Scarcity is key when it comes to selling art via social media. You need to understand what would force a potential buyer to act immediately and make a purchase. Will it be a print that is available in unlimited quantities for a long period of time? Or will it be a print that is only available for a limited time in limited quantities?

When you visit the websites of some really successful, high growth artists, you will see that they have nothing available. Everything is sold out and there’s a little notice saying “I’ve got nothing available at the moment but sign up to my newsletter and you’ll be first to find out when I do”.

You know at that point that they’re already winning in the scarcity game because they are starting to train people who like their work that they will have to act fast to acquire it. So the next time they release a print and you’re on their email list, you will receive their newsletter. If people realise that the print is going to sell out fast then they won’t think about it, they’ll jump in and buy and almost all of the editions will sell out from the first newsletter the artist sends out. However if you make an open edition without any time-limitation on the availability, you just stick it on your website then obviously that’s going to be available forever and if people can put off that buying decision they’re probably going to. You will see far lower sales for a given amount of traffic if this is the way you sell your art online.

The reason why this matters is that buying art is a hard decision to make, and it is one of the most discretionary purchases you could ever think of. You’re going to live with that piece of art on a daily basis. That’s the point of it. It’s going to be on your wall. You’re going to live with it. People are going to ask you questions about it. It’s going to be an example of your taste, your aesthetic. It has to go with your room. You have got to have a place to put it. You’ve got to decide what size you want it in, what size is the best, do you want it framed or you’re going to take it to your local framer? There’s a lot of decisions to make! 

So if you’re in a passive mode on social media, scrolling away and you see some art from someone you follow and you tap through and see open edition, then taking all those decisions in a passive state is hard and you’re only going to do it if you feel like you’re going to miss out by not doing it. Otherwise you’ll think about coming back to it but of course you never do come back to it.

We strongly feel that for selling art online, open editions that are available forever will be a struggle. Limited editions are better, but this only introduces scarcity if the potential buyer sees them selling out fast, in days from release. A great way to manufacture scarcity and urgency is to do time-limited print drops, and potentially even better timed drops with limited editions of the print or prints that are available. Let’s just make some definitions to be 100% certain here:

  • Open edition – a print with no limit on the numbers that can be produced and sold by the artist
  • Limited edition – a print with a fixed limit of numbers that can be produced at that size
  • Timed edition – an edition that can only be sold between two specific dates and never again
  • Timed drop – a fixed start and end time for the availability of the print, but this does not necessarily mean it can never be offered again.

So limited editions can be combined with timed drops, and if you don’t sell out, the prints could be offered again some time in the future. We would not advise that time frame being less than 9 months however, and ideally it should be greater than one year. This is because your audience will start to see your timed drops as a sales tactic if you offer the print again a few months later.

In summary, when we see people with 100k followers who have 100 pieces of art on their site, editions in three sizes, 100 of each, they’ve effectively got 30,000 pieces of art! Where’s the scarcity? Where’s the urgency? So when the buyer has got to really work to make this decision, find their credit card, fill out the details, and decide what they want to buy, then an open edition, without any kind of time limitation is not going to force them to do that. They won’t do it, or they might intend to but as there’s no need to do it right now, they are likely to forget about it.

Updated on 13 March 2024

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