April 26 2017

Video: Hiscox, via Art Market Monitor

Only 8% of the art market occurs (if that's the right word) online, according to Hiscox's annual online art market report. The reason why? There are many reasons, but a key one is that when surveyed, 88% of people worried about an artwork 'looking different' in real life as opposed to the image online. This of course is true; it always amazes me how much a digital image can distort a painting, for example. Scale is also hard to assess.

Will it change? There's a conviction out there that the online art market will sson grow significantly. I think there is indeed scale for growth, in terms of people transacting online (ie, bidding). But there are limits. Above all I think an online presence has to go hand-in-hand with a physical presence. Because there is always so much risk associated with buying art (condition, authenticity, forgeries) online buyers will I think always want to be comforted by the knowledge that there is company with a physical premises at the heart of the operation, with contactable specialists, and of course the ability to inspect the work in person should you wish. So it's no surprise that Sotheby's and Christie's top the online art market rankings, and companies trying to function as online-only platforms are failing, like Auctionata, which recently went into liquidation. I don't think it helps either that the likes of Auctionata often fail at the basics, like providing good, high-resolution images, as well as videos - in other words, all the things that you need to give a buyer if they can't actually physically inspect an artwork.

It's worth remembering also that new distance-selling regulations, which afford online shoppers comfort when buying items they haven't physically seen (with generous refund rights) don't apply in auctions. 

Finally, few auction houses have yet realised that in order to provide a good online art buying service you also need to provide all the other online services that people now take for granted. When I go to Amazon, for example, I select my product, and can then spend almost as much time again in selecting my delivery options, to get the product safely delivered at a convenient time. How often can you do this as an online art buyer? Not often enough. When it comes to buying art online, once the hammer falls you get sent an invoice, and then that's pretty much it. The auction house rarely wants to hear from you again, except to say that unless you organise to have your lot picked up soon, storage charges will be incurred. As my school reports used to say; must do better.

Update - I should also point out that online platforms like the-saleroom.com, Invaluable and Bidsquare have lamentable image zoom functions.  

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