Letterhead Fonts: Proof that bad business has survived the recession

15 Jul 2009

Letterhead Fonts makes some very nice period display typefaces. They all are based on a recognizable time, or place, or historic use of type and they provide a very strong base for a really nice logo or bold design.

Back in 2005 I bought Ballpark, a typeface inspired by the curvy logos found on old-time baseball uniforms, and still very much a part of the sport’s culture today. It came in handy when making things related to just about any sport, though. At some point over the last year, due to OS X’s crazy font management and file locations, two new PCs, and evidently some poor decisions in my backup scheme, I lost both the font file, and the archive that I originally downloaded.

When I purchased the font, I seem to remember the standard “make sure you save this, you won’t be able to re-download this file ever” spiel that came with most download-only purchases from small shops back then. Now along with that comes the fact that I’m really only buying a license for the font, not those actual bits and bytes that I downloaded on November 20, 2005. Even if LHF didn’t want to give me another copy of the file, they can’t say I lost my license, so, based solely on my general experience with DMCA and the likes, it would seem safe to say I could snag a copy from anywhere, and be within my rights to use it. Not that any of this was an issue for several years, as I had the font, and the backup, and really no use for either for quite a while when I wasn’t doing much design.

Recently I had an idea that I wanted to use Ballpark in, and lo and behold, I finally realized I had lost track of it. I headed over the LHF site to see if I could get another copy, and their support page specifically address this issue under the heading “I’ve lost my fonts! Can you send them to me?” which says:

If you have placed an order after January 2007, you may login to your account and download your fonts again. Your fonts remain in your account so you can download them as needed. If the fonts you need replacing were ordered prior to 2007, please create a new account by making a new purchase. Additionally, there is a single $10 fee for adding more than 2 fonts to your account and you must have a receipt. Replacement requests without receipts will incur an additional $6 fee to research the old order(s).

It’s nice to see they’ve finally entered the 21st century and have a system in place to handle accounts. It’s also nice to see they are ready to help out those of us with old orders, even though back then the files were not available for “re-download”, EVER!. After I read the words a little more closely, I had one of those “Oh I see what you did there” moments; in order to get my old purchase back, I need an account, and they want me to think I need to buy something to set one up. Well I look around the site, and finally realize I don’t actually need to make a purchase to get an account. It’s also important to note here that there’s a $6 fee to research old orders. Keep that in mind: researching old orders is $6.

I think I’m all set to get this font back. I have my new account, and I tracked down the original receipt. I fill out their support form explaining the situation, and send it off. It happened to be the weekend, so it took about a day to get a response which simply asked for the purchase data, the order ID and the new account info. I sent that along, and then nothing. I figured, “ok it’s the weekend, no rush” Monday, Tuesday,  Wednesday come and still I don’t hear anything, so I resubmit the support form. Within an hour I get a response telling me

The order was placed before we began tracking accounts in 2007. This means that you would not have access to download the font again.

As the Support section states, we ask that you make a new purchase. You have only created an account. Making a new purchase compensates us for the time spent placing the old fonts into your account.

Wait, what? They’ve pretty much just said “we know you bought this font, but you can’t have it.” Chuck, the responder, also points out that the support section asks me to make a new purchase to get this back. I suppose if I read the support section knowing that fact beforehand, I can infer their policy from how it’s worded. But “If the fonts you need replacing were ordered prior to 2007, please create a new account by making a new purchase” really doesn’t make that very clear.

I email Chuck back pointing out that their support section on the matter is vague, and that I really don’t need any more fonts right now, so I’m not going to purchase one just to get back one I already own. Since it seems like there is a significant amount of effort involved in verifying my old purchase, I include PDFs of my original receipt, and my credit card statement from November 2005 showing the purchase.

The reply to that was:

Once you have an account, you will be able download your fonts whenever you like. But for fonts ordered before 2007, it requires about 20 minutes to track down your old order and then manually create a new order and place the old font into your account.

I do not feel that it is unfair to ask you to make a new purchase to compensate us for our time in replacing a font that was purchased 4 years ago. Since you do, I will be disabling your account.

Once I have an account? 20 minutes?!? Chuck, your last email to me told me I had an account… I tracked down my old order in about 20 seconds using Mail.app’s terrible search, and placing a new order on LHF’s website takes all of a minute or two. But I’ll give Chuck the benefit of the doubt, maybe he’s not a good searcher and it will take 20 minutes. According to Chuck, it’s completely reasonable to think that 20 minutes of customer service (i.e. clicking around a database) is actually equivalent to all the time and effort that goes into creating a typeface. Either that’s true, and I paid way too much for Ballpark in the first place, or this is starting to look like a pretty sleazy company policy to eke out an extra sale. The real kicker though is that LHF told us how much researching an old order costs, remember? Six dollars. And that was without a receipt, and certainly without a credit card statement. How did it suddenly come to cost $35.

And why exactly did you disable my account? I mean, come on, you’re really over there thinking that me not wanting to pay the full cost of a new font to get access to one I’ve already licensed is unreasonable to point where you literally never want me to come back or even have a sliver of chance of recommending you to someone else? I’ll admit that one purchase every 6 years doesn’t make me a VIP or anything, but that’s a lot more typefaces than your average person buys in their lifetime, and alienating someone who may just need an antiques shop font down the road seems silly.

Oh well, I guess I’ll have to live without my Ballpark font, until someday when I do need that antique typeface, if they even let me in the door. Congratulations to Letterhead Fonts for doing so well as a small, highly specialized typeface shop in this economic downturn that literally shoeing away customers is business as usual.

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