Eyestorm is the leading internet print publishing company, the brain child of Don Smith, former head of Getty Images, and David Grob, a former art dealer and director of Pace Wildenstein. Launched at the height of the internet boom in 1999, it has to date received $24 million of capital funding. Its last injection of capital was in October 2000 when NEA and Charles Swab invested a further $14.2 million. Recently David Ross, formerly of the San Francesco Museum of Modern Art (The Art Newspaper, No.119, November 2001, p.61) has joined as chairman of the board.
Eyestorm employs 70 people world wide, with offices and galleries in London and New York; it has a stock of over 700 images by over 100 internationally famous artists and photographers which include Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Marc Quinn and Helmut Newton. The sales platform is all about presentation and marketing. There is a Saatchi Collection, an Apocalypse Collection, as well as images made available by Magnum. Despite having a beautifully designed website, eyestorm has realised it also needs “a real world presence”; something most of us would describe as a gallery, to market its prints. It has two, in London’s West End in Maddox Street and in downtown New York. The company negotiates a separate financial deal with each artist which varies according to their fame and pulling power. The average cost of an eyestorm print is between $500 and $1,000. Eyestorm has an agreement with Magnum, the financial details of which they would not disclose, to reproduce vintage Magnum prints. An image such as Dennis Hopper’s Paul Newman or William Klein’s “Girl dancing in Brooklyn”, for example, is reprinted in an “exclusive eyestorm edition” of 500. The prints use a variety of sophisticated modern techniques: many are digitally screened and ink jet printed and are signed by the artist with the date of the original print and the eyestorm edition number. However, nowhere on the print does it say that it is not an original print but an eyestorm edition of 2001. True, the copies are not the same size or printed in the same way as the original and but it is not really made clear that what you are getting is a photographic reproduction which cost a few pounds to produce. And think of the confusion in 20 years time when these eyestorm prints are circulating on the secondary market.
Most of the art prints are sophisticated reproductions of pre-existing works and not original images, in short high quality posters. Other art internet companies which started up with massive investments have found it hard to generate the volume of sales to cover the investment. There are strong rumours that eyestorm is experiencing similar difficulties and is losing $1 million a month; it has received no further investment since October 2000. Overheads are massive with extremely expensive arrangements with the artists. Damien Hirst was reputedly paid $500,000 to produce his first print for them, a reproduction of “Dead head”, which was not even a commercial success. These allegations are strongly denied by the company; “Our investors are in it for the long term,” said an eyestorm spokesperson. “The company is expected to be in profit some time next year,” she said.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Eyestorm: big bucks'