Selling prints - Limited Editions or not etc?

Discussion in 'Presentation & Marketing' started by sar-photo, Apr 16, 2009.

  1. sar-photo

    sar-photo Member

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    I am having an exhibition type thing in late May and am busy making prints for it. My uncertainty is around limited editions and pricing (of course!).

    My current thinking is to offer 3 sizes of prints (the sizes are the image size, not the paper size). All prints will be on the same type of paper...

    7”x7” – unlimited – around £20 each
    10”x10” – limited to 50 prints + 5 artists proofs – around £50 each
    14”x14” – limited to 50 prints + 5 artists proofs – around £80 each

    Are limited editions the way to go? Should the price go up as the edition sells (if it sells!)? Or am I being too precious about my images?

    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!!

    Cheers
    Simon
     
  2. dancqu

    dancqu Member

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    Limited editions but no limit on the number of editions.
    That's my thinking. Years may go by during which a waxing
    and waning of interest may occure. Price alone will limit the
    numbers in each edition. Dan
     
  3. MikeSeb

    MikeSeb Member

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    You'll get as many different answers as you'll get respondents. A lot depends on the gallery, if you're represented by a gallery; it seems entrenched among them that collectors won't buy unless editions are limited. Of course, if you're well known and have a history of selling well, you have more ability to call the tune. If you're new at this, the gallery often calls the shots.

    The plan that makes the most sense to me is to price moderately for the first prints of a given image, especially if you are not a well-known name, and escalate the price as a given print sells---say, every three or five or ? prints, raise the price by some amount. Eventually, each image will price itself out of the market, thereby finding its own natural "edition" size.

    If I were you, I'd print only a single or a handful of each image, and take orders (with down payment) for the rest. You don't want to be stuck with large numbers of unsold prints; you never know which image(s) will catch the viewers' fancy and sell, so print-on-demand is the way to go.

    I'm sure others will chime in also. Good luck--it's really exciting to watch a crowd gathered to view one's work.
     
  4. Tom Kershaw

    Tom Kershaw Subscriber

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    I'm not sure how you could sell darkroom produced exhibition prints for £20 and still make a reasonable return.

    Tom.
     
  5. MikeSeb

    MikeSeb Member

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    @Tom, therein lies the rub. I'm doubtful that the gallery-sales model makes any economic sense for the unknown or little-known photographer, minus the ego boost and the learning experience. I speak with some modest experience here; others' will differ.

    The reality is that, unless you have something of a "name" with the attendant demand it produces, the gallery sales model is simply nonviable. You cannot command high enough prices to make it worthwhile to sell through galleries, especially if you have the usual 50-50 split with the gallery/hosting venue, and especially if the photographer is picking up some or all of the tab for matting/framing out of his/her end. Conversely, if you price too high (which most people do, judging by their vast numbers of unsold prints) you'll wind up with half of zero in your pocket. While I'm sure there's the odd exception, people will simply not pay a lot for photographic works by unknowns. (q.v. Brooks Jensen on limited editions et al.)

    The challenge is to find a selling model that allows buyers to see the physical art as it will look on their walls, yet channel them through more rational sales channels, such as the web, where overhead can be far lower.

    By way of background: I've had exactly two solo shows. The first was at a large public gallery space in the lobby of a theatrical venue; my work had the highest sales of any photography show in their history, yet it was a wash financially for me and the gallery, even though I priced the work as high as I dared and then some. All of the sales but one print came on opening night. At my second show--a year later, different venue--not a single print sold. I'm sure it couldn't be the work itself :wink: ; it had to have been the venue/ lack of publicity/ bad weather/ location! Got a nice writeup in the local paper, however, and a few things happened off that.

    Not a business for the fragile ego or faint heart, eh?
     
  6. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member

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    Seems to me, if you are going to limit the editions, then you ought to LIMIT them. I don't think of 50 prints as a limited edition, and offering an assortment of sizes, one of which is unlimited won't make the larger prints more valuable in the eyes of a collector.

    My feeling is... if I'm going to limit the edition, then 10 to 15 is plenty, and I'd only offer one or two sizes. Personally, I've decided to limit the prints that I have offered for sale to 10. These are 20x24 prints with a mount and a mat, plus 2 artist proofs. I've not offered any other sizes, but if I did, it would be 16x20 in editions of 15.

    Of course, the most democratic method is to sell uneditioned prints. Price will stay lower, but you might sell more.
     
  7. Stoo Batchelor

    Stoo Batchelor Member

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    Simon

    If I were you, yes, sell your prints for £20.00 each...but...let it be known that the price is for the duration of the exhibition only, and then resructure your pricing after the exhibition has ended. As far as I am concerned, photographers in the U.K are well undervalued, and the general public want us to bloody give the things away.

    Lets say you sell out in the exhibition, and then get an order at a later date for one of your 7 x 7 photographs, would you honestly mix up some chems and head off in to the darkroom for £20.00? Thats a lot of work for £20.00 And lets not forget that it takes the same amount of time and dedication to make a print 4 inch x 4 inch as it does to make one 14 inch x 14 inch.

