by Tanya Singh
The idea that art market is based largely on scarcity is what drives many artists to produce their works in limited editions. This creates an environment where buyers are likely to pay higher prices for pieces they know to be rare or more difficult to come by. This, in turn, is based on the guarantee that the artist will not produce additional runs outside of the set number. Not only are limited editions considered superior among buyers but can also be more beneficial to an artist.
However, as an artist, once you decide to produce limited editions of your work, how do you decide on the actual number of images? Knowing you could never go back from that decision, no matter how popular the piece becomes or how quickly it sells out, could make this decision very difficult. In this article, Agora Experts share tips on how to come to a final number that is right for you.
For Limited Edition Runs, Scarcity Drives Value
The equation is simple – the more limited the edition is, the more valuable the piece. However, producing a limited editions run is not always possible or even advisable for an artist, particularly one in the early stages of his or her career. A well established artist can choose to produce his work as a limited edition of only five pieces and still profit as much as he would for a hundred original prints, but for an emerging artist this tactic would not work at all. Many artists agree that having a larger number for your limited editions run is a wise measure at the beginning of your career.
Having said that, one must also keep in mind that it is disingenuous to create a “limited edition” of an enormous number simply to create a false sense of urgency for potential buyers. Most emerging artists tend to choose a number between 200-500. This way, your limited editions run is not too small to hamper sales and just big enough to interest and satisfy your buyers. Ideally, the number for a large limited edition run should not exceed 850.
Consider Physical Size
There are other measures you can take to get the best out of your limited editions run. One way to expand your run could be to break it down according to size. An artist may choose to have a few different sized limited edition runs for the same photograph or artwork. For example, a photographer may decide to print a total of 100 editions of a work that are 8×12 in size, 50 editions of the same work that are 10×15 and 5 that are 16×24. As long as the artist is absolutely transparent about the different sizes available, this is an acceptable practice.
It is recommended to include this type of information in a Certificate of Authenticity or at the very least, to disclose it verbally. It could also be mentioned in writing on the artist’s Bill of Sale or elsewhere.
Useful Articles: What to Consider When Making Limited Edition Prints
A common practice regarding the same process is having a larger number of prints for sizes that are smaller. For example, if a limited edition print is available in two sizes – 4×6 and 16×24, more often than not, the number of prints in the 4×6 limited editions run will be much larger than in the 16×24 run. This practice increases the number of buyers that would prefer to buy a smaller print while retaining the exclusivity of the larger pieces for buyers that can afford it.
Note: An artist may NOT crop an image from an existing work, reprint it and call this “new” image a different edition. This practice is considered ethically wrong.
The Right Size for You
If you do not want to produce a limited edition run in the single digits but would still like to keep your editions small enough to attract buyers, consider making your edition just large enough so that you can continue to sell for a reasonable amount of time and are able to eventually sell out. Trial and error is often the best way an artist can arrive at this number because it varies for different artists depending on their outreach and popularity. A good place to start could be somewhere between 150-250.
Look at your peers and see how many pieces they are limiting their editions to and what the price range is. This will obviously vary tremendously from artist to artist, but if you keep your eyes open and begin to take note you will eventually have a good set of criterion that you can apply to your own work. If you find that you are selling out faster than you originally thought, you can raise your prices and decrease your number with confidence.
Rodney Graham, a Canadian artist best known for his conceptual photographic works, can be used as an example here. Graham started his career in the late 1970s. In 1990, he produced a limited editions run of 500 for his Oxfordshire Oak work. Within a few years his works became quite popular and he was chosen to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1998. His limited editions run for the photographic series Welsh Oaks was very well received at the Biennale. Each of the works in the series was limited to only 2 editions. The highly sought-after artist decreased the number of editions a great deal after reaching the peak of his career. The entire series of limited edition prints was sold at almost $200,000 in 2013.
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Keep Price in Mind
The price is another important factor to keep in mind when considering producing limited editions. There are ways in which you can use the price to increase the interest of buyers by modifying the prices depending on the situation.
A variety of factors can impact pricing within a set limited edition:
- If a limited edition run of 50 pieces has been set and the work begins to sell very quickly, the price of the remaining pieces can be increased to match what the market is willing to pay.
- Even if the work is not selling out at the speed of lightning, it is a common practice to set the prices higher for the last few editions remaining.
- The prices will also be different for different sizes of the same work. In this case, too, the prices can be marked up at any point of time, depending on the traffic and demand.
Useful Article: How To Price Your Artwork
The Importance of Staying Organized
While it may be the last thing on an artist’s mind, staying organized and keeping proper records is very important. When producing a limited edition, it is very easy to get confused with the different sizes or different prices. You must get into the habit of maintaining simple records for all your limited edition runs. Excel Spreadsheet is a good tool that could be used for maintaining these. Keep clear records on the number of pieces created and the number of pieces sold and at what prices. It also helps to add a small thumbnail image of the work along with the piece title.
Note the details of the buyer for future reference as well as the dates concerned with the process. It may be tempting to rely on galleries to keep this information for you, but the reality is that such information must be furnished by the artist himself so as to keep track of any discrepancies. You can also use this information to follow up with buyers. A great way to increase your sales is keeping the already interested old buyers informed about your new works with the help of Social Media or Artist Newsletters.
Artist Proofs – An Exception To The Rule
The only exception to the rules regarding limited editions runs is in the case of Artist Proofs. An Artist Proof is, in theory, an initial print taken in the printmaking process to see or check the printing state of a plate while the plate is still being worked on. Simply put, it is essentially a test print that an artist puts his signature on. The number of Artist Proofs varies from artist to artist, however, this number must not be more than 10% of the limited editions run. Most artists keep only 1-2 Artist Proofs for all their editions.
These prints belong to the artist alone, however, it is advised that the number of Artist Proofs be disclosed to the buyers. They may not be sold as part of the limited editions run and therefore, do not contribute to the final number. Some artists choose to keep these prints for themselves. However, they can eventually be sold as individual works at a later time and at a higher price. They are marked as “AP” or “HC” for the French term “hors de commerce” which translates to “outside of business.”
You can learn more about Artist Proofs from our previous article, What To Consider When Making Limited Edition Prints.
It is important to remember that there are no hard and fast rules concerning the number in a limited editions run and the number is completely up to you. However, you must keep all these aspects in mind to come to a decision which is suitable for you and for your work. This is a learning process that all artists must go through and, through trial and error, you will get better at determining what is the right number for you.
Do share with us how you decide on a number for your limited editions run or if you have any questions regarding the process.
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Tanya Singh is a budding art historian and writer. She is currently pursuing her postgraduate studies at the LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. With a versatile portfolio, she has over three years of experience in writing as well as editing.
This post is also available in: Spanish