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Amazon’s Next Move: Fine Art

29 June 2013

From The Wall Street Journal:

Moving into more upscale markets, Amazon.com Inc. is quietly laying plans to sell high-end art.

The online retail giant is planning to open a new section on its site as soon as July where it will offer one-of-a-kind paintings, prints and other fine art, according to interviews with a dozen gallery owners.

Amazon is set to debut the site with works from roughly 100 small galleries across the U.S., say gallery owners briefed on Amazon’s plans. In recent weeks, the Seattle company has held cocktail receptions in its hometown, San Francisco, New York and other cities to invite galleries to take part in the new program.

. . . .

“It’ll always be difficult to sell art on the Internet,” said Richard Feigen, owner of Richard L. Feigen and Co. gallery in New York. “Serious collectors want to see the art before they buy it—you don’t have to see a book to buy it over the Internet.” He said he wasn’t approached by Amazon.

Gallery owners who were briefed on the plans said Amazon will charge a tiered commission based on an art piece’s price, generally from 5% to 20%, with higher-priced works subject to lower commissions.

. . . .

Nick Lawrence, owner of the Freight + Volume gallery in New York, said he had decided within the past month to list some paintings on Amazon’s site after getting an unsolicited offer from the company. “I figured this would be a great way to reach a massive crowd,” said Mr. Lawrence. “There are a lot of people who aren’t necessarily going to be able to visit New York to buy art and maybe they can find something instead on Amazon.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)


11 Comments to “Amazon’s Next Move: Fine Art”

  1. Patricia Sierra

    I’ll be very interested in seeing how this works for Amazon. They’re starting out working with galleries, but will they eventually open the door to the Indies of the art world?

    If they offer it, I’d sign up for the daily emails just to see what artists are doing.

    • That’s exactly what I’m wondering. Heck, this is Amazon. Why use the galleries at all? I’m not familiar enough with the fine art world to know whether artists have relationships with galleries the way authors did with publishers, being tied to one that sells the works, but it seems strange to me.

      I would be shocked if they never went with indie artists, though (unless this turns out to be a big flop because people don’t want to buy fine art online–as USAF points out, colors are never precisely the same in real life as on a screen). So I’ll be interested to see how this goes on.

  2. Do we start blaming Amazon for the destruction of fine art now, or do we wait awhile to see if the program takes off first?

  3. I’m excited about this! This year I started attempting to buy art online, and wow, it’s a mess. I ran into links that didn’t work, contact forms that went into a black hole, and online stores that returned error codes when I tried to buy. In several cases I had money in hand (figuratively speaking) and was ready to buy a piece I liked, but was unable to do so because the sales site did not work. At the time, I lamented the fact that there was no Amazon for art.

  4. dont know. I’ve bought art online, and it is never the precise color or texture as shown. Not ever. Its one thing if it’s a ten dollar item/ print of one of thousands. It’s another if it’s substantial money. Just the crating in wood of proper protective construction for shipping a fine art painting is hugely expensive and time consuming to make. Most galleries already charge 30-50% [sometimes more] commission to the artist, to sell each piece; there is no lesser commission to gallery when paintings cost more.

    It would be interesting to know what deals/ re-ramping galleries will have to do with their artists re commissions, now that amazon wants to take 5-20%. On a $10,000 painting, let’s say gallery would normally take $4000 in commission [40%]. Artist would take 6k.

    On same 10k painting, presumably amazon would take 5%. $500. Or 20%, which would be $2000.

    Whose ox is going to be gored? The dealer gives up 500-2000 dollars out of his usual commission, which would normally be 4k, but now would be 3500 to 2000 dollars only?

    Or the artist gives up [already paying through the orifices on a 30-50+% commission as it is] 500-2000 from his 6k, leaving him with instead of 6k, just 5500-4000 on his 10k painting.

    Volume? there are volume-only artists who are considered by many fine artist to be hacks. Most fine artists dont ‘produce’ like Kinkaide did, for instance. That’s one of the challenges of galleries, consistent supply, each piece wildly original.

    Just dont know. Just my .02

    • Maybe it’s both?
      Amazon isn’t just “muscling-in” without bringing something to the table. Whatever their share of the sale price, they have to justify it by offering *something* the sellers think is worth the commission.
      It may be on the shipping side.
      It may be in the speed with which the product sells.
      At a minimum they’ll be broadening the exposure of the pieces beyond the local markets.
      It sounds like an interesting experiment.

      • you’re probably right Felix. And you’re right, it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

  5. It sounds like an interesting experiment to me too. I’ve been deep into the art world for many years (I’m both a painter and a writer, one of my books is about a retiree-turned-artist) and indeed artists are quite literally the prisoners of galleries. Galleries are the gatekeepers the way traditional publishers once were. They dictate taste, set the fashion and that’s what makes sales. The big galleries (say Gagosian, Saatchi) are really, really big. They make or break a market for an artist.

    Here it would seem that Amazon has gone with the middling galleries – first of all, only American galleries and that’s not the whole market, by far. For contemporary art, London is terribly important and then you have cities where major art fairs are held, notably Basel in Switzerland and of course the Venice Biennale.

    Amazon knows it has a good service to offer: when you buy something with them, your credit card isn’t hacked, the good is in fact what it is supposed to be and it really does get shipped to your doorstep within a reasonable time. And that’s worth quite a lot to middling galleries, I bet. It expands their market.

    What middling galleries have to offer is a sort of quality guarantee – and I suppose that’s why Amazon uses them rather than go indies as some of you have suggested they might because it’s “in their DNA” (but that’s not a good enough reason!) – Middling galleries are not Saatchi or Gagosian, but they do have artists that they protect and follow and promote with shows etc These are artists whose work people have seen physically: this overcomes the problem of digital pictures that indeed NEVER are the same as the real thing (even if you don’t photoshop a picture, the quality of the color and texture is inevitably “off”)

    I suspect that the description and selling blurbs accompanying the art on offer on Amazon will in fact be full of references to the number of shows the artist has had, the level of his sales and current prices, particularly if it can be shown that his work has been sold at auction houses like Sotheby’s or Christies at such and such price. This will no doubt further strengthen the role of auction houses in the art world, a role that has been growing fast for several years now and is destined to even become stronger…Particularly if Amazon muscles into the contemporary art game!

  6. “There are a lot of people who aren’t necessarily going to be able to visit New York to buy art and maybe they can find something instead on Amazon.”

    Nonsense. Everyone is within walking distance of retailers of Fine Suches & Such. If you’re not (shame on you) then culture is beyond you and you deserve to go without. I heard this from a bookstore owner.

  7. Brilliant. Bringing art to the people, making it accessible.

    In the long run, this coud develop and could end up freeing the artist as much as Amazon has freed the author. No more dependence on the curators of Art. Terrific!

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