The art world to be irreparably changed by e-commerce

May 5, 2014

Many industries have already been irreparably changed by the arrival of e-commerce, online merchant gateways and digital debit card and credit card payment processing pages.

Many industries have already been irreparably changed by the arrival of e-commerce, online merchant gateways and digital debit card and credit card payment processing pages. Now it seems another industry – one revolving around high-value items – is going to be changed, as well: the art scene.

For instance, Steven Murphy, chief executive of auction house Christie’s, recently spoke to The Wall Street Journal about his plans to transition his company into one that does a large percentage of its business online. The process has already begun: Christie’s sold a number of works by iconic artist Andy Warhol online last year, though they did retain a number of his “major” paintings for auctions at a physical location. 

“Christie’s was able to provide major [Warhol] paintings at live auction at evening sales, other works at day sales live, then other works in large collections of lesser-priced works online,” Murphy explained to The Wall Street Journal.

However, it’s unlikely that lower-priced paintings will be the ones listed online for long. Murphy went on to note that he expects a “surge” in online art sales during the next few years – suggesting that “major” paintings will likely soon be sold online alongside lesser-known works.

“The potential for growth for Christie’s is exponential because of the number of active buyers and interested buyers,” Murphy continued, while speaking with the news outlet. “And online provides us with the means of connection with them that is far more facile than bricks and mortars. Last year, was our proof-of-concept year. We had 60 online-only auctions of various categories. It was a year we didn’t task our team with doing huge numbers. This year begins the real surge.”

Murphy’s feelings, in conclusion, were made very clear to the news outlet: the art world is soon to be shaken up by the internet in the way that the retail and music industries, among others, already have been.

“I felt the art auction world had not experienced the tidal wave that music, video and books experienced with the advent of online,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

Recent study supports the theory that online art sales are soon to become much more popular
Another recent study further illustrated how quickly the art world is growing to adapt to e-commerce. According to a recent report provided by Reuters by British insurer Hiscox, the total value of the e-commerce art market is expected to reach higher than $3.75 billion sometime in the next five years. That’s more than double the amount that the online art market is currently worth, according to the report. This backs up the comments made by Christie’s executive in regards to the rapid growth of the online art market.

Robert Read, Hiscox’s head of fine art, explained to the news outlet that the field is expected to increase in size and worth as many young art collectors begin shopping within the field by way of the internet. He expects many of the individuals buying art online in the coming years will be new individuals who had not previously purchased art via auctions or other means – illustrating the way that e-commerce can allow vendors and retailers to connect with consumers who would never otherwise purchase their products. 

“Young collectors are looking for art work which is easy to buy and available at a wide range of prices,” Reed said to Reuters. “Online art platforms cater for all tastes and budgets, but are particularly effective for those just starting to collect – opening up the art market in a way that is hard to replicate in the real world.”

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