Most of the online art sales sites which promised the moon to investors in 2000 have now crashed to earth. Bucking the trend of ailing art sales websites, is Britart.com, which started up in November 1999 and has hung in there with a modest £2 million (compared to the tens of millions that some others had to play with). This year, says founder and ceo Giles Howard, Britart will go into profit and prove that art can be sold over the internet. Nevertheless, the company is increasingly in the “real world” and has just moved into a smart new gallery in Regent’s Street.
Selling brightly coloured, mainly figurative original work by UK-based artists to predominantly first-time buyers, the site has carved out a niche in a low price range: not more than £1,000 and more generally in the £400/500 slot. However, Mr Howard has to an extent recanted, and now says that he no longer describes Britart as an internet company. “My original vision was to make art available over the internet, and initially we were an internet only company. But after a year I realised that the company is about making art easy to buy, and that can be over the internet or in a gallery. Our clients are often new to buying art and are intimidated by traditional galleries. We are creating a whole new raft of consumers for art: 60% to 70% of our buyers are first-time.” The gallery shows work by artists such as Rob and Nick Carter, whose cibachrome prints sell in the £3,000 range, Peter Howson, who was Britain’s official war artist in Bosnia in 1993, and the bold and graphic work of Duggie Fields at around £16,000.
A selection committee actually choses the art, on the basis of “technical merit, conceptual merit and value.” The site now acts more as a brochure.
Mr Howard explains the failure of most sites selling art as a blind belief in the power of the medium. “Any product needs to be promoted,” he says, “And we did a lot of radio and poster advertising. The traditional art market can be overawing for the newcomer. I think we are creating a new breed of confident consumers and over time I would expect them to move on perhaps to the more traditional art market, and I would expect the average price of what we sell to grow as well.”
Once the company becomes profitable, Britart plans to expand to America, Canada and even Japan. “We do benefit from the profile of British art abroad, even if we don’t have Damien Hirst or Tracy Emin,” concludes Mr Howard.
www.britart.com; 95-97 Regent Street, London W1B 4EW Tel: +44(0) 207 479 4980
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'How to sell on the net'