Many moons ago, I had a blog that documented me cleaning up my font library. As a student, I acquired (not purchased) a lot of fonts - literally thousands. Zip Disks were passed around my Uni with all sorts of assets on it. I was like a magpie collecting shiny things, and my font resource library grew. Hand on heart, I naively didn’t realise it was wrong - or a breach of anyone’s rights. I used the fonts in my university work but also for the little freelance jobs I did on the side.
Ever since type became digital (and so easily portable) font licensing has been a tricky subject and a lot of EULA’s need a legal degree to decipher - but in its simplest form this is a product sale - you pay up front and then you can use it.
Font designers own their work - the people who distribute take a cut - you as a consumer buy a license giving you the opportunity to use the font in your work. Some fonts allow use without purchase - a lot of these are lesser quality but there are some brilliant ones that are available for free too - Doug Wilson has been curating a list of good recent examples
Many foundries will offer free test versions so you can try (& show your clients for approval) before you buy. If you are a student, there are loads of distributors offering educational discounts and non-commercial licensing. Resources like Fontstand allow you to rent rather than buy outright. Adobe enables you to sync 100 fonts at no extra charge as part of your CC subscription.
Today I curate my library by keeping a wishlist of fonts in Evernote - all the new releases I love and would like to own - then when I have a project that needs something specific I start with looking at my library to see what I have within the particular genre I am considering, then will check my wishlist to see if I can buy something specifically for that job. Two examples of this;
Archer sat in my wishlist for months - I got a commission I thought it would be perfect for and was able to justify the purchase price in the project fee.
Feijoa sat in my wishlist for years - I kept the printed specimen in my draw and admired it often but had the restraint to wait for a specific project then added the license cost to my hours spent on the job before invoicing.
Since being in my library, I have used both families many more times, but without a specific job to help me justify the expense I probably wouldn’t have bought them.
I do also from time to time get tempted by sales - discounting of fonts is another hot-button topic in our industry polarising people. But if its something you already love and the economics of it is attractive enough, why not take advantage of competitive pricing as this happens in every product based industry?
Building my library is taking time - but I have a selection of high-quality faces I know and trust. Having a massive library of fonts isn’t useful if you do not have the right type for the project. Conversely spending money collecting everything you like on the off chance you might get the opportunity to use it one day doesn't make economic sense.
Whatever your strategy for building your library, please remember type designers invest a tremendous amount of work into each font they release. There is value in that - and just as designers, you expect to be paid by your clients - or employer - type designers need to be paid by their customers.
Be discerning and buy just what you need. This way, your type selections are always fit for purpose. If you are on a tight budget, consider quality open-source families, syncing from Adobe, renting from Fontstand or get in at the ground level by buying works in progress from FutureFonts.