Limited Editions Versus Open Editions | Revisiting the Debate

Arlo open edition vs. limited edition

There is a Place for Limited Editions and Open Editions

Occasionally, I like to come back to previous posts, such as this popular one from June 2011. I do this partly because my subscriber base is steadily growing, and also because some debates are such as limited editions versus open editions are ongoing. The decision to go with open editions or limited editions in your art career is important. It needs to be thought through carefully.

The open editions print versus limited editions print debate for digital fine art giclee prints may never be resolved.

Visual artists need a clear, comfortable stance. When it comes to digital fine art giclee prints, and fine art photography, readers who follow this blog know I hold strong opinions about using open editions for marketing them.

There is no single solution to the open vs. limited edition debate.

It’s not that I am against tradition. It’s more that I believe the arguments for using open editions outweigh those for continuing to use them.

I also am the first to admit there is no 100% solution for all artists. How could there be when there is ample evidence there are many artists who continue to market their fine art giclee prints.

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There are believable points and great examples to support both sides of the debate.

In recent days, I have been reminded of how some artists are doing well in open editions while others are profiting from limiting editions. Here is a note from fine art photographer, Jeffrey Stoner. He is a long-time follower, friend, and supporter.

“Your writings about limited vs. open edition prints were one of the deciding factors in my choice to go to open prints in 2007.  It was definitely the right decision.

Nash - open edition by Jeffrey Stoner

Nash – open edition by Jeffrey Stoner

I began a series of Angora Goat images in 2008.  There are now five in the series. The goats are part of a 10-year experiment to control the growth of Canadian blackberry bushes on the open balds.

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The balds are treeless mountaintops, and the one they are on is at 5800’ along the Appalachian Trail on the Tennessee / North Carolina border.  The goats are brought to the mountain top on the first day of summer and come back down the last day of summer.

The series took off, and the first goat image (Arlo) which I made in 2008 was my best selling image of all time with nine months. If I had limited the sales of this, and succeeding, goat images I would have lost a lot of income.

And, Arlo is still a big hit. One gallery owner jokes that Arlo will pay for my retirement. I’ve included shots of Arlo from 2008 and Nash from 2010.  I’m working on the 2011 edition to the herd.” — Jeffrey Stoner

The limited editions side of the coin has a compelling rationale to it.

One look at the work and success of Peter Lik attests to the fact that limited editions are far from moribund. The list of his galleries in top art town locations is impressive by any standards, but then so is his work.

I had a long chat with Roger Laudy, the CEO and mastermind behind Image Wizards the other day. His company is the premier provider of fine art and fine art photography printed on aluminum. The results for the right images are nothing short of spectacular. Roger listened as I laid out my argument for why I believe in open editions:

  • I’m an artist advocate, and I don’t believe an artist should have to arbitrarily cap their income by limiting how many copies of their work get sold.
  • I believe most collectors will buy open editions as freely as limited, or that the upside on the open will exceed the loss on the limited.
  • In an age of digital printing where even lightly informed buyers understand there is no real limitation to a possible number of prints produced, it seems somewhat disingenuous to be selling limited editions.
  • I have more the argument, you can read about it in this post, The Double Entendre of the Visual Artist Selling Out Redux, or get more limited editions versus open editions perspective here.

Roger is in touch on a regular basis with some very successful fine artists and fine art photographers. He made the compelling point that his best customers, those who place the most regular orders, nearly all sell their work in limited editions.

Marc Montocchio Blue Marlin - limited editions

One Second – limited edition by Marc Montocchio

He gave me the example of the fabulous oceanic photographer, Marc Montocchio, who has a limited edition print on metal of a live marlin in its natural habitat in the ocean. (Oddly, the www.occhioinc.com is not available now. I cannot tell if it is a temporary or permanent problem.)

This is a one-of-a-kind piece in that taking photographs of marlins in the wild has previously never been done. He is selling a very limited edition run of the image and stands to make a boodle doing it. You can view the YouTube video on how the image was taken here.

Ultimately, every artist will come to his or her own conclusion.

So, I get it. I can look at artists like Ford Smith, Jennifer Vranes, Yuroz, Eric Hermann, and countless more who are profiting in the limited edition market. It proves it is not an open and shut case. My only retort to such overwhelming evidence of success is to question how much money those artists lose by capping their income.

The heirs of Maxfield Parrish and Ansel Adams continue to get royalties from their estates. If these artists had opted for limited editions of their work the income from those original prints would have long ago dried up.

The ongoing open editions versus limited editions print debate.

I’ll leave it at that. As always, I know you will come to your informed decision. Two competing ideas that are both wildly successful are Art That Fits, a company owned by Larson-Juhl, the world’s largest supplier of picture frame molding and supplies. It is notably owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway group. Art buyers can browse its site and order open edition prints in a variety of sizes.

What Is Up with 2ox200.com? Will It Survive?

The other is Jen Bekman’s 20×200.com site that has sold very limited editions. It has enjoyed VC investments in the millions. While Bekman ably proved the argument for limited edition prints for nearly five years, her site is limited to a landing page collecting email addresses. I take no joy in reading this article from blouinartinfo.com: Can 20×200 Be Saved? Anger From Collectors Mounts as Leading Art Site Flounders. It does point out the difficulty any high-flying startup can encounter.

And, the limited edition vs. open edition debate goes on… and on.

P.S. If you live in the U.S., you can order a free sample kit from Image Wizards. International orders pay a small shipping fee to have the samples sent to them.

Please Wade In with Your Opinion in the Comments Section Below.

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Barney Davey

I help artists and photographers find buyers, sell more art and operate profitably.

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