Amazon puts the squeeze on Asia? Online sales giant eyes fine art market

The art marketplace is becoming increasingly competitive, with internet retail giant Amazon soon to sell fine art online.

In May 2013 media rumours circulated that online retailer Amazon had plans to launch its first virtual art sales platform. Aiming to host works from over 125 galleries worldwide, Amazon’s initiative is the latest in a series of moves that may affect how commercial galleries conduct sales on the ground in Asia.

Jeffrey P. Bezos, Chief Executive of Photo by Stuart Isett for The New York Times. 27 April 2007.

Jeffrey P. Bezos, Chief Executive of Photo by Stuart Isett for The New York Times. 27 April 2007.

Amazon, one of the world’s biggest online retailers, is rumoured to be setting up an online fine art gallery and sales platform. Julia Halperin of The Art Newspaper reports that Amazon will start off 125 galleries to sell over 1,000 art objects and has already signed up 109 art galleries. Amazon representatives told the dealers the art would be handled similarly to how wine is sold on Amazon, says Halperin, with the online seller charging commissions running from five to fifteen percent depending on the sale price of the artwork.

“No comment” from Amazon, but confirmation from anonymous galleries

Amazon so far has not put out any official word on its launch date or any other details, only saying “no comment” when asked by reporters from The Art Newspaper and The New York Times.

However, confirmation of the venture seems to come from an email seen by The Gallerist in May. The magazine reported quotes gleaned from an email sent by Amazon’s Business Development Department to several unnamed art galleries inviting art dealers to a meeting in New York City.

This summer Amazon is planning to launch a Fine Art Gallery where customers will be able to purchase original artwork offered by a select group of invited galleries via

Auction scene, 4 April Contemporary Asian Art Sale, Hong Kong (Spring 2011). Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Auction scene, 4 April Contemporary Asian Art Sale, Hong Kong (Spring 2011). Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

If at first you fail, wait 14 years

This is not the first time Amazon has tried to break into the online art market, notes Randy Kennedy in The New York Times. The seller unsuccessfully partnered up with Sotheby’s in 1999, but problems with customer service and shipping orders led to a break-up of the venture. However, times have changed according to Kennedy, as collectors and dealers are becoming savvy and bold about expensive online transactions. As a result, he surmises that Amazon will succeed in this venture as an online seller of fine art.

saffronart screen shot

Saffronart screenshot. Image taken by Art Radar.

The advent of Amazon’s online art platform marks the entrance of another player onto a field that, according to some commentators, is becoming crowded. Writing in ARTINFO, Rob Sharp charts the rise and rise of online platforms such as Paddle8Auctionata, and specific Asia-focused online sellers such as Artshare and Saffronart. He quotes Aditya Julka, Paddle8’s Cofounder, as saying,

[Amazon’s art initiative] is welcome because it expands the horizon of people who buy art.

As Georgina Adam points out in The Art Newspaper, it is not only online sellers that stand to alter the sales landscape.

For dealers, particularly in the secondary market, competition from the auction houses will remain a major worry, and one that they are ill-equipped to resist.

The threat of the auction house to commercial galleries comes, claims Adam, from auction houses “growing their private treaty sales and private selling exhibitions.”

However, in The Economist’s view, online platforms have a long way to go before they challenge the primacy of the art gallery in any real sense. An egalitarian art market will be hard-pressed to overturn the art world’s status quo from its “exalted status, sustained, to some extent, by exclusivity and elitism.”

Screenshot from the newly launched Surge Art site, which markets art to China's aspirational middle class. Image courtesy Surge Art.

Screenshot from the recently launched Surge Art site, the first art fair to launch an online affiliate sales platform. Image courtesy Surge Art.

Online sales no threat, claim commercial gallerists

Some art dealers based in Asia agree with The Economist‘s view, and do not see Amazon’s new venture as a threat to their businesses. Speaking to Art Radar, Jorn Middelborg of Thailand’s Thavibu Gallery asserted doubt over the impact of Amazon’s new online venture on Asian commercial galleries, thanks to the breadth and variety of the region’s art market.

Professional art galleries are involved in many more aspects than just selling the art – such as curating, documentation, publishing, collaborations, and ultimately in assisting the artists in building their careers.

Lim Wei-ling of Malaysia’s Weiling Gallery voiced similar scepticism about the belief that online platforms pose a grave threat to physical galleries.

Amazon’s foray into selling art online will not immediately affect the market that we are addressing but it will be interesting to see how their second foray into selling art online pans out. As it stands, the demand for artists works here far outstrips the (limited) supply, so an online portal will not affect the market significantly.

Susan Kendzulak


Related Topics: art fairs, art market, business of art, art and the Internet

Related Posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more on online art markets


Amazon puts the squeeze on Asia? Online sales giant eyes fine art market — 1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.