After tweeting my blog post on why I am moving off Adobe Fonts, a designer friend asked me to share the pros and cons of self-hosted vs. subscription-based fonts. Since I started off using subscription services and made the transition to self-host on all my sites, which include this blog, my portfolio, Professional Web Typography, and Vietnamese Typography, I would like share my experience.
When web fonts first took off, subscription-based method seemed like an easier and a more convenience choice. I just needed to add one line of markup to my site and a third-party hosting took care of the rest. Services like Google Fonts and Adobe Fonts have done a great job of optimizing their font files, keeping them up-to-date, and making sure they work on different browsers. Furthermore, they separated their fonts into different subsets to keep the file size small. For instance, I don’t need to load subsets with Vietnamese diacritics if my site only used English. In Adobe Fonts, I can choose specific OpenType features. The more features I use, the larger the file size. The biggest advantage of using a subscription service is that I have instant access to thousands of fonts, although only a handful with Vietnamese support.
The disadvantage of using a subscription service is the dependency. Google, so far, is reliable, but no one knows how it is going change in the future, giving Google’s history of abandoning projects. Since Google Fonts only hosts open-source fonts, I have the choice to host them myself, which I will be doing for Vietnamese Typography in the near future. As for Adobe Fonts, they have already discontinued Typekit standalone plans. I can sign up for InCopy, which is $4.99 a month, but what is the point of getting something that I am not going to use? I already have all Adobe programs through my work; therefore, I don’t need additional copies for myself. I just want to keep my Adobe Fonts account separate. What if Adobe decided to sunset InCopy or raise the price in the future? I would be screwed again. I featured many typefaces from Adobe Fonts on Vietnamese Typography and all of them will break if the subscription changed. I have no plan of taking Vietnamese Typography offline; therefore, I need to make sure all fonts will continue to work decades from now. That is one of the main reasons I decided to host the fonts on my site.
Self-hosting method takes a bit more work, especially in the early days of web fonts. Browsers didn’t render fonts consistently. CSS font support was not reliable. In recent years, browsers are getting better and CSS has font display property to control how fonts are rendered; therefore, hosting fonts on my own site is getting easier and more reliable. The only disadvantage is that I have to write a bit more CSS and keep the font files up-to-date.
With self-hosting method, I am limited to the fonts that I have. Whereas subscription gives me far more choices. Then again, I am fine with working with a handful of typefaces than thousands to browse through. It comes down to renting versus licensing. I prefer the licensing model.