DAVID GREENE, HOST:
For a while now, we've seen local record and bookshops disappearing, as the market for music and literature moves online. In the past few years, there's also been a growth in sites that sell fine art online. And yesterday, the mega retailer Amazon joined that market.
NPR's Laura Sydell has more.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: There are 11 very large, eerie photos of a fair-skinned woman in a white lace dress donning the walls of the Modernbook fine art gallery in downtown San Francisco. In one photo, the woman sits in a chair and feeds milk to a TV. In another the top half of her head is replaced by a bird cage. The artist's name is Jamie Baldridge and the work was inspired by his childhood.
DANNY SANCHEZ: By his afternoons reading fairytales for kind of their dark nature. So, you kind of get a little bit of that in his imagery.
SYDELL: That's gallery manager Danny Sanchez. He's very excited that art collectors will be able to look at and buy Baldridge's photos on Amazon.
SANCHEZ: It'll be another outlet for us to showcase our artists and get that wider range of people who are looking for art that would normally not come across into our building.
SYDELL: And Sanchez was eager to join up with Amazon.
SANCHEZ: They redefined online shopping and I think they have the ability to do that for this new kind of marketplace for art.
SYDELL: The audience for visual art is there, says Amazon's Peter Faricy, the vice president overseeing the launch. Faricy says they were actually getting customer requests to put art on Amazon.
PETER FARICY: We know our customers love fine art and want ways to discover more of it, and so this really gives them a way to discover artists far beyond their geography.
SYDELL: That includes galleries in New York, Miami, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Canada. Faricy says they've got over 150 galleries and dealers signed up with work from more than 4,500 artists. Faricy says they've tried hard to make the site easy to use and appropriate for looking at fine art.
FARICY: All of the images we're using for the artwork are high definition, they're all able to be looked at in more detail.
SYDELL: That's great, but Amazon isn't the first business to bring fine art online. Back in the late 1990's, Eyestorm set up shop from London. More recently Artsy and ArtSpace have made deals with major museums and galleries to sell works by art stars like Saul Lewitt and Cindy Sherman.
But David Ross, the former director of both the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Whitney in New York, thinks Amazon's entrance into the market is a much bigger deal because some hundred million people already shop at the site.
DAVID ROSS: And my old maxim is, people only order what's on the menu. Now that art is on this menu - and the Amazon menu is probably one of the prime menus in the world today for people who have disposable income - now that will become an option, whether it's for a gift or for the home, or for whatever.
SYDELL: You can buy a Monet, or a Warhol, or a Norman Rockwell for close to $5 million. But, most of the works range in price from $100 to $5,000. And many of the galleries that have signed up are not high-end.
Amazon got in touch with Patricia Bransten, the director of Rena Bransten - one of San Francisco's highly respected galleries - she did not sign up with Amazon. She says the person who talked to her knew more about selling wine than art.
PATRICIA BRANSTEN: They're not going to get it. They don't have it enough, in my opinion, to actually get the art business, both to understand it and to get the physical, the inventory.
SYDELL: Bransten does sell work online - her artists have been on Artspace and Artsy, which she thinks are better educated about the market. Still, Bransten says she's hardly sold any work online. And she worries that Amazon's entry into the business will reinforce the big names and marginalize lesser known artists. She says unlike books or wine, people like to look at art in person before they buy it.
Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.
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