    Also...

    One down side to the limited edition is that it holds you back on print swops, giving as gifts etc. I limit mine to 25 prints only, no matter what size, and 5 artist proofs, but I found that if you have a popular print that is regulary asked for, you will soon run out of artist's proofs, and you have then either got to say no to the swop/gift, or give away one of your limited editions, which is quite o.k for a loved one, but for a print swop???

    Just food for thought, I hope it helps.

    Stoo
     
  8. PBrooks

    PBrooks Member

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    My thoughts have always been that the image dictates the size. Some images need to be massive others have to be kept small.
     
  9. Stoo Batchelor

    Stoo Batchelor Member

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    So true
     
  10. MikeSeb

    MikeSeb Member

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    Alas, Stoo, though I might agree it's the same here, the reality is that the consumer ultimately decides what the work is worth. You can't price your work high and "drive" the consumer to buy it. Demand for art is highly elastic, thus highly price-dependent for the great mass of potential buyers.

    Fact is, photography (except maybe the daguerreotype) has never been regarded with entirely the same cachet as other forms of one-off, unique original art. Everyone knows that a photograph can be reproduced ad infinitum with ease; hence the artificial application of "limited editions"---a concept borrowed from lithography, where the lithographic stones wore out after a finite number of impressions---and other tricks to attempt to create an air of "specialness" around the work. It's all artifice, and judging from the results for most photographers, not very effective artifice. I realize i may sound bitter here---really I'm not, but my two experiences have readjusted my concept of reality!

    Economic reality rules, unfortunately.
     
  11. sar-photo

    sar-photo Member

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    Thanks guys, this is exactly the type of debate I was hoping for!

    I like the idea of limited editions as it makes me think my work is important and may be worth a lot of money in the future! But then again, who am I kidding? (don't get me wrong, I do value my work very highly - but that doesn't mean that others will).

    So maybe I should just sell what I sell - each print will be signed and numbered but there will be no cap on how many will be produced. Then if I do happen to be represented by a gallery in the future, any new images can be printed in limited editions if neccessary.

    Cheers
    Simon
     
  12. Stoo Batchelor

    Stoo Batchelor Member

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    Without sounding bitter myself, though most probably will do, I reajusted my whole out look on my photography recently. After my most recent exhibition, many people, both friends and visitors to the exhibition, told me that I was underselling my work, and that I should consider upping the prices. I knew that by doing this, the chances of selling any photographs would dwindle. I had to sit down and have a good long hard look at the situation, asking myself where now with my photography? before making any decisions.

    Fortunately for me the decision was quite easy, mainly because I make a bloody good living from driving a truck through the night, so my bills are paid for. The prices of my photographs went up overnight, knowing that the chances of selling them in the U.K market, or any market, would be very slim. And do you know what, I don't give a **** I feel a release, because I know now that if someone buys one of my photographs, it will be going to someone who really values what I and many others here are trying to do, and also that I feel that I will be getting a fair price for my time spent in the darkroom.


    Stoo
     
  13. Andrew Moxom

    Andrew Moxom Subscriber

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    It's a good way to look at it Stoo. I know myself and others are in the same spot. We've had some success in selling images, but what next? How do you judge and justify the prices. You must accept that you may lose money by making editions and hiking the prices up. The main idea here is that you must come over as a photographer and not just a hobbyist. If you can do that when marketing your work, I think it helps progress things. If you are underselling work, it can be detrimental as people associate it with cheap and mediocre work and expect more of the same... That's what I've experienced anyway. Like you say, you have a regular job. I have heard this many times from people I truly respect that do this as their main avenue for employment, and I always hear "Don't quit your day job!" Like a lot of visual artists, it can be a case of feast and famine. Usually the latter and occasionally the former if they have managed to gain some notoriety along the way.

    I look at it the way you do though. I have a regular job (fingers crossed though with this economy!) I do price my work lower than what I would expect an established artist to get, but not as low as to make the purchaser think it's a commodity and mass producable item. If I can sell some work along the way and use the proceeds to offset materials and occasionally help out financially to acquire more equipment or tools, then I am fine with that. Now my time is another thing. To make photographs, I view that as downtime/relaxtion at this point as it is enjoyable. If my living depended on it, then it would be a different story. Then would I enjoy it as much? Doubtful.... If I could be lucky enough to get gallery representation, then obviously the prices will go up due to their commission of which 50% is not uncommon! Then matting, framing. It all adds up as an expense to the artist that has to be passed on or you are down on the deal.

    Having editions is the way to go with a gradually increasing price as the edition progresses.

    YMMV, and just my .02 cents.
     
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  15. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    I believe David Vestal wrote a column on this subjec several years ago and to sum it up. Galleries want the editioned prints and he didn't. So the prints that go to a gallery are and he also sells non editioned prints. Not of the same image. I believe he sells more non editioned prints than he did the limited over time.
     
