In 2021, Almost All Art Collectors Buy Art Online
This article is part of “Art Collecting 2021: An Artsy Report.” To download a PDF of the complete report, click here.
In 2019, Artsy produced “The Online Art Collector Report,” which examined the behaviors of collectors who bought art online as a subset of the broader community of art collectors. At the time, online sales accounted for just 9% of the entire art market. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most in-person art world events transitioned to digital-only affairs, and purchasing work online became the only way for many collectors to support artists and their galleries, participate in auctions, or attend fairs. Online art sales more than doubled in value year over year to make up a quarter of the art market in 2020. Now, in 2021, every art collector is an online art collector.
Supporting artists and their galleries, participating in auctions, and attending art fairs means, by definition, using digital tools to discover, research, acquire, and sell artworks. This was especially true over the past year, when health and safety measures brought on by COVID-19 forced most of the art market’s tentpole in-person events, like major auctions and fairs, to happen exclusively online. Artists kept contact with their audiences and reached new ones through social media and other channels. Galleries, forced to close their brick-and-mortar spaces, redoubled their digital efforts or, in some cases, moved online for the first time—holding virtual exhibitions, building online viewing rooms, investing in programming on online marketplaces, and more. These activities are now integral parts of the art world.
To better understand how collectors are navigating the art market online, Artsy surveyed art collectors about their online habits, preferences, pet peeves, and more. For the purposes of this report, we defined “collectors” as the respondents who said they had purchased art multiple times and who had spent at least $10,000 on art in 2019 or 2020, or expect to do so in 2021. This cohort included 765 of the survey’s 2,290 respondents. Within this pool of collectors, we also looked more closely at the collecting behaviors of people who started collecting in the last four years, whom we call “Next-Gen Collectors.” This cohort includes 139 respondents, representing about one-fifth of the overall collector group.
One thing is clear from the responses: Collectors see their online activities as inseparable from and essential to their experience of the art market.
- Over 83% of respondents said they have purchased art online at least once, a significant jump from the 64% who reported doing so in 2019.
- The internet also became an increasingly important channel for driving offline purchases. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) said they’d made in-person purchases of works they’d first discovered online.
- More than half of respondents (57%) said online art marketplaces allowed them to discover new artists or works that they eventually bought (whether online or offline). By comparison, less than half (40%) said social media had been an essential tool for discovering new art and artists.
Despite the art world’s widespread shift online over the past year, many long-held habits in the art industry continue to restrain the market’s expansion, most notably the lack of price visibility. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (62%) said the lack of visible pricing was one of the most important factors preventing them from buying art online. Such information imbalances, whereby a small number of industry gatekeepers control price data and have the power to decide who does and doesn’t get the opportunity to purchase works, were standard practice in the art industry for the last few decades and kept the market confined to elite groups, putting a ceiling on its growth. But these practices are increasingly out of step with buyers’ needs and expectations. On Artsy, the number of works uploaded with e-commerce functionality, which requires a visible price, increased 120% year over year in 2020. And we’ve seen that works on the platform listed with visible prices are five times more likely to be acquired than those without.
According to Clare McAndrew’s “The Art Market 2021” report, the online art market more than doubled in value year over year, from $6 billion in 2019 to $12.4 billion in 2020. Opening up historic barriers to entry and understanding the expectations of Next-Gen Collectors will be essential to accelerating the growth of the art market as a whole and to providing greater support to artists and gallerists.
- Among respondents, 83% said they had purchased art online, up from 64% of collectors in our 2019 survey. Online art market participation was even higher among Next-Gen Collectors, 91% of whom said they bought art online.
- More than two-thirds of collectors (68%) said they bought as many or more works of art in the previous 12 months than in a normal year. Among Next-Gen Collectors, 56% said they’d bought more works in the past year.
- Among Next-Gen Collectors, about 44% said they’d purchased fewer than 5 works of art in the previous 12 months; 31% said they’d purchased 5 to 9 works in that time; 16% had purchased 10 to 25 pieces; and 9% purchased more than 25 artworks. These numbers barely differed from the buying patterns of the wider respondent base over the same period, of whom 40% purchased fewer than 5 works of art; 30% purchased 5 to 9; 17% purchased 10 to 25; and 9% purchased over 25.
- More than half of collectors surveyed (58%) said they had used an online marketplace such as Artsy to purchase art, up from 41% in 2019.
- Online art marketplaces were the most popular place to discover art and artists online, just ahead of auction houses and gallery websites or viewing rooms, and well ahead of Instagram.
- Among Next-Gen Collectors, 64% said that they prefer to find new artists on their phones. Next-Gen Collectors were also more likely to purchase art from their mobile devices: 56% said they prefer to buy via an app or mobile website on their phones.
- Nearly two-thirds (62%) of respondents said the lack of visible prices was a hindrance to buying art online. This was even more pronounced among Next-Gen Collectors, 71% of whom said it was a roadblock to purchasing art online.
- More than a quarter of collectors surveyed (27%) said they had sold or consigned works online, and another 34% said they plan to. Among Next-Gen Collectors, only 18% of respondents said they’d sold or consigned works from their collections online, but a larger share (43%) said they plan to.
- Only 5% of survey respondents said they’d purchased an NFT, while another 9% said they plan to. Next-Gen Collectors are somewhat more engaged with NFTs, with 9% saying they had bought an NFT, while an additional 10% said they plan to do so.
- More than two-thirds of collectors (67%) said one of their main reasons for buying art was to build a collection; 58% said it was to decorate their space; 47% said supporting artists was a principal motivator; and 46% said they collect to be inspired. Another 42% said investment was one of the main reasons they collect art.