The Limited Edition dilemma…
Being the first person many artists speak to when they embark upon the idea of selling prints, I get asked a lot of questions. One that often crops up is, “Should I do Limited Editions?” Quickly followed by, “What’s the difference with an Open Edition?” As we know, Open Editions, signed or not, have no limit on how many copies are produced, whereas Limited Editions limit the number and the sizes. So how did the ‘Limited Edition’ come about? Well, in the past, the first prints of a run were generally sharper and better balanced for colour. Traditional printing methods relied on plates that wore out over time and the printer often took more care with the amount of ink and it’s spread at the beginning of a run, as these were the ones the client would ‘approve’. By limiting an edition a degree of quality was assured. In fact the first few prints were considered to be the best quality and often commanded a higher price. So, the ‘Limited Edition’ was a quality statement and differentiator from ‘mass produced’ prints of varying quality.
Today, with giclée printing, quality is not an issue, there is no degradation of quality over the printing life of a run. The ‘Limited Edition’ is still considered as more of a premium price label for prints, but do Limited Editions actually command a higher price? It’s all down to marketing and making the buyer think there’s something unique about the Limited Edition. But here’s the rub, by limiting a print run the artist is also limiting the amount of return they can get from their work. Who knows how many they could sell if a print proves to be popular, particularly now the market is going global. And, how long could they continue to sell the print - we’re still buying prints of work by artists from previous centuries!
Other questions are, “Who controls the Limited Edition”, and “Does it matter if I issue two number ’12’s by mistake?” In the later case there are two things an artist must consider; first their reputation and the trust enjoyed with their buyer’, and secondly the legal issue. When you sell a Limited Edition print you enter into a ‘contract’ with the buyer, based on the description of what you’re selling. If you state the print is number ’12’ of a Limited Edition of 50, then that’s what it has to be. To do otherwise is like selling a 2005 car, but claiming it was produced in 2008, they call it “passing off” and the buyer can take action against you.
On a more practical note, I wonder how many Framers cover over the edition number with the mount - usually at their clients request, so there’s no ‘white space’? Plus, you’ve got a problem with canvas prints, there’s no easy way to number these?
We’re also in a changing market, where prints are chosen not only because the buyer likes the image, but also because it compliments the theme of the room they’ve chosen it for. However when they change the curtains, sofa or home, they require a different image. Yes, we’re now in a ‘disposable world’, but fortunately, the odds are that consumers today will purchase a lot more art in their lifetime, but it could be prints rather than originals.
So is the ‘Limited Edition’ still valid; do you actually make more money from selling ‘Limited Editions’; or is it now far too limiting from an artist’s point of view?
John Roland - Salt of the Earth
Originally published in 'Art Business Today' - the journal of the Fine Art Trade Guild