Best Small Business to Start: Online Art Dealer

There is always travel involved in the art world, whether to another country to find emerging artists.

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Online Art Dealer

There is always travel involved in the art world—whether it's to another country to find emerging artists or to meet with buyers. Online art dealers are no different—they just save money by not having a physical art gallery space. The online art world is a growing sector that eschews the most expensive aspects of brick-and-mortar dealerships: rental of gallery space and salaries for curatorial staff. Online venues like the popular or the less-established carve out a spot for young and emerging artists, often hosted by entrepreneurs working out of their homes. One of the best things about online art dealing, according to VicariousCollection's owner, Michael Files, is that you can do it from almost anywhere. Files lives in Ahmadnagar, India, where he also has a small gallery. He uses the typical 50/50 business model for splitting earnings with artists, though he says he is working toward a 30/70—that's 30 percent for him. He sees that change as a form of competition control so that his artists will stick with him.

What does it pay?
This is such a new type of business that its specific wage statistics are difficult to find. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for executives in the electronic shopping and mail-order house industry was $173,290. But these executives are not necessarily selling art-related products.

What kind of background do you need?
A laptop and a professional-grade camera are integral to displaying artwork online. Beyond logistics, having an eye for what's selling in the art world usually requires a related degree or past experience. Art dealers have to know what people are buying and be able to spot emerging artists who will be successful. The key to art dealing is good negotiation and people skills. Most successful dealers stick to a niche, instead of dabbling in many media and styles. Dealers' specialties are their calling cards for buyers, and should be clearly stated on their sites.

How do you get started?
Files's "bread and butter" comes from a constant stream of sarongs, hand-crafted sculptures, and fabrics that he receives from Bali or that he goes there to find himself. These are easy to sell because "there's already an existing market for that," he says. That steady income underwrites more risky endeavors, like buying supplies from unproven artists and selling the work of "young and emerging artists that people in the West—or anywhere—just won't find on their own." His biggest challenge is juggling E-mail inquiries, finding a Web designer, and connecting his eBay store and website—all while keeping an eye on what's new in the art scene.

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