Founded in May 2020, the ART+TECH Report, an independent initiative by Berlin-based art market actors Kerstin Gold, Kristina Leipold, Johanna Neuschäffer and Anne Schwanz, set out to shed light on the future-oriented digitization of the art ecosystem. The current Collector’s Edition comes at a crucial shift in the art world; it is no longer a question of if but rather how art is being bought online — and who better to help explain than art collectors themselves? 

With data from a demographically diverse array of 380 international art collectors, the latest ART+TECH Report offers refreshing insight from the buyers’ and collectors’ perspectives. Of the surveyed collectors, 69 percent intend to buy the same amount or more of art online in 2021 (as they did in 2020), with even higher proportions (76 percent) among the group the report terms “NextGen,” referring to those forty years and younger. This means a paradigm shift toward viewing collectors as not only buyers but more pressingly, as online users — ones who expect flexibility, selection, and “conversational commerce” as requisites to their purchasing experience.

ART+TECH Report | Collectors Edition: Online art-buying

Websites remain the most important sources of information for art collectors; the majority of respondents further emphasize that an intuitive and engaging user experience is key when they go online. Image: ART+TECH Report | Collectors Edition

“Digitization has led to much more transparency,” Gold tells Jing Culture & Commerce. “Today’s collectors have a lot of opportunities to search, research, discover and compare digitally, [which] makes them very well-informed and independent.”

This coming year will see a continuing integration of personal dialogue into the digital buying process in ways that will undeniably shape the future of the art market. Here are three major takeaways from the report, alongside recommendations from Gold and her colleagues.

Transparency and efficiency are key 

According to Schwanz, co-founder of the OFFICE IMPART gallery, “Digital formats cannot replace the physical art experience, but people do buy art online, often even without having seen the original artwork beforehand.” Art collectors have responded well to buying work “blind” (i.e. without having seen it in real life), especially when efficiency, directness, and low-risk participation are priorities in the online experience. Price transparency and easily displayed digital mediums (i.e. paintings, editions, photography) will take you further than digital anonymity, which 90 percent of survey participants deemed unimportant. 

Recommendation: The most popular online sales formats displayed prices, which collectors considered “extremely helpful.” Gold herself stresses, “Please, please, please: show prices!” She adds, “Get a good understanding of the digital tools, platforms and technologies available, but make a careful decision of what works best for your own business, your art, your artists, and your collectors — and thus remain authentic.”

To reach NextGen collectors, get social

ART+TECH Report | Collectors Edition: Online art-buying

Instagram is the most popular social media platform among art collectors, with 44 percent of art purchases on Instagram made via direct messages, and two-thirds of respondents rating the potential of Instagram as a sales tool as high or very high. Image: ART+TECH Report | Collectors Edition

NextGen art collectors are naturally the most digitally adept demographic. Made up of 64 percent women, these art collectors have taken advantage of accessible platforms like Instagram to stay informed and to buy pieces, choosing to support artists of their own generation 66 percent of the time. “The direct communication makes [social media] less intimidating than the real art world,” notes Gold, “and obviously, it allows browsing without the immediate pressure to buy.”

With over 40 percent of these young art collectors surveyed planning to purchase even more art online in 2021, the power of social media and an online presence translate smoothly and quantifiably into real life. 

Recommendation: When it comes to digitization, social media (and Instagram, in particular) will remain a major driver of purchases by NextGen collectors. “Given the success of the Insta ‘swipe-up’ function, which provides the opportunity to a direct purchase option, and the growing desire for an Insta-buy button, it is very likely that Instagram will grow into an even stronger sales platform for art,” says Gold.

The ART+TECH Report further suggests art galleries and institutions swiftly adapt by increasing online presence, diversifying digital content and reach, and offering “entertaining and engaging content.”

Hybrid and “conversational commerce” pave the way ahead

ART+TECH Report | Collectors Edition: Online art-buying

According to the report, 40 percent of online art purchases combined online and offline elements, signifying how consumers will choose to use every available option in the art-buying process, whether physical or digital. Image: ART+TECH Report | Collectors Edition

“When it comes to communication, digital doesn’t have to be the opposite of personal,” says Gold. In fact, integrating real-time personal communication systems like video calls, live chats, or direct messaging apps — also known as conversational commerce — should be prioritized in online sales. Even if communication isn’t happening IRL, Gold adds, it should “ideally take place IRT (in real time).” Lack of such immediate, personal communication accounted for a main reason why collectors did not ultimately buy online. 

Still, different online formats are suited for different purposes. For example, while successful in drawing in art collectors in, only 15 percent of the 71 percent of online viewing room attendees edged past browsing into the buying stage. Thus, formats like OVRs or Instagram are better equipped to act as “visual representation of art,” while online auctions and stores encourage direct purchases (click-and-buy).

Recommendation: “The traditional question of ‘How would I like to sell art as a gallery?’ will be challenged by ‘How would a collector like to discover and buy art online today?'” says Gold. “Our attention will have to shift to the collector‘s requirements, both as customers and as online users.” Digitization creates choice, not compromise, and that includes considering collector’s as both consumers and participants in a changing digital landscape.


Analysis Digital Collecting Market