Online market surpassed $1bn for first time in 2013

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Survey of around 500 buyers finds that not seeing the physical object is still greatest hurdle

The Parisian firm Piasa is among the bricks-and-mortar auction houses that have linked up with Paddle8 to boost their online sales

The online art market accounted for an estimated $1.6bn of transactions in 2013 (up from $870m in 2012), and is forecast to grow to $3.8bn by 2018, according to a report on the online art trade published today, 28 April, by the specialist insurance group Hiscox.

The percentage of the total market is still small (2.4% of an estimated $65bn business) but the total estimate—which relies on patchy, publicly available figures— is likely “conservative” says the report. Robert Read, the head of fine art at Hiscox, says that there is as yet “no one winning formula” in terms of the ideal platform for selling art online, but he expects existing bricks-and-mortar and online companies to consolidate as “the race to find that elusive winning business model continues”. Recently, two auctioneers, Bukowskis and Piasa, linked up with Paddle8 to boost their online sales.

Not seeing the physical object remains the biggest hurdle to buying art online, with 82% of the art buyers surveyed for the report saying this was the most difficult aspect of buying art online. This year’s research also found that over a quarter of those who said they had bought art online were aged under 30.

However, the data pool, while select, is still small, so it is difficult to extrapolate into broad trends: of the 506 art buyers surveyed by ArtTactic for Hiscox, only 38% (192 people) said that they had bought art directly online. Of those under 30, ten said that they had bought entry-level prints prices at around £500 while, at the other end of the scale, seven people said they had spent more than £50,000 on a work through the internet.

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