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Over the last decade more and more has been written about the impact of the internet on the art market, with varying levels of generalisation and assumption.  A flurry of start-ups has been vying to take the lead in this new area of an age-old market, but a recent report by Hiscox shows that it is Christie’s and Sothebys who are emerging as leaders in the online art market, even though they were initially slow to embrace internet sales. The recent demerger of Auctionata and Paddle8, and subsequent filing for insolvency of Auctionata, reflects continuing challenges for new online players in the market when it comes to gaining a share of the market, and perhaps the trust of customers, something that is impossible to win quickly without the security of a long-running, global brand and reputation.

The Hiscox report states that Christie’s online business increased by 34% in 2016 from $162m to $217m, while Sothebys grew 19% to $155m. Overall the online art market showed a growth of 15% in 2016 to $3.75bn which accounts for 8.4% of the whole art market. Of course, these aren’t all ‘new’ sales; a sizeable proportion is likely to be existing clients choosing to bid through the convenience of new online channels.

Despite the increase, there has been limited growth in higher value works bought online, with the majority selling for less than $5,000 – and often in categories of multiples like photographs, prints, collectibles and wine. If internet sales are going to move more consistently into higher price brackets, the struggle for businesses will be dispelling online buyers’ concerns on condition, authenticity and lack of physical inspection.

The report can be found here

Next week sees the launch of ‘TEFAF New York Spring’, and with it the publication of another online market report, this time sponsored by Invaluable.


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