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Online art market - statistics & facts

The global online art market consists of buyers and sellers trading via the internet in works of art, antiques, digital artworks, and collectibles that are commonly associated with the arts and culture sector. While online transactions represented around a tenth of the global art market value prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, this changed drastically in 2020, as the measures introduced during the health crisis boosted digital sales. The positive trend continued in 2021, driven by the interest in crypto art and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). That year, sales of the online art and antiques market peaked at 13.3 billion U.S. dollars, accounting for roughly a fifth of the total art market value.

Online auctions gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic

As most auctions and art fairs worldwide could not take place in-person with the onset of the health crisis, auction houses strengthened their digital departments, promoting online sales and streaming events. It then comes as no surprise that the combined number of online-only auctions by Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips nearly tripled in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to 2019. Even though this figure slightly decreased in 2021, the online sales value generated by Sotheby’s and Christie’s – the two leading auction houses worldwide – increased further that year. Overall, online sales of Sotheby’s amounted to approximately 800 million U.S. dollars in 2021, recording a 39 percent annual increment. Meanwhile, online sales of Christie’s grew by 43 percent over the same period.

The boom of the NFT art market

The NFT craze hit the news when, in March 2021, Christie’s sold a digital collage by American artist Beeple for the staggering price of 69.3 million U.S. dollars, turning it into the most expensive non-fungible token sold worldwide to date. NFTs are unique digital commodities stored in blockchain. They are used in the art market to prove the authenticity of digital works of art, as a file that is turned into an NFT becomes a unique asset. In this sense, NFT-based artworks can be sold as original pieces, even if their copies are shared online. In 2021, the combined sales value of art and collectibles NFTs totaled more than 11 billion U.S. dollars, recording a huge increase over 2020. That said, the monthly NFT sales value in the art segment has fluctuated significantly since April 2021.

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