With over 55,000 fonts, MyFonts.com
has become one of the “long tail” success stories made possible by the Internet and changed the way fonts are sold. The term “long tail,” which describes sites like Amazon and Netflix, was first coined in a 2004 Wired
article and refers to the business model of selling a vast number of products that individually may sell only in small quantities. At MyFonts.com, although stalwarts like Helvetica still appear on the bestseller list, most other fonts, even if they first experience a quick burst of popularity, sell in far smaller quantities over time. MyFonts.com is an open marketplace that has allowed many struggling type designers to quit their day jobs. Replete with colorful icons, witty prose, useful and customizable features and entertaining newsletters, this site is like a candy counter: Buying type is a fun, visually delicious experience with guaranteed immediate satisfaction.
Launched in January 1999, MyFonts.com is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bitstream, the first independent digital font foundry and a leader in browsing, font and publishing technologies. Back in the mid-nineties, when people started buying digitized fonts for their desktop computers, most online font stores, especially the big ones, were as inviting and aesthetically pleasing as a driver support page at Microsoft. MyFonts.com was, from the beginning, founded on a completely different rationale: Make it easy for customers to find the fonts they need. “Charles Ying, who has served as chairman of the board of Bitstream since 1997, was the driving force behind the creation of MyFonts.com,” says John Collins, vice president and chief technology officer for Bitstream who heads the crack team of designers, writers and code jockeys behind the site. “He pointed out how difficult it was for ordinary people to find a font. At that time, most font sites simply presented you with a ‘Click on the initial letter of the font name’—not very useful for newbies. The idea was to create a font site ‘for the rest of us.’ With hundreds of millions of computers in the world, each representing a possible font user, MyFonts.com actively sought out the casual user.”
Success, however, isn’t just the result of easygoing text and cheery icons. The MyFonts.com crew, spread from Cambridge to Germany to Japan and connected through iChat, is always thinking up new user tools. The most impressive has to be their WhatTheFont automatic font identifier, a unique and patented online application that allows anyone to find a font based on an uploaded scan—or at least find the closest matches from the extensive database—all in a fraction of a second. On the rare occasion that it’s one of the few fonts not available through MyFonts.com, there will be a link pointing to where you can buy it. And, if these results still aren’t enough, there’s the WTF Forum (yes, they do use that acronym!) where, as the site cleverly puts it, “Cloak-draped font enthusiasts around the world will help you out!”
Another patented feature is More Fonts Like This,
which also brings up a list of similar-looking fonts. Rather than using a structure-based algorithm like WhatTheFont, More Fonts Like This uses keywords that are assigned by both foundries and customers, in much the same way users at Flickr tag photos or those at del.icio.us links. MyFonts.com is always working on new font-finding schemes, new ways to get customers shouting, “Ah! That’s what I’m looking for!” Collins adds, “MyFonts simply has the largest collection of fonts online. So if you need a particular font, the chances are you will find it at MyFonts.com. And if you just want to explore, the chances are that you won’t miss the font juste
And there are other ways MyFonts.com pampers customers. Since a record of all orders is kept on their servers, if a customer’s hard drive crashes, all previously purchased fonts can be reloaded painlessly and at no charge. Customers can view their font purchases at any time and create customizable, color-coded albums, a handy method for sorting fonts by client or project.