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A changing art ecosystem

Which initiatives have established players of the art market taken to adjust to the digital era?
The traditional players of the art market have been quite reticent to adjust to the digital era and adopt new tools, unlike other cultural industries such as music or publishing. However, I would say the auction houses have been the first ones to conceive new initiatives embracing the digital era. They first enabled live streaming from their auction rooms around 2006. Then they launched online auctions around 2011, and even partnerships with eBay in 2015. So it was quite a bold move. And later on, they developed their own mobile platforms, and some of them eliminated buyer’s premium for online auctions to motivate buyers. And also, to increase transparency, they started to share the results of their online auctions.
And today, the top three auction houses compete in acquiring tech startups, specialise in machine learning, and artificial intelligence. And within this competitive world, their are mobile applications and online auctions play an increasingly important role in their growth strategy in terms of new client acquisition, especially. When it comes to the gallery world, of course, they have been a bit more conservative when it comes to develop digital initiatives. This is mainly due to lack of resources, because galleries are usually independent entities.
But also their fear of losing control, because the art of being a dealer is usually quite special, and they don’t want to– they thought that the digital world is competing with their business and trying to disrupt what they have built over generations. So the first ones to kind of embrace that digital era, I would say, were the top tier galleries, such as David Zwirner and Gagosian, who, of course, have the teams and the means. And they develop successful online viewing rooms with transparent prices, which was a first for the commercial gallery world, while other galleries across different tiers joined online art marketplaces, such as Artsy, to reach new collectors.
And most of them also use existing social platforms such as Instagram to enhance their communications and, interestingly, Instagram is becoming more and more, not only a channel for discovery, but also a channel for selling art. And I would also like to add that, you know, of course, traditional art market players have been struggling to adapt themselves to those new technologies, but tech startups, such as auction aggregators, online marketplaces, and online auction platforms, but also prize databases will share the history of prices online, and investment tools. And even today, the very much hyped blockchain-based initiatives have been the leading force in introducing paradigm shifting initiatives for the art market.

Listen to this interview, where Anlam De Coster, from Reiber & Partners, answers the question: “Which initiatives have established players of the art market taken to adjust to the digital era?”

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Anlam De Coster stresses the reluctance of traditional actors of the art market to be transparent about artworks prices. Do you think making prices available online diminishes the symbolic value of art?

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Culture in the Digital Age

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