The book's hardback permanence and $$$ ($$$ from Chank, that scoundrel) list price make it more of a reference than a catalog. Bound in stunning red cloth, Indie Fonts' exterior brings to mind the solid albums of ATF and Linotype. With class and substance, this volume lends credence to each firm it represents.
Up front is a style index with a one-line showing for each font and page number referring to the corresponding full specimen.
Generally well-planned specimen pages organized in foundry sections make up the bulk of the content. Each foundry created its own section page with a company bio and ordering information. Each shop also designed its own specimens based on Grieshaber's templates, resulting in showings of slightly varying quality. On the whole, the type is given ample room for full character sets, although things get a bit tight for foundries with more fonts to show. Text faces are often shown in paragraph form with a tiny column measure. It would be nice to see how they perform in more extensive settings. The font name, designer and year of design are listed in the sidebar. Some foundries opted to include notes on the font's use or origin in this margin and those specimens are better for it.
Trailing the foundry sections is a glossary, a reading list, and a handy character reference chart. Also included is the AIGA's guide to the Use of Fonts which covers some font copyright and ethical use concepts misunderstood by most designers. A simple index of font names and designers rounds out the book.
Tucked into the inside back cover is a CD of 33 "Bonus Fonts" which are fully licensed for immediate use. Some are true commercial goodies and add value to the book, others are available for free elsewhere, and a few are pure poop.
Not Seen on TV
Any collection of independent typography is subject to a wide variety of style and quality. In no other book can one find the classic work of regal Matthew Carter directly followed by the irreverant fonts of Chank. Indie Fonts proudly hails both the king and the court jester. But the unexpected is what makes the volume so valuable. Much of this type has never been used by a magazine or multi-national corporation. These are fonts not seen on TV. These are mass-culture virgins. To a designer struggling to make an impact in a world over-saturated with the same old look, this stuff is gold.
Most of the typefaces in Indie Fonts were already unveiled by their respective foundries in those previously mentioned corners of the web, but there are a few that will be new, even to surfing typoholics. Fresh Fountain fonts made their debut in Indie Fonts before the redesigned web site went live. Peter Bilak's multi-descendered Fedra Serif (still in preview form at Typotheque) is displayed beautifully in one of the more thorough specimens of the book. Without a website or distributor, much of Matthew Carter's Carter & Cone library (Fenway, Big Figgins, ITC Galliard CC, Ionic #1, Sammy Roman, and Wilson Greek) is on display here for the first time, as far as I know. And It's a relief to see all of the Test Pilot Collective in one accessible place, their website still repelling hopeful visitors after years of being AWOL.
Worth a Spot on the Shelf
Indie Fonts isn't quite on par with the master of all specimen books, FontShop's FontBook. But it's more of a companion to the catalogs of the large distributors than it is a replacement. In the end, those who rely only on the big boys are overlooking a valuable set of typefaces - many of which are effectively set into motion by this very worthy tool.