why I do open editions

by     /    June 18, 2010   

I don’t sell my art in limited editions. It’s a decision I made when I first started as an artist, and one I stand by. Here’s why:

First of all, nearly every photographer I admire uses open editions. It’s just a natural medium for photographs. Limited editions make total sense for many traditional art forms, where the master image degrades with each printing. But one of the pleasures of photography is that you are not limited in the number of prints you can make from a negative. And this is even more true with digital photography where the master file never degrades.

Second, my technique and skills are constantly improving, as is the technology I use.
Whenever I make a print, it represents the best I can do at that point in time. But every year, the software I use gets more sophisticated. Every year, my ability to use those tools gets better. Every year, I learn new techniques and get better at old ones. And because of this, every time I revisit an old photograph, it gets better and closer to the vision I originally had for it. If I limited my editions, this avenue for growth would be shut down, which would be unfair to both me and the buyers of my art.

Third, it just doesn’t make business sense. Limiting editions would just limit my potential for making money. And my goal is not just to make art, but to make a living from my art. Artificially limiting my ability to do this is just taking money away from my family.

Some argue that limited editions are more attractive to collectors, because they are better investments. But you want collectibility? Buy Pokemon cards. You want an investment? Buy some stock. You want art? OK, let’s talk! No one who has bought a print from me has ever asked about limited editions, edition size, print order, or anything. They buy the art, not its collectibility.

Added April 6, 2012:

Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer reports on another example of the inherent problem with limited editions. William Eggleston himself is getting sued by collectors who believe some recent reprints devalue their older LE purchases.

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Comments on 'why I do open editions'

Dianne Poinski  (June 18th, 2010):

This is such a great topic for photographers.

Getting closer to my original vision for an image is what makes learning new skills and mastering equipment and new software so exciting for me.

I also read Barney Davey’s article so I have been giving this topic a lot of thought. My question is – what do you do if you have been limiting your prints up to this point? Do you simply stop or just begin with new images, while leaving older ones as part of a numbered series???

Daniel Sroka  (June 18th, 2010):

If you released a photograph as a limited edition, and have sold any of it, you need to honor that edition. One an edition has a sale, the edition size is locked. You made the edition part of the value of the piece, so changing it reduces the value of their purchase. If none sold howver, then you can change it however you like. The same goes for prices.

Dianne Poinski  (June 18th, 2010):

Thanks Daniel! That’s what I thought, but you did a great job of explaining it.

Maria Brophy  (June 19th, 2010):

Daniel, I’m glad this topic came up. I’ve been debating this recently and though I know, logically, that limited editions are just marketing ploys that are outdated, I still hear compelling arguments from people who are stuck in the belief that they are worth more.

But in the digital age, things are different. Thanks for sharing your views on this!

Daniel Sroka  (June 19th, 2010):

Maria, thanks for dropping by my blog – I greatly appreciate yours and all the advice you hand out so freely.

You know, there probably are some valid arguments for limited editions that might make sense for some artists. If so, I hope it works for them financially as well as creatively. But it’s not for me.

Mark  (June 24th, 2010):

You must be a mind reader or there is something in the air, because I was thinking of this very thing when working on a recent print. It was an older image – so I pulled up the master file and instead of going right to print, I started tweaking it a bit with some things I have learned since I last worked on this particular photograph. The end result is that it is subtilely changed, but I like it better.

If it were a limited edition, I would feel too confined to put any new knowledge in the closet to preserve that original printing.

pamela viola  (July 25th, 2010):

well said!