Art for art’s sake

There was an interesting dinner conversation last night. It was sparked by a senior music industry exec (who I will call M – for “music” and not because it is his first, or last, initial). Was it not possible, he asked P (a leading British painter – again, initial for “painter” not …blah, blah) and my other half Gail , a rising star in the printmaking world, that the internet might not do to art what it had done to the music industry?

P thought not, believing the traditional gallery system would continue to be the most effective way of selling art. Gail wasn’t so sure, pointing out that at the more popular end of the market the smaller regional galleries were increasingly under threat from new retailing forms such as the highly successful Affordable Art Fair series of shows featuring work under £3,000, and galleries such as Wills Art Warehouse. Both of these make good use of the internet to promote themselves and an increasing number of artists are doing the same.

Will’s describes its mission:

Will’s Art Warehouse is the concept of Will Ramsay, who realised the need for a gallery which:

First, makes art more affordable (all work is priced between £50 and £3,000)

Second, is a friendly gallery. You are not hassled and each piece has lots of information beside it so that visitors or prospective buyers are helped in their understanding of the work, however much or little they know about art.

Third, he recognised that customers want a large variety of art to choose from. To use an analogy, he wants Will’s Art Warehouse to be “The Oddbins of the Art World”.

“We want to be as unintimidating and accessible as possible, to enable people who have a background which may not be art-based to feel they can buy original work without feeling they must acquire the theoretical baggage.”

The effective use of the internet is key to the broad appeal of these types of enterprises.

Yet there is still a feeling among the elite of the art world that somehow art is different and it will never be sold online and subject to the “destructive” forces of the internet.

I’m not so sure. If you look back at the history of internet commerce, easily accessible, commoditised items like books were the first to go. Later, however, almost all product lines started to succumb and some of major high street and shed retailers tried to respond by penalising those trying to buy form them online – after all the most expensive channel they have is the stores. The smart ones, though, realised there isn’t a choice and if people want to see the merchandise in the (expensive to run) store and then buy on the (cheap to run) internet later, it would be better if it was from the retailer’s own site. Now it is common to see joined-up, multi-channel approaches – from Comet, for example.

Not so in the art world. And yet with gallery commissions of up to 50% of purchase price there is an incentive for the artist to deal direct, even if the clients are experiencing the work first hand in the gallery. Smart galleries should start to recognise that increasingly there isn’t online and offline – it’s all part of the same continuum. Working with the new reality – something the music industry should have done a hell of a lot sooner – might just save the day.

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Rant of the day

There is something disturbing about extreme dog lovers. Today in the park I witnessed a typical incident. Man runs by jogging, dog chases man, dog owner says, in wheedling, ineffective voice ” oh Teddy, what are you doing?”, dog takes little notice but eventually gives up the chase. The attitude of the dog owner seems to be that 1. everyone obviously loves their dog as much as they do 2. everyone knows the dog is harmless (how could it be otherwise) and 3. everyone is happy to be interrupted by the lovable pooch as they are obviously not doing anything so important that a pleasant doggy diversion wouldn’t be welcome.
As a runner myself I have good cause to appreciate the fallacy of all of these assumptions, having been tripped up more than once, barked at numerous times and even, on rare occasions, bitten. Taken to its extreme, this kind of dog worship leads to the plague of dog crap which litters our parks and beaches. Love me, love my dog and whatever my dog produces.

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Pay per performance

There has been quite a stir in certain quarters caused by this account of my PPA panel appearance on Tuesday. The main thrust of the furore (if I may call it that – storm in a teacup may be more accurate) is that paying journalists for page inpressions they generate inevitably leads to lowest-common-denominator journalism which will undermine the credibility and ultimately the very existence of specialist b2b websites.

Clearly, if any pay for performance scheme were ever to be implemented in a blanket fashion that very well might be the result – which, for the record, would be a bad thing!

However, in an online world where attention is firstly more valued and more difficult to get, and secondly increasingly measurable it surely comes as no surprise that questions about how to maximise it arise from time to time.

Leaving aside the somewhat dramatic “RBI contemplates pay-for-performance pay for journalists” headline (which conjours up images of the company’s top brass locked in a room thrashing out time-and-motion plans for journalists – which, again, for the record did not happen, I assure you) there are clearly some audience-building activities which are more valuable than others in attention terms. Finding ways to maximise them is therefore a worthwhile goal.

But there are lots of subtleties: some audiences are smaller than others but may be more valuable; some types of customer are more prone to consume the web than others; some subjects respond better to SEO than others. And there may be altogether different reasons for wanting particular types of coverage to appear, other than naked traffic. For all these reasons, and many others, I doubt that pay-for-performance schemes will be seen in mainstream publishers for a very long time, if ever.

But characterising the debate about optimisation as an inevitable dumbing down does not further the argument much.

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A b2b social killer app?

Many people have noticed the strong growth and burst of innovation at LinkedIn which is fast becoming powerhouse in the b2b space. I have an idea which could make a big difference – buy Dopplr. Dopplr is a relatively new site which makes it really easy to share trips. This is a great feature to share with friends, but the really powerful idea would be to link this with your list of connections on LinkedIn. Then, when you were travelling around the world on business you could instantly check to see which of your business acquaintances were going to be where you are going. I think this would be a really powerful combination – what do you think?

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 According to Trendwatching there are powerful trends coming down the tracks concerning the environment. The latest briefing from this excellent site discusses the Eco-Iconic trend (where obviously eco-friendly brands gain status and stature) through Eco-Embedded (where companies have eco-friendliness as an intrinsic brand quality and always neutralise their eco-footprint) to Eco-Boosters (where products try to put more good into the environment than they take out). Is there an angle here for publishers, I ask myself. John Barnes mentioned early today at the PPA Conference the idea of branding an online conference as "eco-friendly" to capture a new part of the market. Maybe he was onto something?

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PPA Conference

I spent the morning at the PPA Conference on a panel with Paul Way and John Barnes discussing the challenges of developing a digital business from within a traditional publisher – something we all have a lot of experience of. There were a few questions from the audience which I answered as well as I could – though sometimes, I now regret, a bit flippantly. One answer which I now wish I could have elaborated on was in response to a question about whether blogging journalists in this new world couldn’t set up shop on their own and obviate the need for a publisher.

What I should have said was that the new businesses which are springing up from the blogging medium aren’t really so very different. Consider which was started by journalist Rafat Ali, had to take on more staff to cope with the volumes of work involved and recently hired ex-Variety VP Charlie Koones to join the board to “help us build out our digital entertainment trade media business”. Sounds a lot like a traditional publishing business trajectory if you ask me.

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LinkedIn: My Groups

I got my first invitation to join a LinkedIn group – as it happens a group looking at Web 2.0 in the HR space. LinkedIn seems to have gone into innovation overdrive lately, no doubt spurred by the stratospheric rise in social networking. The site really does look like its achieving critical mass and in my view is the most interesting social networking play currently. I remember a few years ago the total scepticism which greeted any suggestion that the site would make money. I guess the case is now being proved… Watch this space.

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