While these days it may be commonplace in virtually every industry for goods to be bought and sold with a click more often than with a handshake, the art market has remained more conservative in adopting digital technologies. But, this is changing. The online art market has grown at breakneck pace in recent years. According to figures compiled by The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) in Maastricht, 4.7 billion dollars of art was traded online in 2015, a year-over-year increase of 7 percent. Most sales still occur at the low end of the spectrum, between 1 000 and 50 000 dollars, with prints, photography, and painting the most popular mediums. But many art market players are betting on that changing as well. The space is a competitive one, with legacy innovators like Artnet, the nearly thirty-year-old price database and online auction house, going up against more recent entrants like the newly combined team of Paddle8 and Auctionata to bring the gallery, art fair, auctions, and art media worlds online. The platforms vary in their strategy. Artsy invests in a more tech-minded marketplace approach, providing a platform for museums, galleries, and auction houses to display (and in the latter two cases sell) art. Paddle8 and Auctionata take on and sell their own inventory. All are banking on the fact that the over 60-billion-dollar art market will continue to expand beyond its traditional centers. As the art market is increasingly democratized, buyers of all stripes peruse the available inventory of works by their favored artists with the scroll of a mouse rather than on foot. In large part, art dealing remains a personal affair, conducted in the back rooms of galleries, across tables at art fairs, and in the salesrooms of major auction houses. There will be a significant contingent of collectors for whom the online art buying experience can never replace the opening day at Art Basel or the thrill of the salesroom floor. But especially as young art lovers mature, the ease of access to new artists online will certainly see the sector grow.
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Alexander Forbes is a New York based art writer and critic, currently serving as Artsy’s News Editor. Prior to relocating to New York, Alexander was based in Berlin as the European Editor for artnet and German Bureau Chief for Louise Blouin Media.