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Author Topic: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?  (Read 14950 times)

Mark Lindquist

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The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« on: November 04, 2017, 10:08:04 am »

Coming on the heels of the “certificates of authenticity”  thread, a dilema has surfaced in our country that threatens our rights as photographers.  Here is the controversy:

There are many arts organizations that now require editions, or serializations of photographers, and refuse participation for non-compliance.  In this regard, what was once a choice for photographers is now becoming a hard and fast rule, based on views of “proper conduct” which have become far more than strict guidelines. 

An example is the Scottsdale Arts Festival application that clearly states:

“Digital Art: Any original work for which the original image, or the manipulation of other source material, was executed by the artist using a computer. Work in this category must be in limited editions, signed and numbered. Photographs taken created using a digital camera should apply in the photography category. 
Also:

“ Photography: Photographs made from the artist’s original image and printed either by the artist or under his or her direction are permitted. The photographic process must be displayed, and each edition must be signed and numbered. Photographs printed on canvas are considered reproductions, and must be marked as such while on display.  Printmaking: Hand-pulled original works from a block, plate, stone or other object. Prints must be signed and numbered as limited editions.”

So what was once a marketing choice (to either do signed or numbered editions or not) is no longer being left up to the photographer but rather dictated now by many arts institutions nation wide.

This, in my view, infringes upon artistic freedom.  And so now we have arts organizations acting similarly to Salons which dictate entry via regulation.  As this authority continues to creep and wends its way into galleries and museums, eventually we might all need to become certified by guilds in order to exhibit.

I believe that the concept of signed, numbered editions is outdated, based on a previous useage of the print industry and will if required and enforced, seriously stifle forward movement in digital photography’s quest for art world acceptability.  That is NOT to say that the use and employment of the use of this strategy is not acceptable, rather it should remain a choice. I believe in a “live and let live” approach to art, as opposed to any kind of regulation other than copyright law.

Business sales strategies and artistic freedoms have often been at odds historically.  When I had a show of sculpture in Paris in the mid-eighties, the minister of culture was called in to pronounce whether the work was craft or fine art, which would have significantly affected the taxation values.  Luckily, there was a poster done for the exhibition which simply stated Mark Lindquist: Sculpture.  He simply pointed at the poster and shook his head, waved his hands and said: “there you have it”.

My personal views of signed, numbered editions aside, I believe we all should be able to freely choose how we wish to present our work.  Ultimately the marketplace will become the arbiter of the decisions we make.  Are we currently losing our freedoms as photographers to regulations, or is this simply a matter of “boiling a frog” (the story of gradually turning up the heat until the frog is unable to escape the pot).

I don’t mean to re-open the arguement of editions/numbering verses not doing so, but rather our right as photographers to make our choices freely without being penalized.  Could there eventually be a “black list”?

Good luck showing “unique” prints in the future.  What will they do if only one image is ever printed on canvas.  It has been stated that all works printed on canvas are considered “reproductions”.

Isn’t it about time to revisit the conversation about what a digital print currently is or can be, without imposing restrictions and limitations leading to regulations?

Mark


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dchew

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2017, 10:57:34 am »

Mark,
I am on the cusp of taking my photography business to the next level. One of the things holding me back is this issue. The most prominent show in the area requires editions; I don’t have limited editions and don’t number my prints. There are two things holding me back from doing so: 1) I don’t want to, and 2) my processing and printing skills are not good enough to fix a stake in the ground and keep an image unchanged for an edition. I am at Wayne’s “artist’s proof” stage.

I presume these organizations require limited edition’s because they still associate it with a higher quality, or at least higher value product. That will be a tough perception to dispel.

Just one question: are you sure this is a trend? I mean, it is becoming more prevalent with time? Your post implies this did not used to be the case, “So what was once a marketing choice... is no longer being left up to the photographer...”

Dave
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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2017, 11:38:55 am »

Mark,
I am on the cusp of taking my photography business to the next level. One of the things holding me back is this issue. The most prominent show in the area requires editions; I don’t have limited editions and don’t number my prints. There are two things holding me back from doing so: 1) I don’t want to, and 2) my processing and printing skills are not good enough to fix a stake in the ground and keep an image unchanged for an edition. I am at Wayne’s “artist’s proof” stage.

I presume these organizations require limited edition’s because they still associate it with a higher quality, or at least higher value product. That will be a tough perception to dispel.

