Jeff Bezos Takes on Tradition with Amazon Arton October 8, 2013 at 5:41 pm
Posted In: Art
Art is the next stop for Amazon. First, Apple revolutionized selling music online. Not long after, Amazon did the same for books. Etsy made an online industry out of crafts and, of course, eBay has dominated any number of e-commerce markets.
The next creative space set to be shaken up by the irresistible influence of digital is also one of the most rooted in tradition, that of fine art.
The surest sign of this next disruption is the recent introduction of Jeff Bezos latest brainchild, Amazon Art. The presence of the almost prophetic entrepreneur in any industry is a signal that change is coming, as demonstrated by the rampant speculation in the publishing industry following his acquisition of the Washington Post. Subsequent statements from Bezos have quelled initial fears, but the future is clearly a transitional one wherever he gets involved.
Adding to this expected online transition for the art and collectibles sector is the rise of plucky start ups, aiming to corner the market before the mainstream becomes aware of it. One look at the growing popularity of sites like Artsy, which already lays claim to more than 50,000 pieces of art by 11,000+ artists, and the longstanding European site ArtNet, shows a sector beginning to blossom with opportunity. These smaller sites also demonstrate a competitive edge that they hope will allow them to outmaneuver the sheer size that Amazon brings to the market. Artsy’s new app for mobile devices is a case in point, focusing on the ability to view pieces from various angles and at high resolution, much as a visitor to a gallery would choose to do.
This highlights one of the main hurdles to any tech entrant in this sector, in that visual art is perhaps one of the most difficult forms to translate to the online environment. It is rooted in the physical. People visit galleries and exhibitions to view work, basing the decision to buy on how a piece makes them feel in the moment, rather than as an online whim or as a singular culmination of earlier research. This may help to explain why it has taken longer for online start ups to move into this creative field, when others like music and books have already established firm digital business models.
Asking art purists about the move online also yields similar concerns, though perhaps more deeply rooted in the entrenched traditions of fine art. Question marks such as integrity, experience, and expert advice are all raised as factors lacking in the services offered thus far. These are not dissimilar to the complaints raised in other creative fields, of course, shortly before they became engulfed by digital sales channels.
It’s still very early days for the market, but art e-commerce is undeniably one of the rising stars in the rapidly changing world of tech start ups. The companies involved will have to overcome familiar boundaries, not least of which will be the skepticism of traditional suppliers and buyers, but the potential of overcoming these issues in an industry whose overall value is measured in billions of dollars is clear for all to see.