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Publishing Giclee & Limited Edition Prints
Setting Edition Sizes
For more information about giclee prints, read Giclee Print & Printing Options for Artists
Q: Two years ago, I produced a series of limited edition digital prints of my art (also known as giclees). Several images have sold out, but they're still popular even though they're off the market and collectors still want them. Should I reissue them? This would, of course, increase the edition sizes beyond what I originally said they would be, but it would increase my sales and solve problems of people asking for sold out images. What are the rules here? Are they different for giclee prints than they are for silkscreens, woodcuts and other limited editions?
A: Let me get this straight-- you want to reissue a limited edition print after you already set and declared the edition size? The answer is absolutely unequivocally NO. Not only does this apply to digital or giclee prints, but it also applies to all limited editions including screenprints, etchings, lithographs, serigraphs, woodcuts, monoprints, photographs, sculptures and so on. You see, if you reissue the prints, then in the short run a handful of collectors may get what they want while you make some easy money, but in the long run you compromise your integrity, your credibility, and most importantly, the market for all of your subsequent limited editions. Potential buyers will no longer be sure how limited your limited editions will eventually end up being-- or whether they'll ever be limited at all. This kind of uncertainty can easily cause collectors to lose confidence in you, and even worse, reduce the desirability of your editions, destabilize your market, and potentially drive your selling prices down.
Furthermore, when you reissue a sold out image you essentially sell out those collectors who supported you first, the ones who bought early, ahead of the rush, and who supported you before anyone else... all the while believing that they were getting limited edition exclusives on your work. These are the people who loved your art from the start, bought your editions mainly for their visual appeal, and who weren't concerned about how popular or collectible either you or the images were. They were just plain fans. Today, they proudly display your desirable older pieces and in a sense, have become your strongest advocates. These are the collectors you should cherish and never disappoint.
Rest assured that they're not going to feel very good if their foresight and support goes unrewarded as a result of you flooding market with reissues of their favorite sold out images. You will have, in a sense, devalued their prints by once again making them easy for anyone to get. They'll feel disappointed at least, betrayed at most, and you'll likely end up with a reputation as an artist who's willing to compromise your integrity for a price-- which you seem to be on the verge of doing.
Keeping edition sizes constant and never increasing them beyond what you stated they would be in the initial offerings is unquestionably the best and most ethical way to go. Not only do you keep your market stable, but you reward your core collectors for supporting you before the masses decide they want in on the action too. New collectors who discover your art and see that certain of your editions are selling out will soon realize that if they don't buy an image while it's still available, they'll either have to search for it on secondary markets and hope they get lucky, or wait for your next new releases.
And think about this-- when you don't reissue your best sold out pieces, they often become even more desirable and in demand, often begin selling on secondary markets for more than their original selling prices, and that reflects favorably on the value not only of the limited editions you've already produced, but also on all those you have yet to produce. This is the type of market that increases the overall appeal and demand for your art and steadily attracts new collectors. In other words, you want your editions to sell out; you want them to increase in value. When this begins to happen, you'll likely end up in the most fortunate and favorable position of being able to raise your asking prices on practically every new release, based on the fact that old images are regularly selling out and continuing to go up in value on secondary markets.
So let new collectors who want sold out editions try to find them on secondary markets. Be sympathetic, but at the same time tell them that once an edition is sold out, it's history and that once you set an edition size, you will never produce another edition of that image again. Let them know that you'll be releasing plenty more great images or editions in the future and that you'll happily notify them as soon as they're available so that they can buy early and will never have to miss out again. This keeps your prices healthy, your reputation steller, and your collectors coming back for more.
If at this point you're still dead set on reissuing your most popular images (always a really bad idea no matter how you do it), at least differentiate the new releases in distinct ways from the originals. Change the paper, change the way you sign them, change a color, change the size, change something. Make those changes clear to buyers so as not to cause any confusion between the original editions and the reissues. Hopefully, these new ones won't impact the desirability of the original sold out images (though they probably will). That way, you maintain your integrity and continue to acknowledge your most longstanding loyal collectors (at least to an extent) while giving new buyers opportunities to enjoy your most popular images (at least to a degree). But know that if you do this, you risk alienating your collector base by going back on your word... even if you're only sort of going back on your word. Best advice? Savor your past victories, let them stand as-is, let the collectors fight over sold out images on secondary markets at progressively higher prices, and never look back. It's all good for you.