Guest Articles

September 21

Srikaran Masabathula

Bringing Digital Innovation to the Global Art Market: An Innovative Platform Connects International Buyers to Emerging Markets Artists

Business models across all industries are shifting rapidly to the new digitized world, as the proliferation of transformational technologies – from cloud computing, smart phones and e-commerce, to social media, virtual reality and fintech – continue to generate disruptive new innovations and enterprises.

However, the global art market remains relatively stuck in its centuries-old, brick-and-mortar sales and distribution model, with most players’ forays into digitization consisting only of the simple step of converting their physical storefronts into browsable electronic inventories. This lack of innovation represents a missed opportunity to leverage digital tools to increase sales. Furthermore, art is intended to produce an emotional response, and the generic “widget-selling” approach taken by most art e-marketplaces completely overlooks the value of introducing this important aspect of the product into the customer experience.

What’s worse, by failing to leverage the enormous transformational possibilities presented by digital technology, the industry is continuing to overlook the age-old inequities in the art world. The majority of artists from emerging economies struggle to reach audiences in developed markets, and to receive fair compensation for their talent. On the other hand, the average art buyer in both developed and developing countries still does not have adequate access to affordable, high-quality artwork – particularly from artists in emerging markets. This helps perpetuate a long-standing divide in the art world – the separation between the haves and the have-nots.

Artistic talent is an innate human trait that manifests in all corners of the world – including remote towns in South America, Africa, South and Southeast Asia and other developing regions. With no meaningful market access opportunities for artists from these countless forgotten areas, art lovers are missing out on a massive variety of artwork – and artists are missing out on a valuable pool of potential buyers. And in the rare cases where these artists do gain access to international buyers, the bland sales approach of the current generation of art e-marketplaces robs their artwork of much of its emotional resonance, making it harder for the artists to connect with their audience and increase their sales.


Using Digital Innovation to Transform the Global Art Marketplace

At TapArt, we have a built a business model from the ground up that addresses these critical shortcomings in current art marketplace models. Our digital platform not only avoids some of the fundamental weaknesses of the traditional art market, it also takes advantage of the transformational opportunities of new technologies to make a social impact. Our goal is to harness the fullest power of art – enabled by our innovative use of technology and global collaborations – to bring people and cultures together as one world community.

Fairness, equity, access and affordability are central to our business model. We purposely set out with the mission of building a global community of artists from both emerging and developed economies. To that end, we have leveraged several key innovations and strategies: building relationships with an ecosystem of partners across the developing world; engaging and recruiting new members of the TapArt team to serve as artist managers in key regions (i.e., Africa, South America, Asia); and building technology features into our online marketplace to deliver a truly immersive experience which converts curious visitors to well-informed and connected art-lovers.

Here’s how the model brings the work of artists from (often remote) towns to TapArt’s digital marketplace: We use high-quality image capturing apps that allow the physical artwork to be photographed from multiple angles, using computer vision to produce digital versions of the work that capture its rich detail. This technology allows artists to use their own smartphone cameras – which generally lack the image resolution to produce a professional-quality photo of the full artwork – to take close-up shots of separate portions of their work, with the app using artificial intelligence to combine these photos into a single high-definition image file. The artists then seamlessly upload the digitized art to our marketplace through TapArt’s proprietary artist portal. When a piece of artwork is purchased through the portal, we create a canvas or print reproduction of the image, which we deliver to the customer. We also overcome the barriers faced by unbanked communities through our use of innovative mobile payment platforms and other fintech solutions, which enable seamless payment to the artists when their work is purchased by customers through our online market.


Combining Digital Technology with Local Support

One key component of this model is our network of artist managers. Through partnerships with the African Leadership Group (which teaches entrepreneurial skills to empower African youth) and CARBON Group Global (a sustainable solutions holding company), we engage enterprising people with roots in local art communities across the globe. These artist managers seek out talented artists in their region, and help onboard these artists and their artwork into the TapArt platform. Their role is crucial, because some artists reside in very remote, hard-to-access areas, and would typically make the journey to town to sell their works at a local market or gallery just once every few weeks. Now these artists can rely on TapArt’s team of talented artist managers to digitize, upload and facilitate payment for their artworks as often as they produce them. To further streamline the process, our artist managers teach new artists how to use TapArt’s portal themselves during onboarding, enabling them to upload their own artwork and create and customize their own “shops,” adding or removing artworks, writing descriptions of their background and work, etc. But if the artists need support, our managers are always a text message away, maintaining the relationship and remaining in regular contact with the artists.

By turning these singular physical artworks into a digital version, the work can be sold multiple times, earning the artists ongoing commissions, and allowing them the option to also sell the original physical work. (Naturally, the artists retain full ownership of the physical and digitized forms of their work at all times). The artist and manager share a generous and competitive percentage of all their work sold. The revenue ear­­ned from just a single sale can make a substantial difference in supporting the artist and their community, sometimes generating their entire monthly income. TapArt also receives a percentage of each sale, sustaining our operations and enabling us to cover the costs of marketing, technology infrastructure, distribution and fulfillment, sales and returns, customer support, payment processing, and other expenses.


Enabling Connections Between Art Lovers and Artists

There’s one other important element of our model: Behind each piece of art, there is inspiration and a story to be told – and that is often what speaks to the art lovers who purchase these works. That’s why telling artists’ stories is an integral part of our partnership with them. Every artist we work with authors a bio of themselves, detailing the path they followed to become an artist and their influences along the way. And each work an artist adds to the TapArt marketplace is accompanied by the artist’s personal insights about the inspiration behind the piece. Going further, our artists are strongly encouraged to include short video messages spoken directly to art lovers, drawing them closer together and establishing a meaningful personal connection that can be a key driver of greater sales.

We believe this approach can create a vibrant connection between art lovers and artists and their artwork, offering a unique window into the country and culture behind the art. This connection celebrates the diversity of the world and the richness of human culture by highlighting unique local traditions, customs and socioeconomic environments. It enables people to build their affinity, appreciation and connectedness to all the countries (31 and growing) represented on TapArt’s platform.

Soon, TapArt will be able to take this connection further, advancing our goal of fostering a one-world-community through art. Starting in October, we will expand our efforts by virtually connecting artist communities from numerous countries and cultures, live-streaming video conversations, moderated by TapArt, between artists from remote corners of the globe. We will also start bringing select collections of art to hotels, tapping into their international mix of travelers to further raise the profile of our partnering artists. In addition to selling this art to the hotels, we’re planning to place QR codes on every artwork, which guests will be able to scan to learn more about the artists, their art and its production history – and to purchase the art themselves.

TapArt’s model is impact-first, but it’s also a model that is self-sustainable, converting a long-standing missed opportunity in the art world to a substantial new opportunity that can benefit art lovers, our company – and most importantly, the talented local artists and artist managers we partner with. We invite all social impact-minded readers to visit our site, enjoy the world of international art – and make a difference in artists’ lives.


Srikaran Masabathula (Sri) is the founder and CEO of TapArt.


Photo courtesy of One zone Studio.




Technology, Telecommunications
distribution, e-commerce, fintech, innovation, partnerships