a healthy font industry; there’s lots of work still to be done, as publishing moves from paper to the screen.


3 thoughts on “Introducing the Colophon to the Web: a New Business Model for Fonts?

  1. Alain Pierrot

    I subscribe to your idea, anything that can emphasize the role of typography and design in providing a compelling reading experience is to be encouraged.Robert Bringhurst (Elements of Typographic Style) would certainly be a good reading for whoever doubts about the relevance of typography.Bringhurst’s colophon for his Tree of meaning

  2. Noam Berg

    As a designer I like the idea of getting a commission for promoting fonts! Finally some compensation for all that money spent on nice Venetians. In a perfect world (perfect for typographers, anyway), high-profile websites would be paid by font vendors to use their latest designs, like product placement in movies. I doubt that’s in our foreseeable future, but a man can dream, can’t he?I generally include a colophon on my sites as a bit of font-geekdom. The idea that it could become part of the solution for bringing high quality type to the web is intriguing.

  3. Richard Fink

    In light of my research, of late, into font licensing agreements as well as your post here in regards to the idea of a colophon – I feel that this is something that the browser could (should?) handle with a menu item.For example, if @font-face is being used, the author(s) name is part of the TTF/OTF font file. (I am assuming that the EOT format picks up this information also.)This makes it possible for the browser to just pick it up for display at the click of the mouse for those who are interested.A menu item labeled, “Resources” would serve. Perhaps it could be listed in the right-click menu.Just thinking out loud.


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