Online Art Sales

During the height of the Internet frenzy the art world went online. Sotheby’s, Butterfields and countless galleries poured hundreds of millions of dollars into building online auction sites and virtual galleries. Fast forward a few years later and most of those sites are gone. Sotheby’s shuttered their online auction site. Ebay sold off Butterfield’s. gave up conducting auctions and now focuses on selling access to their art auction database. Many galleries still have an online presence, but what’s really selling?

A look to Ebay can provide some answers. The largest marketplace in the world, online or otherwise, Ebay auctions can give us a snapshot of what a market is really like, much like a focus group in Ohio. Trying to analyze all of Ebay’s art auctions is a formidable task, so this research focused on only auctions classified as “paintings” and only paintings classified as “1950-present”. Here is some insight that can be gleaned from a quick study of Ebay art auctions.

1. More than 90% of art listings are in the sub $100 range. Ebay lists approximately 600,000 post-1950 paintings per year, 90 percent of which sell for or are bid at less than $100. After $100, the listings and the sales drop off very quickly. See this graph for details. See this graph for closer detail of listings from $100 to $5000.

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