Just one question: are you sure this is a trend? I mean, it is becoming more prevalent with time? Your post implies this did not used to be the case, “So what was once a marketing choice... is no longer being left up to the photographer...”

Dave

Rather than answer your questions personally, Dave, I refer you to an article written by Alain Briot:

Alain Briot’s Article on numbering prints

( https://www.beautiful-landscape.com/Thoughts88-Numbering%20prints.html )

He deals with this subject in a very interesting article saying much more than I could.

Best,

Mark
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Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #3 on: November 04, 2017, 11:48:44 am »

Mark, my friend, I don't see what the issue is. You (we) are still free to limit our editions or not. You (we) just can't use other people's marketing venues, e.g., art fairs, salons, galleries etc., that require limiting, but have our own or choose those that don't require limiting.

As for "unique" prints, you can always limit/number them as 1/1, even if canvas.

It is undeniable perception that scarcity is linked to higher value. You'd have to fight that human perception first, then tackle salons and art fairs.

Mark Lindquist

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #4 on: November 04, 2017, 12:05:32 pm »

Mark, my friend, I don't see what the issue is. You (we) are still free to limit our editions or not. You (we) just can't use other people's marketing venues, e.g., art fairs, salons, galleries etc., that require limiting, but have our own or choose those that don't require limiting.

As for "unique" prints, you can always limit/number them as 1/1, even if canvas.

It is undeniable perception that scarcity is linked to higher value. You'd have to fight that human perception first, then tackle salons and art fairs.

Hi Slobodan,
Thanks for weighing in, and I agree with most everything you have said.  My point is that if choosing to Not number and limit print editions, there is a penalty for it, meaning NO participation in these venues, which I have pointed out are increasing as the perception that editions are a qualifying requirement, implying any other method is less than “bonafied”.

I really don’t have this problem personally because so far, I seem to have enough sway to buck the system, and I don’t choose to participate in art fairs to sell my work.  But I see this trend creeping deeper and deeper into the system of institutions as a whole, more and more, as a standard, which means gradually, options are being significantly limited.

But you are right.  For those who object, just don’t participate in those venues with those rules.
Pretty harsh, considering this was not nearly the case even 10 - 15 years ago.

Ciao!

Mark
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JeanMichel

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #5 on: November 04, 2017, 12:59:08 pm »

Ever since Fox Talbot, photographers have been able to make multiple prints of their images; that was the whole point of his discovery.

Guaranteeing a limit of the number of prints means destroying the original negative, or today destroying the original file. Few photographers feel a need to or are willing to do that destruction. For example, you could buy original Edward Weston images printed by his son Cole, until Cole died. I am not sure if Cole Weston has authorized any of his heirs to continue printing Edward's or his own images. On the other hand, Edward's son Brett destroyed his negatives at some point in order to not have further prints made from his negatives.

The whole idea behind photography is to fix an image and be able to reproduce it at will. A lot of effort has been made in order to make this possible: Keeping notes in the darkroom, or producing print files today. 

Limited editions are quite meaningless. "This edition is limited to the number of available customers". There is no need to fret about that issue, just make an edition whenever you feel like or are asked for one. In the case of the Scottsdale Festival, one could edition a "1/3, Scottsdale Edition" or some other similar silly numbering.

Jean-Michel
« Last Edit: November 04, 2017, 04:14:01 pm by JeanMichel »
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32BT

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #6 on: November 04, 2017, 03:27:56 pm »

There are basically two options:

1. the technocrat solution:
limited edition price x limited number of sales
should be greater than
unlimited edition price x unlimited number of sales

taking a cue from the average technocratic society: unlimited works better. Particularly reduce your standards to the absolute bare minimum, then lower them some more, and then work on brandperception. Erode the planet of its natural resources, then crap the planet with packaging and productionmaterials. Buy a big V8. Two is even better. You need to drive your "worthwhile" prints to shows. Your significant other may still need to run errants. Buy a large mansion with several bathrooms and guestrooms with multiple aircos running full.
You'll be living the dream...

2. the artist solution
it takes one image and one print to tell the story.
you destroy the image since you don't care for it because you're already working on the next story.
the print will only be sold after your demise, at which point the price will comfortably buy the owner of christie's auction houses a Lamborghini (V12), and he's already running multiple aircos in his auction houses.

