Screenprinters: Let’s Fix This


Olly Moss’ wonderful Totoro screen print

Recently, Olly Moss created a new poster for the movie Totoro. Totoro is one of my all-time favorite movies and is certainly one of the best children’s movies ever made. I wanted this poster. I would have hung it in the room that will one day belong to our child, so that Totoro will be there right from their earliest memories. If you’re a fan of this movie, you’ll agree that there’s no better location for such a poster.  Unfortunately, the poster wasn’t to be mine. Within minutes of the poster dropping, it had sold out. Shortly after that, this had happened:

Screenprint Speculation

It appears that a huge chunk of posters were bought not by people who love Totoro or Olly Moss’ work, but by speculators. That’s a real shame because speculators tend to ruin good things. It’s going to happen to screen printing unless we do something to stop it.

The screen printed poster is having a golden age right now. There’s an astonishing level of variety and quality out there. Scroll through OMG Posters for just a minute and you’ll get an idea. What makes this moment especially golden is how affordable these posters are. Often for under $50, it’s possible to own a piece of original, hand-made artwork. This gets trickier once something gets “discovered.” It appears that this has happened to Mondo, publisher of the Totoro poster and many other fine posters. While Mondo has kept its posters affordable, they have limited runs that are released at unspecified times on specified days. This makes them difficult for ordinary people who have lives to actually buy them. If you don’t have time to sit around all day, refreshing your browser window to find out if the print has been released, you’re not going to get that poster. These posters are so popular, if you buy one you’re pretty much guaranteed to be able to flip it on eBay for much more than you bought it for. It’s likely that many, if not the majority, of these posters are going to speculators and not to people who love them.

Mondo is just one publisher, though. There are many others out there who are doing great things. So many, in fact, that it’s only a matter of time before Martha Stewart “discovers” them and puts a link to OMG Posters in Living magazine. Then it will be letterpress all over again. Every decent screen print will be bought by speculators while the people who loved the medium and made it possible won’t be able to afford to buy the work of the artists they once supported. The market will be flooded and diluted by mediocre “me toos” trying to cash in on the latest fad. Screen printed business cards and wedding invitations will proliferate.

It doesn’t have to go down this way. Screen printers could decide right now to take a different course.

For starters, stop this “to be released at a random time” crap. Who does this serve? Is there anyone buying posters because not knowing when it is going to be released is such a thrill? No. The random time thing is just stupid, insulting, and pointless, and only caters to people who are buying the prints to resell them.

Stop manufacturing scarcity. There was a time when the signed, numbered, limited edition prints were a matter of honor. The plates that made the prints degraded with each print, so lower numbers really did mean a better quality print, and the artist would stop before the quality degraded to an unacceptable degree. However, a properly treated silk screen can last for 5,000 to 10,000 prints, far more than the 200-400 prints that screen printers usually limit themselves to. Scarcity is why speculators buy things, but it’s not why true art lovers buy art. There are legitimate reasons for doing a limited print run. Many screen printers are one-person shops, handling everything from creating the artwork to pulling the print to rolling it up and mailing it out. An artist would go crazy, and never be able to start producing new work, if they didn’t find a way to limit the run. However, there must be ways to cater to the true fans, not the speculators. Instead of random drops, how about pre-selling a run? Limit the print to the number of orders received on a specific day? Announce that day in advance. Don’t make it random. Leave a wide enough window open so people who have jobs can order. The worst thing that would happen then is that you might get 10,000 orders for a poster and have a lot of work to do. But you know, if you’re selling that print for $45, you now have $450,000 to solve that problem with. Expand your shop. Hire an assistant. That’s not a bad problem to have!

Poison eBay. To their credit, publishers like Mondo have a lot of integrity. They’ve kept their prices low even while speculators are selling their posters hours after their printed for many times what Mondo sold them for. Mondo and artists like Olly Moss deserve all the success they’re getting right now. Hard work and talent should pay off. Clicking “refresh” until you can click “buy” on something just so you can resell it isn’t something that should pay off. If a printer were to say, print an extra hundred copies and then sell them on eBay the day it dropped, with an opening bid of whatever the print sells for on the main site, it’d make the speculation a little more unattractive. There might be some complaints that it’s unfair, but you could shut that up by giving any extra profit to charity. As a buyer, if I have to pay extra to get a print I really want, I’d much rather that go to the artist, not to some speculator.

That’s just the first three things off the top of my head. I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to keep screen printing awesome. The time to fix it is now, however, while it’s still fun.