Digital museums: lessons for the art market?

What lessons could the art market – particularly galleries – learn from the innovative and increasingly second-generation digital projects taking place in many parts of the museum sector? In “Post-web technology: what comes next for museums?” published on The Guardian Culture Professionals Network, Mia Ridge and Danny Birchall list a number of digital experiments and research projects which museums are undertaking, such as:

  • Lightweight low-budget mobile tours using WordPress and GPS technology to deliver rich experiences on a limited budget
  • Experiments with wearable and augmented technology
  • An EU-funded project to investigate embedding digital content in ‘smart objects’
  • A shared innovation model for smaller institutions through multi-participant projects

These topics and more will be discussed in November’s UKMW14: ‘Museums Beyond the Web’ conference organized by the UK Museums Computer Group (@ukmcg). Ridge and Birchall’s article concludes with a statement that should resonate for anyone working in the digital art world:

Through projects like these, what we used to think of as a “digital” mindset is starting to become widespread in some cultural heritage organisations. The ethos of user-centred design and rapid iteration associated with digital projects is crossing from the digital realm into the physical environment.

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High touch meets high tech in Christie’s ‘James Map’

The most digital-savvy art businesses are developing business intelligence systems to support their digital sales strategies. In the context of a booming contemporary art market and the fact that one in four of the top lots in this spring’s evening sales were bought by new customers, John Dizard writes in Friday’s Financial Times (Auction houses embracing digital technology to sell to the new global rich):

While the most visible aspect of the houses’ digital revolution may be their online auctions, the most essential is in the systematising and networking of their customer, market and lot information.

Christie’s Steven P. Murphy echoes statements he made in previous months about the imperative driving his business’s digital strategy. Their customers were researching and purchasing art online. Christie’s needed to create “a digital version of the Christie’s experience in a platform-agnostic way.” A key part of Murphy’s digital strategy is an internal customer data intelligence platform called ‘James Map’ which joins up customer information throughout Christie’s and makes it available to Christie’s staff globally through internal applications. Whenever and wherever a customer interacts with Christie’s, all intelligence about them will be at the fingertips of Christie’s staff. FT.com quotes Christie’s Ken Citron, head of IT: “We are a global company now, with global clients. Our having technology allows them to have a consistent experience across the world.”

A fundamental question about digital strategy is behind Christie’s latest digital investments: Is there greater benefit in outsourcing technology and platform provision, or in in-house development (at considerable cost). Sotheby’s partnership with eBay is an example of the former; Christie’s is betting on the latter. Dizard’s article closes with a warning from Murphy about the dangers of disintermediation in digital markets. Perhaps with his publishing background, Murphy is thinking of how publishers have been disintermediated from their market by Amazon, a fate he is determined to avoid at Christie’s. Sotheby’s (and particularly Dan Loeb) will doubtless be watching with interest.

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Online art sales research

With the growth of the online art sales and online auctions market, an increasing body of associated academic research is available. A selection of freely available research articles is below. Some findings appear obvious – that reputation is important in online art sales, or that auction prices act as signposts for general art market prices. Others are less so – that repeat auction participants in online auctions lower their average bids over time, or that bidders in offline auctions effectively act as a social network. The value of preserving online auction catalogues is also investigated.

In addition to the articles below, the Duke Arts Law and Markets Initiative (DALMI) also makes a number of papers from 2009-2014 available on its website.

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Sotheby’s “preeminent anchor tenant” in eBay’s revamped marketplace

Today, Sotheby’s formally announces its eBay partnership, and both companies flesh out some detail on their future strategies. Intriguingly, Sotheby’s is described as “a preeminent anchor tenant in the revamped marketplace” – a description which will worry those who consider this move a risk to the Sotheby’s premier brand. Continue reading

Back to the future for Sotheby’s first post-Loeb digital play

In 2013, Dan Loeb wrote that “Sotheby’s is like an old master painting in desperate need of restoration.” Now, a little more than a year later after a bloody boardroom battle and with three seats on the Sotheby’s board, the company is getting ready to make its first big digital play with Loeb and his deputies in the room.

The New York Times reports today that Sotheby’s and eBay have formed a partnership to stream Sotheby’s sales worldwide. It’s tempting to ask is this 12-year old idea the best Loeb can come up with? Both companies worked together on a similar project in 2002 but it was quickly shelved. Perhaps this time around it will be different – the difference being that under Loeb’s influence, Sotheby’s is now more comfortable in loosening its collar and using technology to chase a higher volume, lower value end of the art market. This would be consistent with Loeb’s 2013 statement: Continue reading

KPCB Internet Trends report 2014

In recent years Mary Meeker’s annual internet trends report for Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (@KPCB) has become ‘an event’ in the technology world. This year’s report was published today at the inaugural Re/code Code Conference. Packed – as usual – with a bewildering range of statistics and graphics, the report is required reading (or more likely skimming) for any technology company developing internet-based services.

Some trends and statistics from the report: Continue reading

Christie’s Steven P. Murphy: “Why wouldn’t we build a company that lives half its life online?”

While its rival Sotheby’s gathers headlines for boardroom dramas, Christie’s CEO Steven P. Murphy has been promoting Christie’s digital strategy in recent weeks. In an interview with Bloomberg TV Murphy set out Christie’s digital plans as well as its 360-degree online/offline approach to ensuring its customers have a “unique and seamless Christie’s experience” via Christie’s online, in their salerooms or through the growing number of Christie’s exhibition spaces..

Christie's CEO Steven Murphy

“The number of buyers at all level is increasing exponentially.”

A number of themes common to any discussion of the web’s impact on art sales run through Murphy’s responses: Continue reading