It sometimes makes sense to leave the crapping to people with less conscience...
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Mark D Segal

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #7 on: November 04, 2017, 04:26:23 pm »

Mark,

I think what you're seeing is puffery deployed to the advantage of high-margin marketing by creating scarcity in a medium that by its very technical nature is the antithesis of scarcity. There's nothing new about this. Take the 19th and 20th century world of "original lithographs" - how often have you seen it stated that "said litho is number x of an edition of X, where after the stones were destroyed".  Those galleries and institutions aren't charities - they're in it for the snob appeal and the money because they have a clientele that will pay big bucks for the allure of uniqueness, let's make no mistake about it. People who don't want to play that game will have to sell their stuff in ways that don't encounter such constraints. There's nothing illegal about it - as far as I know at least on this continent they have the right to define the kind of product they'll carry.
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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #9 on: November 04, 2017, 06:00:07 pm »

It's good!
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BobShaw

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #10 on: November 04, 2017, 06:00:20 pm »

It is undeniable perception that scarcity is linked to higher value. You'd have to fight that human perception first, then tackle salons and art fairs.

First rule of sales -
Perception is reality.
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Mark Lindquist

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #11 on: November 04, 2017, 06:11:23 pm »

Mark,

I think what you're seeing is puffery deployed to the advantage of high-margin marketing by creating scarcity in a medium that by its very technical nature is the antithesis of scarcity. There's nothing new about this. Take the 19th and 20th century world of "original lithographs" - how often have you seen it stated that "said litho is number x of an edition of X, where after the stones were destroyed".  Those galleries and institutions aren't charities - they're in it for the snob appeal and the money because they have a clientele that will pay big bucks for the allure of uniqueness, let's make no mistake about it. People who don't want to play that game will have to sell their stuff in ways that don't encounter such constraints. There's nothing illegal about it - as far as I know at least on this continent they have the right to define the kind of product they'll carry.

Nice of you to comment, sir.  In my recollection, and I do have a minor in art history, the destruction of printing stones was because after x number of strikes, the image began to degrade, hence the finalizing of the “edition” and destruction of the stones because further printing would produce sub standard results. Hence earlier edition numbers were viewed as more valuable since the image was most clear, directly after artists proofs. The tradition had reason for the practice, hence the inherent scarciity involved inevitably in the process.  It’s a good thing that you began at the beginning of the historical roots of this ideology which carried through, ironically to wet process printing, which once in full swing, unlike digital printing of which you are one of the chief technology advocates, relied upon a static technique that for the most part did not change throughout its relatively short-lived ride in the anals of historicity.
Denial exists in the hearts and minds of even the most ardent of digital proponents who would continue to avert their eyes from the plain truth that in practice, digital processing/printing technology changes daily, as evidenced by those who resolutely report volumes on new papers, new printers, new techniques for processing, etc.  It is a driven industry in the throws of technological explosion, and quite often a print made just one year later could be and often is superior to what was done just 6 months earlier.  Artists that limit themselves to editions that may sell out quickly may be limiting opportunities to create better and better works that could improve vastly through these technological achievements that come as frequently as the articles written by those who report them.

I do take issue at being lectured regarding art world business practice, snob appeal and the like, particulary having been an artist for over fifty years making a living at it, with a 25 year retrospective half way through at the Smithsonian, and works in the collections of well over one hundred major museums worldwide including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Dallas, Houston, Boston, Philadelphia, SanFrancisco, Detroit, Chicago, and far too many states to name, museums of fine art, in addition to the Victoria and Albert Museum of Art, London,with corporate collections in Bank of America, Hewlett Packard Wide Format, Barcelona, and many many more, having exhibited in Paris, Japan, and several other countries abroad.  I am conversant in the language of art world snobbery, and do recognize puffery and hustle when I see it.  Although not an every day occurence, I did finish and install a $50,000 photographic commision of a diptych and a triptych last year.  My work regularly sells for 5 and 6 figures.  Recently Yale University Art Museum is rumored to have paid 6 figures for one of my sculptures from the early eighties.
I work in a 15,000 sq ft facility bought and fully paid for by the sale of my art work. I’ve put two sons through ivy league colleges who were each National Merit Scholars, all through the sale of my work.

You are correct, all organizations and institutions do have the right to legally define and carry the “products” they see fit.  And as demonstrated, there are some who in spite of the ever encroaching infringement on the rights of artists to freely express themselves while being unregulated is possible without caving to arbitrary rules that certainly no longer apply as once initiated.
 
Not many in my experience, however, which in comparison to most dilettantes is vast and far reaching.

Thanks for your comments sir.

