Dr Clare McAndrew, the author of ‘The Art Market 2018’, a report published by Art Basel and UBS Global.

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The Art Market 2018, a report published by Art Basel and UBS Global, states that online sales now represent 8% of the total art market, reaching “a new high” of $5.4bn in 2017, up 10% year-on-year and 72% over the last five years.

The report found total global art market sales (by value) grew by 12% in 2017 to $63.7bn (£45.6bn).

Online optimism

“There is optimism in the online sector,” the report’s author, Dr Clare McAndrew, said. “Although it hasn’t grown as much as projected [a figure of 10% growth was recorded for total retail sales in 2017], it is really successful in getting new buyers. The importance of online sales is about attracting different faces. The market needs new customers to succeed and online sales make it more accessible.”

The report is based on publicly available auction data sources and surveys completed by global and national auctioneers and dealers in key markets.

Dealers reported that 45% of their online buyers were new to their businesses, while auction houses reported more than 40% of those buying online were new buyers.

Auction aggregators were one of the “biggest successes in the online market in 2017”, the report said.

McAndrew added: “While online sales were limited to very low prices initially, this ceiling continues to rise gradually, allowing a much-expanded range of interactions between buyers and sellers.”

Under pressure

McAndrew warned that the overall growth figure was driven by the high-end section of the market. “The top line figure that the market has grown by 12% masks what is happening in other sectors of the market. If you drill down into other segments, it reveals many businesses coming under pressure.

“The mid-market is stagnant and the upper-middle segment has not come back in the past year.”

This was demonstrated by the finding that there was 125% year-on-year market growth for objects sold for more than $1m, but negative annual growth and value decline for the market of artworks between $1000- $1m.

China represents 21% of total sales with the UK falling to 20%, while the US retained its top position with 42%. Despite China’s significant growth, the report says, the country’s art market statistics are dogged by the issue of non-payment at auction.

■ For more details from the report, see next week’s ATG.

The Art Market 2018 report is based on auction data, a survey of the top 10 global auction houses, 550 national auctioneers and 6,500 dealers in the US, Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.