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The art industry is at a crossroads. Never before have more people been engaged with art, thanks to the rise of digital channels and social media. Yet the market has largely stagnated over the past decade
, and the number of artworks trading hands has decreased. As value has concentrated at the top of the market
and costs have risen, galleries and auction houses are looking for new ways
to ensure their businesses survive and thrive, to support artists, and to help connect collectors with artworks they love.
Many common business practices in the art industry are being questioned. Do galleries need a permanent physical location
to hold their exhibitions? Does an auction house need a live auctioneer in a physical salesroom to sell high-value works? Business-savvy leaders across the industry are undertaking nuanced analyses of how many art fairs their gallery should participate in, what categories their auction house has the best opportunity to win within, what the evolving needs of their collectors are, and how to best take advantage of new sales channels as they develop.
Among those new channels, online sales have been key areas of focus for many actors across the industry who are aiming to grow their businesses. At Artsy, we’ve seen 58% year-over-year growth in the volume of sales on the platform from our 3,000+ gallery and auction house partners. Meanwhile, industry leaders like Gagosian, David Zwirner, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips have all meaningfully increased their investments online.
A core driver of this investment—from the industry’s titans all the way down to the newest gallery to join Artsy—is a need to connect with and cultivate new collectors. But who are these online art collectors, and how can the industry better serve them? To try to answer these questions, we surveyed nearly 1 million active Artsy users and received 5,807 responses, including 3,993 from individuals who collect art. In many ways, the results shatter the perception that individuals who buy art online are some drastically new breed of collector—dorm-room billionaires or flippers speculating on contemporary art’s next market darling. By and large, they look like the passionate, art-obsessed collectors that the art world already knows well offline.
However, there are ways in which online art collectors’ preferences and needs differ from the traditional perceptions of people who buy art offline. These digitally savvy collectors have grown accustomed to immediate access to information on the internet, are frequently inclined to undertake independent research, and are more likely to contact a gallery or auction house only after gaining confidence in the artwork they would like to buy and the artist who created it.
Some online art collectors have been in the market for over 20 years and have migrated a portion of their annual acquisitions to online channels, but the majority of online collectors are much newer to the market. Those with the least experience often said they find the offline art world intimidating, and have gravitated online as a result.
Collectors who transact online want public access to artwork prices and desire accurate estimates and price comparisons in order to get comfortable stretching their budget to buy a work that may be at the higher end of what they can afford. They expect from the art world the same speed and professionalism they’ve become used to from the new cadre of digital-first brands that have gained their trust.
This report unpacks these similarities and differences, and lays out several ways the art industry can evolve to better serve the next generation of collectors. At Artsy, we are not unbiased bystanders in creating a better digital ecosystem for galleries, auction houses, and their customers. But it’s important to note that while the collectors represented in this report conduct a portion of their transactions online, they’re just as likely to transact offline.
By better understanding and supporting these online art collectors at every step of their journey, we will benefit not only the online art market, but the overall health of the art market, as well—and provide more opportunities for artists.