Mark L

« Last Edit: November 04, 2017, 06:18:18 pm by Mark Lindquist »
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Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #12 on: November 04, 2017, 06:54:10 pm »

I think it is worth noting that limiting one's edition today does not prevent new editions in the future, when new, better techniques become available, as the recent Eggleston court case proved:

Quote
If you sell a number of prints of a photograph as a “limited edition,” should you be allowed to later reprint that photo in a different size, format, or medium and then sell the new pieces as a new edition? Apparently the US legal system believes the answer is “yes.”

https://petapixel.com/2013/03/31/judge-dismisses-lawsuit-against-photog-oks-reprinting-of-limited-edition-pics/

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #13 on: November 04, 2017, 07:18:52 pm »

My work regularly sells for 5 and 6 figures.

You're selling un-editioned prints for those figures? Wow!

(My experience of art collectors is that they like photographic prints to be in very tight editions.)
« Last Edit: November 04, 2017, 07:22:46 pm by elliot_n »
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Mark D Segal

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #14 on: November 04, 2017, 07:36:06 pm »

.............

I do take issue at being lectured regarding art world business practice,
Mark L

Mark,

I know your background and I know about your success, for both of which I have a great of respect and I'm not lecturing you about anything. Quite to the contrary, I fully understand your point of view on these practices and was simply trying to get behind the logic of why they happen especially in the context of the digital era. I regret if this was misunderstood as some kind of personal attack, which most certainly was not the intention. Now, speaking objectively, are you disagreeing with my diagnosis that especially in the light of unlimited repeatability of excellent prints created with digital media, the phenomenon you remarked on is being driven by an effort to enforce scarcity in order to sustain high value. Or am I being too cynical?

Mark
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Mark Lindquist

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #15 on: November 04, 2017, 08:49:24 pm »

Mark,
Now, speaking objectively, are you disagreeing with my diagnosis that especially in the light of unlimited repeatability of excellent prints created with digital media, the phenomenon you remarked on is being driven by an effort to enforce scarcity in order to sustain high value. Or am I being too cynical?

Mark

Mark, I can’t comment about whether you are being cynical or not, that’s up to you.  Speaking objectively, sir, I really think on the local level, regarding institutions, it has more to do with perceptions of controlling quality, equating signed, numbered editions as the hallmark of fine art and a badge of quality, for the purpose of providing some sort of “standard of accountability” in order to participate within the framework of institutions seeking to elevate their standards (which they attempt to to by controlling perceptions).  Artists and galleries may employee this sales technique to attempt to create a commonly held perception that editions signify greater value, therefore if signed and numbered, the prints must be better, if they are better, they are more valuable.

When institutions or arts organizations graduate and become accredited as museums, there may be guidelines in place that stipulate photographers adhere to these standards which ultimately are put in place by professionals, people, actually, who believe honestly that signed, numbered, editions carry more weight, and even “museum heft” than “un-pedigreed” prints.  It is really about perception, which if the print appears bonified, the institution carries more credibility.  Even if the concept is a carryover from a former era, which has no longer any substance in relation to the beginnings of its history.

So the answer is yes and no, as far as I can fathom. This system can be taken advantage of, but there are those who believe in it and ascribe wholeheartedly to it.  I don’t worry about it personally, because as I said, I have enough sway to avoid the issue mostly, but I really just don’t like seeing regulation creep.  And I don’t like presumptions based on facts not in evidence.  Just because it’s the way things have been done in the past a certain way doesn’t mean they always have to continue that way.

Just as Dave Chew remarked, he is denied access to certain events because he is not comfortable doing a numbered edition at this point.  This is a significantly honest response to an evergrowing issue, and I personally just don’t like the way arts organizations are now dictating terms to artists because of all the issues I raised previously.  So no, money doesn’t always play into this issue.  For many, there is only what is perceived as a “right way” of conducting business.  Even if misguided, outdated, what-have-you.  And for others, there is no choice because sometime in the past rules were set in place to assert control and adherence to standards.

I feel bad for photographers starting out, or even in the case of David Chew who is most accomplished, yet would be forced to accept the “play by our rules or you can’t participate” situation.  What I object to most is how folks just assume it is better, and if it is better, then it must be more valuable.

I stand with all artists, all photographers who want to make their own decisions about how they will present their work.  I am here to say that it is possible to do so.  Of course, anyone can manipulate the system, play games, like putting 1/1 on a canvas print, make up arbitrary situations and numbers for editions in order to be able to participate, but, you know, I just don’t like it.  Like Steiglitz and Adams we all start out as innocents, until, unlike them, we may be forced to comply to survive. 

