The Future of Online Art Sales: Q&A With Saffronart CEO Nish Bhutani –

nish bhutani The Future of Online Art Sales: Q&A With Saffronart COO Nish Bhutani – artmarketblog.comThe number of websites that facilitate the online sale and purchase of fine art has increased significantly over the last few years as collectors and investors become more confident in the ability of online art sales portals to provide a sufficiently high level of service, quality art, security and peace of mind.

High-end online art sales portals such as Blacklots, Artnet Auctions, Christie’s, Paddle 8, Saffron Art and Artprice Auctions have emerged as leaders of the online art market due mainly to the reputation and influence of the people involved in the development of these websites.

In this series of interviews, Nicholas Forrest, owner of the Art Market Blog, talks to some of the most influential leaders of the online art market about the future of online art sales and the development of the online art market. In this, the fourth interview of the series, Nish Bhutani, COO of Saffronart, discusses the business of selling fine art online from India.

1.  Has the online market for fine art matured to a point where stand-alone ventures relying on the sale of online art are a viable option?

In our twelfth year of operation, having relied entirely on online sales of art, yes, we believe the market for fine art is mature enough for this to be a viable option. Recently, however, there have been several new entrants to the online art space, each with a unique business plan and model of operation. It will be interesting to see how the market supports these ventures – we are thrilled to see this level of activity in the space.

2. How would you rate your success?

Since Saffronart was founded in 2000, we have seen our online business expand and evolve considerably. In addition to auctioning several works of modern and contemporary Indian art online (sight unseen), we hold several artist auction records including those for works by Jehangir Sabavala, Arpita Singh and Subodh Gupta.

3. What has been the most significant sale for you to date?

At US$ 2.2 million, Singh’s record was also the global record the highest value for a single painting auctioned online and a global record for an Indian woman artist. In 2011 we received a bid for over US$ 1 million placed using our auction application for smart-phones, almost certainly a record for mobile commerce. To date, the highest value purchase via mobile has been US$ 235,000. In 2007 our unique online model was the subject of a case study at Harvard Business School, and continues to be taught to their MBA class there.

4. We already have online art fairs, galleries and auctions; what is the next step for online art sales?

Since art is a fairly social business, I would say the next step for online sales of art would be to leverage the social media revolution and use the applications and tools it provides to engage with existing and potential clients. Another step forward we have taken is to extend our auctions to mobile devices and tablets, with not only mobile catalogues but also the only live bidding application for smart-phones like iPhones and Blackberrys as well as for the iPad.

5. How do you attract and keep online buyers of fine art?

As with any business, we attract new clients, and maintain and grow our existing client base by building trust, offering unparalleled service (both online and offline), and providing products at appropriate values. We have also found that some buyers are entirely comfortable exploring and transacting online, whereas with others there is a fair bit of offline engagement, either privately or at the regular auction previews and events we host at our gallery spaces around the world.

6. What are the characteristics of the main buyers of fine art online?

Online buyers are generally comfortable with technology and the internet. Additionally, those that purchase high end works are familiar enough with the artists and with Saffronart to making a buying decision without physically seeing the piece. No matter what, they must trust you as a business to purchase art online.

7. Which countries are the most active with regards to buying art online?

For us the most active countries are India, the United Kingdom, the United States, UAE and South East Asian nations like Hong Kong and Singapore.

8. How would you describe the current environment for online art sales

Clearly a growth area, and with a number of interesting players jumping in and new business models coming up.  We see growing comfort each year amongst online buyers of art.

9. Which mediums are the most popular with online art buyers?

I don’t believe there is a thumb rule for this, but the easiest works to get a feeling for online, and therefore the most popular, are paintings on canvas and paper and sculptures. Although we have sold installations and even video-art online, they come up for online sale less frequently.

10.  How does your company best take advantage of the online market for fine art?

We tend to think of the overall art market, rather than the online market.  But the internet is a terrific medium for reaching a large yet well targeted audience.  We do it through a combination of our website, email lists, social media and offline engagement.  But most importantly through the service we deliver.

11. What are your plans for the future?

Currently we are expanding our online platform to sell rare and high-end collectibles in addition to art. We extended our platform to Fine Jewels & Watches in 2008, prime real estate in 2010, and Modern & Impressionist Western Art and Carpets & Rugs in 2012. We have also hosted auctions of antiquities.  Other than introducing new sale categories, we have developed a new brand of 24-hour theme and genre driven auctions, amongst which our 24-hour Absolute Auctions, where artworks are sold with no reserve prices, have proved extremely successful.

We need to do a lot more in social media – truly integrate it into our online experience, rather than viewing it as a separate tool.  We will be working hard at this.

**Nicholas Forrest is a Sydney/London based art market analyst, art consultant and writer.  He is the founder of the Art Market Blog ( which offers independent commentaries as well as research and analysis on the current art market, and has recently been published in Fabrik magazine, Verve magazine, Visual Art Beat magazine, Australian Art Collector magazine, Art & Investment magazine and many others.  Nic has made several radio appearances (both nationally and internationally) as an art market expert and has received press from the likes of the New York Times, Conde Nast Portfolio and Times of London.

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    thanks nish

  • wall art

    Nice article.Thanks for this great post

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