Ends of lines - editions about to sell out

What is our Endangered Prints gallery all about?

When customers were first able to buy prints online from NZ Fine Prints back in 1999 one of the first galleries we created almost on a whim (and definitely with a whimsical name) has become one of the most frequently visited pages at Prints.co.nz - up there with NZ's currently top selling prints and what's new most months in page views.  It's rather odd name (endangered prints) has stuck so perhaps the high traffic to this collection is due to the puzzling listing on our galleries page being clicked on by curious first time visitors!

Quite simply the endangered prints gallery lets print buyers know which prints are in danger of selling out. 

When we sold through mail order catalogue pre internet this impending deletion/selling out was impossible to convey, so we would have to drop a print completely from our range if we forecast that there wasn't enough stock to cover sales expected for the length of time that the catalogue was current. 

Some customers find it curious that both limited and open edition prints can go out of print - and ask why can't we just print some more if the print is not from a limited edition?  So in this article we'll talk about how both kinds of prints become endangered and then at the end of the post you will find our list of prints that have made it onto this list over the past couple of months.  It's a cliche but true when we say to please buy now to avoid disappointment...

Limited Edition Prints

About to sell out - Tony Ogle's Anaura Bay print
Editions by their very nature are not going to be available forever.  NZ's most successful printmakers long term - for instance Tony Ogle, Dick Frizzell & Shane Hansen - keep a balance in the market between new artworks being made and older editions selling out.  This is a seperate issue from "edition size creep" where printmakers with sold out editions early on sometimes begin to increase edition sizes to a number that is simply too big for the New Zealand market to absorb over a reasonable length of time (in our view 2-3 years).  Top NZ printmakers like the artists above produce 2-5 new editions a year and sell out a similar number of earlier editions annually (see for instance a list of Tony's sold out editions by year here). This means the market for their work is kept in balance, preserving both the purchasers investment and keeping the artist's income at level that sustains their art practice.  This is not an artificial way of squeezing supply - making a large print takes weeks and even months after all - it just prevents an overhang of unsold prints developing over time if supply is greater than demand.

We have found that there is a U shaped demand for original limited edition prints.  There is high demand at the beginning, collectors of an artist's work are keen to add the new print to their collection, sometimes a scramble to secure a favourite edition number from the edition and simply the fact that you can be the first to have a cool new print on your wall drives early sales.  In the middle of the sales cycle print sales will settle down to a regular (and surprisingly steady) monthly sales figure until around 80% of the edition is sold out.  Then demand rises steeply, higher than at the beginning of the limited edition sales cycle, as buyers who have been pondering a purchase are forced to make up their minds and the very fact that this edition is proving it will sell out brings the more financially minded collector to the party.  When we are down to less than 5% of the edition being available the print goes into the endangered gallery.  Some artists increase the price as the edition starts to sell out too!  Knowing which prints are going to sell out creates real value for our customers and we are adding new limited edition prints to the endangered gallery every few weeks. 

Open Edition Prints

Reproduction prints also sell out.  Although technically they can be re-printed there are actually a host of reasons why this may not happen with a particular image. In no particular order...
  1. Most people who want a print of painting x by artist y now own the print and it is not economic to re-print again. The NZ market is tiny, short print runs are the order of the day.  However printed offset a print may still be printed in a run of 300+ prints.  Selling one a week for six years will probably meet the demand for a reproduction of a painting by most NZ artists.  
  2. The artist's contract with a publisher has expired, not been renewed or suddenly ended in acrimony!  Commercial publishers pay artists a royalty on each print sold (not the number printed), traditionally these were offset prints done in longish runs (up to 1000) and contracts stipulated that the publisher could keep selling prints until all physical stock was sold. However with digital (or print on demand) production when the contract (between 1-3 years) comes to an end for whatever reason the tap turns off pretty quickly.  We might have just one print left - or a pile on the shelf if it's a good seller - but either way we'll put the image into the endangered collection as we can't re-order it anymore.  This doesn't mean that the prints are suddenly more valuable, collectable etc, we are just signalling to print buyers that this image is about to go out of print - just like a book - and won't be available again unless it's on the secondary market (eg Trademe or auction).  It usually won't be available again and even in the rare cases the same image is re-printed later by another NZ publisher the format can change significantly between printings. For instance Mickey to Tiki has been printed in four different iterations, all in slightly different sizes and on changeable paper stock since it was first printed by the Christchurch Art Gallery from a print in their collection, followed by Image Vault (who dropped the 5/50 edition number that had been on the original print and was fatefully included on the initial reproduction), then Dick's World (they added the title and artist in the Frizzell font below the image and changed to a lighter paper stock) and soon it will be published by 100 Percent NZ as an A2 poster.
  3. We lose touch with an artist.  Yes, this happens even in the age of Facebook and LinkedIn!  We might purchase from our less mainstream suppliers as little as once a year, then when we re-order the artist has retired, moved or even passed away.  Then all the prints we have left from this artist are moved into the endangered category. 
  4. Publishers and distributors close down.  In just the last couple of years NZ has lost Thorndon Fine Prints and Stanford Arts.  We try and buy at least a couple of years supply of stock if we know this is about to happen but eventually we start to run out and the prints go onto the endangered list. Sometimes an artist whose work has been distributed by another company (like Timo) will get in touch, other times we just have to delete the print from our catalogue if we can't find a contact (we'd love to hear from you Ingrid Banwell).
  5. A self-published artist changes their mind about having prints made.  When a visitor to an artist's studio likes a painting but doesn't actually want to buy it a polite way to say no is for the prospective purchaser to say "if only there was a print of it,  then I'd buy one of those instead".  A few people saying this does not mean that there is demand large enough to make a print run viable. An artist can produce a few (expensive due to the small print run) test prints and find that these do not sell as fast as they expected.  The price is too high and their work perhaps not well known for a visitor to NZ Fine Prints to search for them by name.  Unless the subject has a wide appeal a print can get lost amongst 2500+ titles in stock and the artist loses heart and doesn't continue beyond the few prints initially sold.  Not all artists are as downcast as one who asked us to withdraw stock in July (despite us still having a few prints to sell) and then delete his name from our catalogue as "I have had a hard time being an artist and I don't think I will go down that line too often now.  I am so sorry but it is art that does not like me."!
  6. The print is deleted by the publisher for unknown reasons.  This is frustrating for us, particularly if the print is a good seller.  For non-NZ artwork we can usually find another supplier eventually, for instance we are out of Durer's "Hare" and Breughel's "Tower of Babel" after our Italian publisher deleted these ever popular prints from their catalogue but we should be able to substitute these with the same image from a publisher in the UK shortly.   For a NZ artist this is usually the end of the road - however we will actually publish a print ourselves if we think that something should be available even if it is not a mainstream commercial print (eg C.F. Goldie's famous portrait "A Good Joke" or Colin McCahon's key work "Northland Panels").
  7. The print is no longer available in all formats.  This is becoming an issue, an
    Canvas art print no more - paper version only
    artist may withdraw a print on canvas, but keep a print on fine art paper in production.  For instance painter Graham Young's kiwiana scenes such as his popular print of Auckland's Garnet Rd Dairy will only be available on paper going forward (despite the canvas version selling 10 to 1 compared to the paper version). We wonder if this is due to artists whose original paintings do not sell for much more than a stretched canvas print finding the competition from virtually indistinguishable reproductions a tough sell - particularly if they work with acrylic paints as they are really hard to tell apart from a printed reproduction.

Here is the list of prints that have had to be added to our endangered gallery over July and August.  The number of prints available to buy is the quantity we had in stock at 24 August 2016.  Link now broken? The print has sold out. 

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