why I don’t sell limited editions

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, photography is an open edition art form. 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. Nearly every photographer I admire, going back to Ansel himself, uses open editions. It’s just a natural medium for photography.

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

Third, it just doesn’t make business sense. My goal is not just to make art, but to make a living from my art. Which means, making money from your art. Whenever I create a new piece of  art, I never know which will become my next “big hit” and sell really well. If I artificially limited the number of pieces I could sell, it would simply limit my opportunity for making money (and a living) from my more popular art. Which takes money away from my family, and hurts my ability to be a professional artist.

And last, limited editions confuse the market. There is no one definition of what a “limited edition” is, so the art buyer may easily be confused or misled. For some, a limited edition means that no more than 5 to 10 pieces of the art will ever be printed, in any size. Others limit their editions, but start a new edition for each size printed, or each print medium used. This lets them call an edition “limited” but lets them never sell out, since they can always just release a new “edition” at a slightly larger size, or on a different kind of paper. And for others, editions can be “limited” to ridiculously high levels — 50, 100, or even more prints — quantities that will never sell out. All of these conflicting definitions only confuse the market and in the end can mislead the art buyer. Owning a “limited edition photograph” can mean almost anything in the art world — and therefore means almost nothing.

Some argue that limited editions are more attractive to collectors, because they are better investments. But if you want collectibility, you can buy Pokemon cards. If you want an investment, you can buy stocks. However, if you want art — let’s talk. None of my collectors (I love ’em!) have ever been concerned about limited editions, edition size, print order, or anything. They tell me they buy my art to make it a part of their lives and home, not for its collectibility. I believe there’s no better way to be a patron of the arts, than by supporting an artist’s ability to earn a living from their art, unimpeded by artificial limits.

7 Comments

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???

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.

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!

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.

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.

Leave a Reply