Are limited edition prints a good idea or not?
The genuine answer would be that it depends! A sort of sitting on the fence type answer however, for us, seemingly the most appropriate. There can be benefits to limited editions, though who potentially benefits most is often questionable, there are potential pitfalls as well. In a number of examples not everyone benefits equally or at all. Let’s explore the limited edition print.
By the nature of a limited edition, the number of examples are limited. Indeed numbers are fixed, sometimes arbitrarily. Are there reasons behind the fixed number? What could lead to deciding on a particular number?
From the outset of photography, duplication of the original without degradation from copy to copy was sought after. In fact, this was one of the properties that touted photography as being ‘superior’ to painting. This ability to duplicate is still true of analogue photography and even more so of digital photography.
A limited edition can be a way of artificially curtailing the endless duplication of an original, thereby creating a fixed number of copies. With a fixed number of copies this hopefully creates a shortage, or scarcity, of that print. With scarcity comes value. Potentially an increased value – this is seen as good by the photographer and can be seen as good by the purchaser.
Scarcity can be relative though. Five buggy whips might be seen as not very many, indeed scarce. If not one person wants a buggy whip, then five is rather a glut! Similarly, if no one wants to buy a particular print, the fact that the ‘edition’ is limited to five is rather pointless.
When there is demand for the print, then scarcity in numbers is advantageous. Of benefit to the photographer as the value or price of each item can be raised as the numbers diminish. The buyer can feel to have benefited as their copy/print has a saleable value, and most likely seen as higher than their purchase price! The rising purchase cost can additionally add to the perceived scarcity.
This form of scarcity is a strategy to create an inflationary and demand driven market. An odd conundrum though is that the early numbered prints (and probably first sold) will be more sought after and have a higher value in the resale market than the later numbered prints. Odd in that the later numbers will cost more to buy than the early numbered items. Though possibly worth less than a cheaper early numbered item!
Implicit in all most limited editions is the element of trust. The buyer is trusting that the seller won’t produce more than the original quoted number – how to know that? Alongside this would be a trust that a similar but not quite the same new edition may be offered. If the wildly successful A2 limited print edition of 50 is closely followed by the previously unannounced A2 plus 5cm all new limited edition. As a buyer, one might feel, well, cheated could be a strong interpretation – certainly miffed at the least! A buyer has to have trust in the integrity of the limited edition offer.
The seller also trusts that the buyer won’t offer their copy for sale at less than what the current price has been set at. Especially if they bought an early numbered print in an edition where the purchase price increases as the numbers left on sale reduce. A buyer re-selling under these conditions could be seen as undermining the sellers ‘artificial’ scarcity market.
Does the buyer perceive an inherent value in the physical item or print?
A perceived value could indicate a level of skill, knowledge or difficulty in producing the actual print – irrespective of any skill in capturing the subject matter.
For a giclee or inkjet print, is there a perceived value in being able to apply the correct printer profile to the digital file? After all, doesn’t everyone use an inkjet? With no special training?
Whereas, if the photographer or artist has used a technique or skill that in itself is known to be rare (not many people can do it), would that artwork have a greater perceived value by the buyer?
The fact that a required skill is not readily available, is not be widely practiced, takes time to learn to be good at or is difficult to replicate accurately from copy to copy. These values can give a greater perceived or inherent value in an artwork by the buyer.
A perceived value in the craft and expertise of producing the actual artwork or physical object.
We do consider that producing a print by the analogue process takes a greater level of skill and experience than producing a giclee or inkjet print. (This may be the one time in this discussion that we differentiate the analogue print from a digital print.)
Being devil’s advocate (and of course slightly biased) all a giclee requires is to press a ‘print’ button! The ink-jet printer can even be set to run automatically when no-one is around. Whereas the analogue darkroom print does require the human presence and input for creation, in addition to application of experience. Your thoughts may differ on this, why not let us know with a comment!
This, our initial look at a limited edition print run will be followed by a second part of the article where we look at, amongst others items; when limited edition prints are without question the only way of selling photo prints! The second part can be found here.
Looking forward to ‘seeing’ you again!
This has been a Hand Printed Photos production