  16. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    I am a hobbiest. I enjoy making prints and showing them to friends and family but, I don't even dream of selling them....ok, sometimes I'll do a portraint shoot for fee but, I don't think that's the same as the "Fine Art" market.

    As a hobbiest, I greatly appreciate the work of real artists and do buy from time to time. I earn a decent living as a programmer and don't mind spending some of it on art. I have paid much, much more than 20 quid for some photos and have no regrets. As a buyer, I am exceedingly put off by and tend to completely avoid the "Limited Edition" prints. To me, this is a...well, it is a marketing gimick. If a work is worthwhile...it is worthwile. It should not and really does not matter one iota whether there are ten copies or a thousand...the value is locked up in the viewers response to the art not in the dumb marketing gimicks. I buy art that moves me...based upon an emotional response not upon some marketing gimick. When I see art advertised as "limited edition" I am immedately put off and any emotional response I might have had is tainted by that repulsion to the marketing...


    my 2cents...
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 16, 2009
  17. Kerik

    Kerik Member

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    One suggestion: Shoot wet plate collodion or daguerreotypes and your edition worries are over. Sometimes it's hard to let go of those 1/1 images, though.

    Another thought: I'd rather not sell a print priced at $500 than sell ten for $50 each. I put way to much to much of my life into my work just to sell it just for the sake of selling it. But, like others have stated, I have non-art income that pays the mortgage and college tuition for my kids.
     
  18. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    My experience:

    If you limit your editions you will sell more than if you don't. 10/10 sold is more satisfying to me than 2 of infinity, and printing ten of one image is enough for me anyway. Just don't price them like your already famous and dead, and don't make the edition a ridiculous number that is the same more or less as an open edition. That said, your bottom price is too low. If someone likes it enough to buy it in the first place, they will very likely be willing to pay more than that. JMO.
     
  19. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council

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    Another vote for editions of 10, maximum. Do you REALLY want to print that same image dozens and dozens of times? Also, by doing editions of 10, you reduce the potential for variations between prints. If you want people to value your work, raise the price, because they won't value it if you don't.
     
  20. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser

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    Not to be a downer, but you took the words right out of my mouth Andrew. Sounds like Stoo has had a healthy photographer's epiphany as well. People that are hobbyists and rank amateurs always dream about making their living from their work. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. Many try and some succeed, but it is a far fewer number than anyone might think. The sad fact is that if you're in the position where the expensive and time consuming passion of photography is your hobby and you've got a table full of great lenses and cameras you've been able to collect over the years, DO NOT quit your day job. No matter how gifted you are, unless you are extemely fortunate, you will never live the life you are currently living. If you are able to sell one or even a few prints, you are lucky and should be very happy.

    I always tell people to take their current salary and imagine how many $50 dollar prints... even $500.00 prints you would have to sell in a year to match it. It's a great dream and I wouldn't have it any other way, but the reality of it all is more than most are willing to deal with.
     
  21. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    At this years rate I doubt my 2009 prints sales will make it onto my tax return. It's currently that good.
     
  22. Barry S

    Barry S Subscriber

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    I recently saw the results of study that showed no difference in the selling potential between editioned and non-editioned prints. I agree, that if you're editioning, a maximum of 25 prints and a few APs are the limit. Nothing looks dumber than a mediocre unknown showing a 2 of 200 print. I've been in some shows where the gallery specifically requested editions and I normally do it, but I'd like to move away from it--just so I don't have to keep any records. I don't make more than a few prints up front--I'm a terrible predictor of what actually sells.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 16, 2009
  23. bill spears

    bill spears Member

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    Thing that I find most annoying with printing an edition run is, after, say 10 prints of a particular image which I'm really pleased with ..... I'll look at the prints several weeks later and be unhappy with them, then return to the darkroom and reprint them much better. Then the same thing happens again .... and again !!
    Considering it could take me several days to produce a fibre print from start to finish - when you take into account all the washing, toning, drying, flattening, mounting, framing etc....... I'd have to charge silly high prices just to break even !!
     
  24. Stoo Batchelor

    Stoo Batchelor Member

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    Simon

    which ever way you decide to go, may I wish you well with your exhibition, and be sure to list it here in the Forums.

    I think that having your own exhibition is probably the most frustrating, while at the same time, rewarding thing you can ever do. I would say that all the hard work and worry that goes in to it in the weeks/months prior to the show, are rewarded with the knowledge that each and every person who puts their nose up to the glass of one of your framed images, has made a very conscious effort to be there. And even if you do not sell one photograph,(though I am sure you will) the comments and feedback alone make it all worthwhile.

    Best

    Stoo
     
  25. glaiben

    glaiben Member

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    Anyone tried the novel approach of a limited edition...of 1....and include the negative with a hole in the center? Price: what the market will bear.
     
  26. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    Let's not go there.