The internet offers the visual art market great potential for growth and change. Currently, online sales make up just 1.6% of total global sales, but this is set to change. In the past couple of years millions of dollars have been invested in online sales platforms. In 2013 Artspace received $8.5m (£5.2m) of investment, Paddle8 received $6m (£3.6m) of investment – backers included Damien Hirst and Jay Jopling – andAmazon Art was launched.
A change in how art is sold has historically played an important role in the expansion of the art market. The salons helped expand the art market in the 19th century, the commercial galleries in the 20th century and now the internet has the potential to help expand the art market in the 21st.
With an expanding art market, we're not just seeing changes to how art is sold, but also changes to what art is bought, why it is bought and by whom. Online sales platforms are providing some very exciting answersto these questions. The ability of online art platforms to empower the public as tastemaker is an example of one such change, one which has many positive outcomes: for the public, who will be able to refine their judgements of art; for artists, who desire a level playing field; and for culture, which will become far more representative of all society, not just the curator classes.
The internet is a great opportunity for emerging artists and buyers to enter the visual art market and shape its development. Social media, art sales platforms and individual websites – they all offer something different. Here are five top tips to help artists get started in the new and rapidly expanding online visual art market.
Don't confuse networking platforms with sales platforms
Online sales platforms are designed to generate new sales from new clients, whereas individual artist websites and social media platforms are essential networking tools, designed to help manage existing clients. Social media is rarely considered an outlet for the purchase of art, and the websites of individual artists are becoming increasingly inconspicuous on the web.
Keep working with the traditional offline art market
Never undercut established gallery market prices online and don't use the internet to offload inferior work. Online activities are not an alternative sales tool, but an additional sales tool to complement and support enterprises offline.
Be proactive and spread your options
Join a variety of different online sales platforms. They offer great convenience and choice to art buyers, much like art fairs, but they all operate slightly differently and so appeal to different art buyers for different reasons.
Saatchi Online takes the idea of a gallery online, Axisweb provides a fantastic industry networking tool, and Visual Art Trader – a site that I founded – is an online art network that appeals to local audiences. There are plenty to choose from, so shop around.
Online sales will never replace face to face sales
According to a report by ArtTactic and Hiscox, The Online Art Trade 2013, of those not buying art online, 79% said it was because they couldn't inspect the artwork before purchase. Continue to exhibit artworks in as many offline spaces as possible, including your studio.
Keep information detailed and up to date
There are no sales teams online to answer buyers' questions. Buyers must rely on the up-to-date and accurate information provided by the artist. In the ArtTactic and Hiscox report, 92% of art buyers said that the quality of the artwork image and the information presented on the website were the most important factors when buying art online.
Chris Grant-Peterkin is founding director of Visual Art Trader – follow him on Twitter @VisualArtTrader
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