Thank you Mark -
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Mark D Segal

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #16 on: November 04, 2017, 08:55:55 pm »

I agree with all of this. You are most likely correct that the underlying motivations are a mixed bag - part money, part tradition, part creating ambiance and perception, part just a sense of "how it should be". Perhaps after all, money is not the root of ALL evil - just some of it!  :-)

Cheers,

Mark
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Mark Lindquist

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #17 on: November 04, 2017, 08:56:45 pm »

I think it is worth noting that limiting one's edition today does not prevent new editions in the future, when new, better techniques become available, as the recent Eggleston court case proved:

https://petapixel.com/2013/03/31/judge-dismisses-lawsuit-against-photog-oks-reprinting-of-limited-edition-pics/

Very interesting article Slobodan.  This does point out the high stakes side of this issue, for artists, galleries, museums and auction houses.  I would not like to go into court with the uncertainty of what might or could happen.  I would not want to go to court over it period.  The extreme, which this is, does amplify the issue in every respect.  Most thought provoking.  Thank you.
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Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #18 on: November 04, 2017, 09:24:25 pm »

...the phenomenon you remarked on is being driven by an effort to enforce scarcity in order to sustain high value. Or am I being too cynical?

Not cynical at all. That is a simple truth. There is no other reason for limited editions, other than that. Alain Briot got it wrong, in my humble opinion: it has nothing to do with "if signed and numbered, the prints must be better, if they are better, they are more valuable." It is not about being "better" or quality, it is about scarcity. Of course, there has to be quality to begin with, you can't just limit crap and expect it to be seen as valuable. 

I keep hearing another argument, that digital, thanks to its ability to print practically unlimited amounts, make limited editions obsolete. I see it quite the opposite: precisely because of the possibility to have a gazillion copies (Ikea, anyone?), limiting it, even if artificially, makes perfect sense. We humans are hardwired to crave something unique. From mating partners ("till death do us part"), to pieces of art. Uniqueness and scarcity is why an original painting is worth millions, and a practically indistinguishable forgery of the same only pennies. Anyone with a lady in their life must have experienced it at least once: when two ladies appear in the same dress at an event, chances are one (or both) will go home to change. Or it is going to be a tabloid fodder the next day.

Now, if you are already famous, there is different way to enforce scarcity: high price. As in Ansel Adam's case. I once walked into a gallery in Jackson Hole, to find AA's "Moon over Hernandez" selling for $100K. It doesn't have to be limited, any buyer knows there aren't that many people in the world who would pay that much.

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Re: The future of printing: will we lose our rights?
« Reply #19 on: November 04, 2017, 10:10:04 pm »

I had this discussion with Jerry Uelsman about 15 years ago. He has probably sold more prints than any of the world famous art photographers I've ever met.. He said he doesn't believe in limited editions and he doesn't want any gallery telling him when and who he can sell a print to .  He thinks it is unnatural for photography to do it. And this is a guy who may use 4 or 5 enlargers to make one single print and they are super complicated to make consistently, but he does it. Whenever he feels like making a print and selling it he does. It hasn't stopped the big galleries from selling his work and making good money on it.




Not cynical at all. That is a simple truth. There is no other reason for limited editions, other than that. Alain Briot got it wrong, in my humble opinion: it has nothing to do with "if signed and numbered, the prints must be better, if they are better, they are more valuable." It is not about being "better" or quality, it is about scarcity. Of course, there has to be quality to begin with, you can't just limit crap and expect it to be seen as valuable. 

I keep hearing another argument, that digital, thanks to its ability to print practically unlimited amounts, make limited editions obsolete. I see it quite the opposite: precisely because of the possibility to have a gazillion copies (Ikea, anyone?), limiting it, even if artificially, makes perfect sense. We humans are hardwired to crave something unique. From mating partners ("till death do us part"), to pieces of art. Uniqueness and scarcity is why an original painting is worth millions, and a practically indistinguishable forgery of the same only pennies. Anyone with a lady in their life must have experienced it at least once: when two ladies appear in the same dress at an event, chances are one (or both) will go home to change. Or it is going to be a tabloid fodder the next day.

Now, if you are already famous, there is different way to enforce scarcity: high price. As in Ansel Adam's case. I once walked into a gallery in Jackson Hole, to find AA's "Moon over Hernandez" selling for $100K. It doesn't have to be limited, any buyer knows there aren't that many people in the world who would pay that much.
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