Buying Art On-line, part 1
Just twenty years ago, one could have never conceived of the scope of today’s e-commerce realm. Today, you can buy nearly anything on-line, have it delivered to your door and never actually step foot in a retail store. I recently talked to one of our clients who was even subscribing to an online grocery store. This trend goes way beyond E-Bay and Amazon and it’s growing exponentially each year.
In the art market, this trend has had both good and bad effects on stores like ours.
On the positive side: • Art selling websites and on-line auction sites have helped expose a whole new generation of buyers to the variety and scope of the art market. Both retail collectors and corporate buyers have full access to art information and purchasing options that had previously only been available to art dealers. • These have also provided opportunities for emerging artists and crafts-people to market their artwork without the expense of developing their own websites or securing a publisher. • Re-sale auction sites, Pinterest and Etsy have provided an outlet for collectors and “inheritors” of artwork to market artwork that they either can’t use or need to trade. • “Print on demand,” giclee’/digital printing and other new technologies in printing and art presentation are well suited to the contemporary art buyer and the convenience of buying art on the web has been a major draw for this tech-savvy demographic. On the flip side: • Obviously, the attraction of convenience has lured some would-be collectors away from the retail galleries. This has affected attendance at art openings, direct sales of limited edition and collectible artwork and even retail framing services. • Major publishers have lost artists to the on-line trend as it’s become harder for publishers to maintain collectors and dealerships. It’s easier now for an artist to either open their own site and do their own printing, than rely on a publisher for sales and publicity in the current competitive art market. • Many of these publishers have had to change their printing strategy from offering limited editions to a more flexible open-edition print on demand format, which is a less lucrative market. • Secondary market sales for galleries on sold out editions have slowed and this has caused the overall price index on limited edition artwork to fall dramatically. Galleries who built their entire business model around collectible artwork have suffered greatly or have gone out of business entirely. • The new digital media of printing has limited the market impact and collectible value of limited edition artwork and created confusion in the market as to just what is a true limited edition. It is our belief that the benefits of these new developments will eventually out-weigh the temporary negative side effects of these changes. We have embraced these changes and have adapted to the new technologies by improving our website and social media presence. We have also expanded our thinking as a business, to try and integrate these new ideas into our gallery and our inventory.
With that in mind, as you look toward buying artwork on-line, here are a few guidelines to help you with your decisions: 1. Buy from a trusted publisher or gallery – especially if the item you’re purchasing is represented as a limited edition or collectible item. When in doubt, check their online ratings or call your local gallery to make sure you’re buying from a reputable source. Limited editions should come with some paperwork verifying their authenticity. Prints and posters vary greatly in their quality and condition. 2. Whenever possible, buy a print that is mint condition and has not been previously framed. This is especially important with limited editions and collectible prints. Shipping will be less expensive and less risky if the print is shipped flat or rolled than in a frame. Also, because different framers have different standards of design and framing techniques, you won’t know what has been done to get the print in the frame until it arrives and bad framing can definitely destroy the value of artwork. 3. Know your art terminology- To get what you want, do a little checking on the type of prints available. Common types of open -edition prints include Lithographs, serigraphs, giclee(digital), and canvas reproductions in various forms (un-stretched, gallery wrapped, etc). Specialty printings include prints on wood, metal or acrylic strata along with artist enhanced editions. 4. Think about framing before you buy- A print mat just fit your space @ 24” x 36” but when you add matting and framing to it, suddenly, you realize that you really needed the 18” x 24” size for the wall. Many publisher have variable sizing available and list both the outside size of the print and the actual image size (without border). Keep in mind that it’s easier to add size with matting than trim down an image to make it fit (never do that with a limited edition). 5. Check to make sure that you have the print format for the type of framing you’re considering. Prints often require mats, glass and proper mounting, whereas canvases are designed to be left open to the air. In addition, some gallery-wrapped canvases are too deep for a conventional frame and require a shadow-box moulding. 6. The old adage “you get what you pay for” is very relevant to this discussion. If the artwork seems cheap on-line, it probably is either poorly printed, is damaged/faded or has other problems that make it so. Don’t be afraid to call (or e-mail) the seller and ask about condition before you commit to the purchase. This is especially true when buying from EBAY, CRAIGSLIST and other bidding/auction sites. 7. When in doubt, check with your local gallery or dealer to insure that the artwork you’re buying suits your needs, budget and expectations. At the gallery, we know most major publishers and are very active in the traditional and internet art market. We can help you find just the right artwork at the right prices. Brick and mortar galleries who in the past, have relied on walk-in traffic have switched gears to incorporate on-line stores, websites and social media gurus to help them keep up with this expanding market. As I was “tweeting” a live picture from a recent show, my daughter seemed amazed that an old guy like me would even know how to use that type of social media. In the words of Andy Grove, “There are two options: Adapt OR Die.” This has been true in every other business, so it’s no surprise for us in the art market. Many gallery owners have, in fact bemoaned the fact that the internet has taken over the core of their business and that they just can’t compete with big box stores. I believe that there are a lot of factors that have led us to today’s art market that have nothing to do with the internet or what Walmart or Amazon sells in the home décor dept. I will be addressing come of those changes and related issues in a future article. Brent