With the deluge of recent and forthcoming art fairs this season we have dived into analyzing the trends, figures and platforms which drive the industry. It is apparent that things are looking good for the future of the online art market, which in 2017 was at an all-time high of 5.4 billion US Dollars, up 10% from the previous year and accounting for 8% of the total value of global art sales.

Sales in the Online Art and Antiques Market

The online art market has continued to grow steadily against a backdrop of a global art market that is, according to the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report 2017, showing a far more modest increase. With foot traffic into gallery spaces diminishing, fair participation costs rising, and the ever-mounting overheads associated with maintaining a showroom, attention in the industry has shifted from the storefront to the homepage.

65% of the galleries and dealers surveyed by Art Basel and the UBS for their report The Art Market 2018 believe online sales will increase in the next 5 years, many having resorted to offering their works online, or partnering with online platforms. Whilst some more traditional dealers may still be reluctant, the harsh reality is that 2017 saw more galleries closing their doors than opening them, and an alarming 87% decrease in the number of new galleries established in comparison to 10 years ago.

However, weary dealers can rest assured because, as pointed out in the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report 2017, online buyers have proven surprisingly loyal, often buying more than one work and also showing to be increasingly confident in buying more expensive works.

Dealer's Views on Online Sales Over the Next Five Years

An article published by Bloomberg earlier this year questioned whether the fastest growing art market sector was in fact the cheapest—referring of course to the print market. Whilst their typically affordable prices have long provided new buyers with entry points into the world of collecting, limited edition prints are now according to the Bloomberg article “rapidly becoming destinations” for collectors of all budgets.

The proliferation of limited edition prints—attributed to them being increasingly seen for their investment value, to the pride associated in being able to say “I have a Warhol at home”, to the accessibility of it all—has created an enormous pool of new buyers in the market. Director of Bonham’s Prints and Multiples Department, Deborah Ripley, has alleged that for all these reasons, “high-end prints will always find buyers”; a prospect which undoubtedly makes selling limited edition prints and multiples to the international online community increasingly attractive.

UBS and Art Basel’s The Art Market 2018 reports that the vast majority of collectors value the educational experience of purchasing art online, wanting to see details about the artist, artwork, provenance, condition and exhibitions as well as the price. Curated editorial material has proven invaluable in supporting online trade by educating growing audiences of often inexperienced collectors, and by driving traffic to galleries’ homepages and associated online platforms.

This rings particularly true with younger consumers, with almost 40% of US buyers aged between 18 and 34 having discovered their purchased pieces through Instagram, Pinterest or other social media sites. TEFAF’s 2017 Art Market Report asserts that in the age of the Internet, millennials will increasingly be going online to find works of art, and that artists and dealers should be channeling their energy just there. Focusing on targeting relevant content via social media and creating a transparent digital conversation is what is needed to eventually win over traditional buyers.

With Art Basel confirming that one of “the biggest issues facing dealers in 2018 is finding new buyers”, selling through the conventional gallery model and rigidly adhering to traditional ways of doing business will prove trickier than before. Opening up to the online art world will inevitably become a must. 

By Chloe Steffen