Limited Editions, revisited

Heck with all this. Read Brooks Jensen’s article.

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A while back, I posted my side of an argument that dates back about 500 years. Well, I’ve come to my senses and re-evaluated this whole idea of limited edition prints.

Honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing when I started selling photos several years ago. I found out that a lot of art festivals were requiring that “all prints be signed and numbered”, so I interpreted that as “put a little number in the corner and people will buy it” without doing any research on why I should do it.

Artists don’t number prints to make money from artificial scarcity. That is only a side effect of the bigger picture. Instead of selling a print, you’re selling one piece from an edition. Look at it from the edition’s point of view, not the print’s.

Example

My younger brother had a clever way of convincing me that my way of doing things didn’t make sense, but he doesn’t deal in art. He collects firearms. Let’s say Smith & Wesson decides to create a Special Edition of one of their revolvers. It would probably be a reworked version of an old classic — this time with custom engraving, gold inlay, the works. Now imagine they tell the world that they’re only making 500 of them. Except for a tiny bit of engraving that tells you which one of the 500 you’re looking at (ex. – “number 15 of 500″), you would expect all 500 of them to be identical. If the first one was a .357, you can safely assume that all of them will be .357. If the first one has a barrel length of 6.5″, you can also assume that all of them will be 6.5″ long.

How would you feel then if they started fiddling around with the barrel length and caliber from one of those revolvers to the next? If you purchased 15/500, and found that 37/500 wasn’t a 6.5” .357 and was in fact a .22 long rifle, you would be confused as all hell. If each one is different, then what’s the point of calling such a series of items an “edition”?

For that reason, the whole idea of me telling the world that I’m changing the physical size from one print to the next inside a single edition is wicked stupid. My argument of “the digital source file doesn’t have a physical size” doesn’t matter because the finished product is not digital. Likewise, Smith & Wesson probably designs their firearms on a computer, but that doesn’t allow them to go fiddling with each copy as they ‘print’ them.

How can I fix the mess I’ve gotten myself into?

  1. For those editions from which I haven’t sold a single print, I will reduce their edition sizes assuming that they’re not all that popular in the first place.
  2. Since I can’t go fiddling with editions from which I’ve already sold prints, those are stuck with whatever number and edition size they have.
    • Since all of the sizes are using the same edition size (250), they are stuck at 250.
  3. I will go back and “fill in the gaps” for those size/image combinations which I skipped
    • For instance, 4/250 is 18″, but the next 18″ print is 8/250. Numbers 5-7 are 12″, so that allows me to print a 4/250 in 12″ and 5-7 in 18″.
  4. For new prints, I have a chance to do it right!
    • Editions will be considerably smaller (see ‘specific stuff’ below)
  5. Only offer editions in specific sizes (12, 18, 24, 30, 36). If a customer wants a custom size, that will be an unnumbered one-off.

Specific stuff for new prints:
My edition size of 250 was so huge because I was considering all five different sizes to be in the same edition. Now that I’m doing it right, I will settle on specific edition sizes for each print size.

(print size – edition size)

  • 12″ – 125
  • 18″ – 75
  • 24″ – 50
  • 30″ – 25
  • 36″ – 10

Let’s hope I don’t get involved in another unwinnable 500-year-old argument any time soon. :)

This entry was posted in Rants.

One Comment

  1. Mary Jo Burns May 10, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    Hi Jason….Remember me…your neighbor at last year’s blue dome..which festival are you doing…Mayfest, blue dome or Brady? I’ll be at blue dome. smack in the middle of it with a corner booth heha!! Hopefully not in the rain! Mary