Pushing business boundaries
➜ Before their digitization, Thai fonts were available in scattered, unorganized families of photo-set and burnish-transfer type. With the advent of their digital counterparts, fonts were grouped together in long lists on computer menus. The neat grouping and convenience of font menus gave rise to an illusion as to the wide variety of Thai typefaces.
In fact, the number of Thai fonts was quite limited, and the burgeoning in variety did not really begin until the practice of design commissioning had been adopted by businesses. In those days, digital fonts were produced mostly for in-house purposes and sometimes released quietly to general use. Fonts were developed to aid sales of computer hardware as well as to support the business of printing plate makers and graphic service bureaus.
Following the end of the non-commercial period of Thai fonts in late 1980s, some digital fonts were produced and marketed commercially. The next decade saw the demise of the single-byte ASCII character set and the introduction of Unicode. This was also a time of unregulated practices in font file naming leading to confusion on the part of users. (The resulting confusion even made its way into national reference records compiled during the time.) Although the 1990s was a time of heightened commercial interest, it was not the starting point of the font business; the business had already taken off in the late 1980s.
It can be seen that the run-up from in-house use to commercially marketed commodities took a much longer time than similar developments on international markets. Of course, part of the reason for the slower start had to do with local developments in the areas of hardware, software, computer literacy as well as typographical skills. These are factors with a bearing on the font business.
Thailand’s prevailing attitudes and behaviors as to font uses have been shaped in no small way by the tenacity of a few intrepid font foundries. In this regard, PSL must be credited with spearheading the changes in ownership laws; and DB Designs for helping to broadened awareness of font licensing after decades of unregulated copying and unlicensed use on the market. Their leadership in this area has helped to create a better understanding of the factors involved in font design, such as the cost and time required, as well as helping to open doors to other areas of development which will prove beneficial for the graphic design industry as a whole.
More still needs to be done in order to move the font industry forward. A fair and just norm for licensing fees should be established. The development of such a scheme should take into account the differences in font foundry cost structures and their existing range of licensing options and/or add-ons. The resulting norm should be simple and in line with international practices in font licensing. The lack of such a system may give rise to chaos in pricing, a situation that would lead to users’ reluctance to support properly licensed products. Some of the licensing schemes in use today have been unjustifiably expensive as they are based on the idea of secrecy as in the past. Such schemes might be viewed by users as unfair pricing.
At present, font offerings from medium-sized and small companies, including independent designers, are available on the market. These options, which are reasonably priced, would help to rationalize the current scale of font fees, which is a favorable development for the industry. In this regard, font manufacturers should all pitch in for the common good of our nascent industry by adopting a fairer pricing scheme than what has been before.
There is also a prevailing practice which could become problematic in the years ahead. This is the way some Thai font makers exploit the glyph table of a proprietary Latin font, without the expressed consent of its owner, for use with a complementary set of Thai glyphs. Such practice will not attract any criticism if the local font makers have taken the proper steps in the first place, namely obtaining proper licenses or prior permission from the owners of the Latin fonts. Combining an existing glyph table with one for a Thai font is not a recent practice, but with the current boom in font design, it is done more frequently. Professional etiquettes dictate that the local font maker should refrain from reshaping the Latin glyphs without prior consent from the original designer.
Additionally, the complementary Thai glyphs ought to be drawn to match the existing Latin characters, not the other way round whereby the latter are remolded to suit the former. And such design manipulation should be truthfully declared for the benefit of the local buyers, for they are entitled to protection from possible infringement in their use of such complementary fonts, not to mention that a portion of the glyph table licensing cost may have been included in the purchase price. (All this is unnecessary where both the Thai and Latin glyphs are the local font manufacturer’s original designs.)
While the issue of glyph table licensing has yet to be rectified, many Thai manufacturers have continued to charge a fee for the use of their Latin-complementary fonts. Such complacency should be discouraged; and remedial measures agreed upon and implemented as soon as possible by practitioners in the Thai font industry in order to move the business in the right direction, one that is recognized and accepted in the global market.