With online media, the market conditions are slowly but surely moving towards a meritocracy. As a result, many artists make a better living, but must now divide their time between creating art and doing more marketing.
Artists who have enough clout to go it alone, create their own online shop. Others go for art portals that actively offer artists their own marketing- and sales platform. Consider, for instance, the likes of Saatchi Online, Rise Art, L’Art Industriel, Artelista.com, Redbubble, and Imagekind.
Is the art market canabalising itself?
If you are an art dealer or other art market professional, you might have jumped to the conclusion that these sites steal business from you.
But all what the online stuff appears to do, is expand the market rather than shrink it. The reason is that it does not adhere to physical laws such as cost of prime storage space. It plays havoc to economic assumptions such as ‘scarcety’ and elasticity in demand. To make sense of it all, let’s have a look at the art market.
Enter da food chain, yo
In the past the art world consisted of 6 different art creatures. These were:
collectors, art dealers, critics, curators, auction house specialists; and artists.
In the good old days, then, a collector would not buy art unless the artist received help from 2 or more other art creatures. Most of these were excellent for an artist, because of who they knew, what they knew, and how they branded and packaged the artist.
As collectors are only prepared to pay a certain amount, a longer food chain reduces the income of the artists and increases the cost of sales — sometimes without adding much percept value
Today, however, it is feasible for an artist to bypass the middlemen. Online artists can promote themselves and sell their art direct to a collector anywhere in the world. The wonderful news is that the old and the new are not mutually exclusive.
You can argue with success, but you’d be wrong
The old world is still a stable eco-system, and it clearly works — however brutal it appears.
But its very nature is higly exclusive. The argument for exclusivity is quality assurance in the art market. The notion is not difficult to comprehend, but something very important remains unsaid.The art world attempts to exercise control over supply and demand to ensure it remains profitable to the 5 other art professions. All things equal, they would all rather be involved in fewer high value sales than higher volumes of more affordable art.
The malignant effects of the old rejection dynamics
The shere cult status of some artists creates an unhealthy contrast to the many who never had the chance. Arguably, dealers have trained eyes for talent. But they are business people and tend to go for the type of art which sold really well last year. The many rejections hamper creativity and may well filter out revolutionary new talent.
Wagging the long tail of art promotion
In contrast, the online world may be cheap and cheerful – and evidently open to all sorts of hopeful riff-raff. You can probably also forget about high end branding in this environment.
However, there is one fantastic upside. The artist can put her art out there at zero risk and little cost. Online, many mutations of art expressions are then being tested simultaneously, and the feedback is immediate. Wonderful. If the conventional galleries were shrewd, they would observe these upstarts and engage the ones who perform well in this test tube.
Ordinarily, the cruel reality of evolution is that some species don’t make it. Yet, the online world is counterintuitive in that regard. Research at Apple iTunes, and Amazon suggests that the online market simply sells more things. That even if some of these articles sell in ultra-small quantities. The phenomenon is called Long Tail Economy, and results in positive market elasticity. The expanision is explained by more conventional channels having constraints that made these extra sales impossible before. These challenges were overheads, physical space, not to mention the risk adversity of art dealers.