Managing scarcity, the artisan’s challenge

Rob_Web_2017One of the things that drives the artisanal economy is scarcity.

Those apple pies at the farmer’s market. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Scarcity is built in to the work of the artisan. There is only so much we can make. Only so much we want to make.

But sometimes, especially in an age of mechanical reproduction, it’s easy enough to run off another couple of hundred products. I mean, why not?

Scarcity, that’s why not. Scarcity is the origin of a big chunk of artisanal value. We forsake scarcity at our peril.

Mondo is a brilliant enterprise based in Austin. They began with the great idea that the movies we revere deserve better than the posters they get from the studio.

So Mondo began to redo posters. Often with spectacular results. Here are three.


Fans went crazy. Demand went through the roof. And now Mondo had to make a critical decision. Keep banging out more copies. Or obey the law of scarcity on which the enterprise was founded.

terrific essay by Germain Lussier called The Mystique of Mondo And How It’s Changing The Face of Movie Posters allows us to listen to the Mondo point of view.

Pretty much anyone would covet a Mondo Jurassic Park or Back to the Future poster, yet only a few hundred of each are made. “I hate to horribly misuse Thomas Paine’s words by applying them to collecting movie posters, but the sentiment seem appropriate here,” [cofounder and creative director Rob] Jones [pictured] said. “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” What keeps Mondo relevant is the thing that keeps them controversial: the limited nature of their work.

Justin Ishmael, then Mondo’s creative director, expanded on the theme.

‘We’ve been compared to baseball cards and comic books and shit like that and it is something to think about. We try to be very responsible. The thing that killed comic books was they took advantage. We have people saying “FU Mondo” because we don’t print more and that’s probably what happened to Marvel, Image and DC in the 1990s. We’ve seen this happen before and we’re conscious of it. We could probably sell 10,000 posters or something crazy like that but what happens when that’s all gone? It’s irresponsible to the people who like it now to go for the quick buck.

This is something special and I feel that we’re partly responsible for making this thing keep going and, if we cash in now, it’s just going to f!ck everything up. I think it’s more than just this cool thing. I think it could really make posters interesting again. People think we’re millionaires or some shit and it’s just not true. We just don’t want to ruin this thing. By doing that, over saturating, we could do that right now but we won’t do it. It’s something we’re very passionate about, keeping it pure.’

Most artisans will never have to answer the scarcity challenge. But if and when we do, it’s worth remembering the words of Jones, Ishmael and that other guy, right, Paine.

Grant McCracken

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