May 27, 2022

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The Case for Open Edition Prints


There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits.

— Michael Phelps

As it turns out, print-on-demand (POD) was one of the best things in the past 100 years for open edition prints and the art business. So it’s time now to move on to allow the marketing of this incredible technology to catch up with the benefits the technical marvel has brought us.

So here goes with my thoughts as an art marketing expert on why I am against limiting digital fine art prints. It is not always easy to take an unpopular or controversial stand on an issue, especially when those pitted against you tend to get their knickers in a knot.

However, I believe this issue is too important to ignore and will continue to champion open edition digital prints because, in the long run,  everybody involved will do better as this way of thinking gains traction. The change is underway; it is not whether, but when digital limited edition prints, aka giclees, become passe.

Live Your Best Artist's LIfe
Live Your Best Artist’s LIfe

Limited editions initially arose out of necessity.

That necessity became a tradition in the art business. Now some dealers and artists have it in their heads. It makes their art “more elite,” “more marketable,” or “more collectible.” REALLY? Do the research. For every limited edition that makes it to the secondary market and sells for higher prices than initially offered, thousands of limited editions never sell out. Why bother?

Do you know you have to comply with the laws of 14 states when you sell limited editions, including sales made over the internet? Who needs that for something you might otherwise be able to sell many more at a slightly reduced price without the bookkeeping headaches of managing limited editions. This extra bookkeeping is annoying and is a hidden cost that puts a drag on the profitability of print marketing.

Buyers buy art they like, not limited editions.

I believe most art buyers make the purchase decision because they want to live with the art in their home or workplace and that limited editions are not a major buying factor. I also believe there are many dealers and galleries addicted to the notion without realizing it costs them money in the long run. Does anyone think consumers are unaware that we can reproduce digital prints endlessly and perfectly?

Why in the 21st Century are we trying to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes with digitally created and artificially limited editions?

— Barney Davey

You can still sequentially number open editions.

If you want to number them, it’s okay. Just don’t limit your prints artificially. I believe there would be some prints that were an open edition but numbered that would still find the lower numbers collectible. If you look at the crazy things in plentiful supply but numbered somehow and how the lower numbers are worth more, it is all about the collector’s mentality. The lowest number on a Delaware auto license plate was resold from the original owner to a collector for $500,000. That sounds like an absurd waste of money for a vanity collectible. Does that make sense when you can get a brand new one for standard rates? No, but collectors don’t care.

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Open edition prints give buyers what they want.

One of the most significant advantages of POD, besides no inventory, is that you can make open edition prints to order to suit the customer. This development is a first for the art business, and the industry has not picked up on the fact it can sell more art if buyers could order the size they want. So, we are missing a huge opportunity to fill buyers’ needs in ways never before possible, and it is easy.

Other art forms don’t limit sales artificially.

Show me any other art form that artificially limits how many will be sold. For example, you would laugh at recording artists who limited sales to 1,000 copies of their album or filmmakers who only let 10,000 people see a film or a Broadway play that closed in two weeks when the demand for tickets was still high. Visual artists do this to themselves when they artificially limit the number of pieces of their work.

What if Maxfield Parrish only sold 1,000 copies of Daybreak?

Other than blindly sticking to hidebound tradition and being fearful of not being capable of getting reasonable prices for open editions, is there any viable reason for dealers and artists not to favor open editions? What if Maxfield Parrish or Ansel Adams had put all their works into only limited editions? Can you even imagine what a loss to mass culture and art appreciation would have been?

Can You Have It Both Ways?

I can understand an artist creating a limited edition of a print that is also open, with the difference being the piece was hand-worked by the artist after the printing. In such a case, the artist would probably not want to make more than 100 or so prints that way. This way, making a small limited edition makes sense and is worthy of the effort. And can be done without sacrificing the ability to sell open editions of the same image.

Are digital A/Ps a regrettable marketing gimmick?

Now let’s talk about A/Ps (Artists’ Proofs) for digital prints. What the heck is that about? A way to jack up the price on a more limited edition of the same print? If limiting giclee is a gimmick, then A/Ps take the notion to another level. It flies in the face of the original idea, which was that the first prints off the press, which traditionally are Artist Proofs, would be the crispest with the highest fidelity before the plates wore down, and thus more valuable. Explain how that works with digital prints with a straight face. It’s a marketing gimmick, plain and simple.

The Guide to Art-related Careers
Learn about art-related Careers.

Later made digital prints should be better than the first ones.

The fact is artists today can improve images as they print them. That is, digital printmaking is an evolving art form. Over time, as the artist makes hundreds or thousands of prints, the process will get better. Improved printers, substrates, dyes, inks, and software — and now AI — will help printmakers produce better reproductions than the first in the batch. Not to mention the improved skills of the printmaker, too.

This evolving situation turns the whole notion of A/Ps upside down when later digital art prints stand a greater chance of being better than the first. We are living in different times. Consumer tastes are changing; we need to keep up with or be in front of their desires. I don’t see how limited edition digital fine art reproductions fit into the equation when the demand is for authenticity and transparency with a potential backlash against anything that doesn’t meet those standards.

Limited editions limit the income of the entire pipeline

Why should artists, dealers, galleries, and digital fine art printers be forced to shut off their revenue stream when a print with viral potential gets shelved because we are accountable to an old form of marketing that doesn’t make sense for anyone?

I believe you can sell a well-made, compelling, excellent image as an open edition at a fair price that approximates the cost of a limited edition. Anyone who doesn’t believe this is possible is not selling on the artist’s value and the work but is instead selling on some perceived notion of exclusivity and implied potential future value. Any seasoned art salesperson should easily transition to dealing with no discernible loss of volume or income.

Things are different now, and they are not going back – Time to get with it.

Those who continue to rely on these outdated tactics will have an increasingly difficult time in the future. It was not that long ago that many people thought giclees and digital prints were the worst things that happened to the business. Print-on-demand was one of the best things in the past 100 years for the art industry. So, It’s time now to move, so the marketing of this incredible technology catches up with the benefits the technical development has brought us.

Open Editions Prints Amplify.

When you offer reproductions of your art, whether as open edition prints or limited editions, they become valuable, marketable commodities; in doing so, you open dozens, perhaps hundreds of potential new channels to sell your art. If you worry prints will ding your reputation, stop. It only will if you let it. When you are good and determined, nothing will stop you except you. Open edition POD opens the most doors for you.

Simplify Your Art Business

Sticking with an open editions prints philosophy will take you far and simplify your life now and later. I’m on a mission to help artists simplify their lives and businesses. For these reasons, I promote using open edition prints for digital fine art reproductions. It’s simpler and costs less.

If you want ideas and encouragement to live your best life as an artist and learn how to use art marketing to match your business, I invite you to become an AMTP (Art Marketing Toolkit Project) member. In addition, you’ll join a worldwide community of like-minded artists seeking to grow their business and get the most enjoyment from their lives as artists.

The Guide to Art-related Careers
Learn about art-related Careers.



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