Time and time again, I get the same question from our investors after showing our product.
“Why hasn’t someone built this yet?”
I’ve answered it a thousand different ways without one succinct response. Today, my response fell flat and only captured a small fraction of what I wanted to convey, but I realized it is impossible to put the answer to this question into one sentence.
The answer is more of a matrix. Next-gen behaviors are challenging the art market, but the stagnancy of the old-school art market systems bottlenecks evolution in the market. As a result, for those who cannot access the legacy elite art market, their interest in art discovery is re-directed to accessible, generalized social platforms.
These platforms are generalized for social purposes; they don't provide next-gen consumers an easy way to find the creators they want, engage with them and their work, or facilitate their buying art. Nor do they provide creators the tools to adequately market their work, build community, or promote commerce.
(hence, why we need verticalization)
Since the launch of web2 social, most of us have gravitated to IG for art discovery. Now, with an ad-driven algorithm dominating web2 discovery and with the rise of web3 and the creator economy, consumers and creators are looking for a new solution. There is a need for a vertical discovery platform – with marketplace tooling, socially-driven discovery, and a new set of art market rules that align with next-generation values.
Why now? The weight is getting heavier. We’re at the tipping point.
There are a few pieces to this puzzle that I will break down in the paragraphs below.
The next generation cares deeply about creativity. 77% of gen-z audiences do something creative on a daily basis, and 56% use social apps to express their creativity.
Next-generation consumers spend their money through a prism of social values. Their purchases represent their identity.
In a market where value is subjective, like the art market, the power of their communities determines the power of their collections.
Next-generation consumer behaviors are pushing up against and into the art market. People are paying attention now because millennials are the highest spending collectors in the market today (both by volume and value).
They are collecting online. They are discovering on their phones. They’re not just looking at art as an asset, they have a unique set of motivators – supporting artists, being inspired, personal passions, etc.
The traditional art market seems to be doing just fine without radically addressing these evolving consumer behaviors. A $65B global TAM isn’t so bad (and we keep hearing about insane collection sales like Paul’s $1.6B). But are you doing fine? Do you know a platform that is helping you and your friends find art? Probably not.
The art market is a delicate system. It’s small and insular – with an evolving set of values all on its own.
The value of art can only be measured through networks. Today, artists derive prestige and value from associations with specific galleries, museums, and notable collectors. The prestige and value of these specific galleries and museums stem from the perceived importance of the artists they represent. It’s a continual ring of interdependencies.
Artists want to be in these esteemed galleries, while galleries succeed or fail by attracting well-regarded artists. All prestige in the art world is subjective, and within this interdependent ring, value is created.
Money holds this ring together.
But if the “Art World” is ruled by the 0.1%, why would it open itself up to the 99.9%?
The people who control the art market are not incentivized to change it because the system works quite well for them to make more money. It’s a big enough market as-is. How are they making so much money? See below.
Galleries take ~50-70%+ of sales from artists.
Collectors sit on museum boards and donate their work to promote their artists to create more exposure, so the value appreciates.
If a work doesn’t sell at an auction, collectors or galleries will often buy the work back at a higher price.
Legacy art platforms aren’t meeting the needs of next-gen consumers, and galleries only represent 14% of creators. Where do we go from here?
80% of collectors today use IG to discover art today.
Even though IG was never designed for art discovery, it's probably your mid-market fallback if you’re not spending millions of dollars on art.
In a classic verticalization-play narrative, generalized social platforms like Instagram are fairly painful for focused discovery, buying/selling, and business management.
A lot of us are tired of using these platforms. And rightfully so.
It might seem like the right approach to changing this system would be to answer these types of questions:
But these questions aren’t the right questions to ask.
The reality is that the current art market wasn’t designed to scale to the 99%.
“Making it” as an artist is nearly impossible (there are only a handful of institutions that determine if an artist makes it in the art world – New York’s MoMA, Guggenheim, Gagosian Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago, Tate, Centre Pompidou and Reina Sofia) – and only 0.05 percent of artists (227), out of half a million (500,000) started their career at third-tier institutions and ended up in the high prestige institutions). We need a new system.
We need a new interface. Every once in a while, I look at a JPEG of an artwork with a static price point on a website and have to remind myself – this is not how art is meant to be experienced.
The design of digital art discovery on marketplaces makes no sense. Why would we buy this? Where is the story, where is the context, and how do we feel the artist's world through this UX/UI experience?
It takes time to develop your own sense of style, your own style of music, and your culinary preferences. It’s the same for your art style! It’s not just about a piece of art for a wall, it’s about helping consumers find a piece of art on their walls that represents who they are.
The reason “this doesn’t exist” is because – well, we need a whole new “this”. Not many people who understand this market are incentivized to change it. It’s disruptive.
Ultimately, Cohart will look and feel simple. One of those “of-course-this should-exist” products, but getting here has not been simple. We’ve spent two years doing user research with all parties involved (artists, collectors, consumers, newbies, gallerists, producers – you name it) with a comprehensive set of user questions (guided by experts like Jeanette Mellinger) to get where we are with this product.
We’re asking a new set of questions.
It’s just the beginning of our journey, but we fundamentally believe we’re the ones who will capture this tipping point. The next generation is ready. The world is exponentially shape-shifting before our eyes. The old rulebook is obsolete.
We’re establishing a new business model, product, and network that fosters a new art world system. We’re bringing the experience and joy of art collecting to the masses, building a community that will create consensus on the value and desirability of art that will matter in our future.
As of today, I decided to make Buckminster Fuller’s quote my desktop background (proof below) as a reminder to keep doing what we’re doing. And do it as quickly as possible.