Australian startup snapshot: Bluethumb

Online gallery wins artists with smaller commissions, free shipping

Bluethumb co-founders George (left) and Edward Hartley. Credit: Bluethumb

Bluethumb co-founders George (left) and Edward Hartley. Credit: Bluethumb

Bluethumb is an Adelaide startup that is taking on bricks-and-motor art galleries with an online marketplace that connects Australian artists to potential buyers.

The pitch

Bluethumb set out to solve two major problems in the art world, according to co-founder Edward Hartley.

For artists, it’s difficult to find distribution outlets to sell artwork, and physical galleries can only sell a small selection of their work to a small number of potential buyers each day, he said.

For buyers, it’s inconvenient to discover art and find time to visit physical galleries, he said.

“Very few people from Generation X and Y really go to galleries regularly to buy art, but they’re always online and they’re always shopping and discovering new things they’re interested in.”

Hartley described himself and the startup’s other two co-founders—who include his brother George—as art lovers. While he has worked as a chartered accountant, Hartley studied art and is a painter himself. Hartley’s father is also an artist.

“What we saw was a real gap in the market. We thought that the art world and the art industry was years behind the rest of retail in an online sense.”

The idea behind Bluethumb was to take the gallery experience online, selling artwork 24 hours, seven days a week through a national website and, more recently, an iPhone app.

Credit: Bluethumb
Credit: Bluethumb

To sell art, artists set up a profile and upload images of their work with a price and description. When a customer buys a piece of artwork, Bluethumb notifies the seller and pays for a courier to handle shipping to the buyer.

The buyer gets a one-week evaluation period to decide if they are satisfied with the piece. If the buyer decides not to keep it for any reason within that period, Bluethumb will cover the shipping costs of returning the artwork to the seller.

Buyers pay for art using a credit card or PayPal, and then Bluethumb pays the artist after taking a 30 per cent commission.

Hartley described that commission as small compared to the 50 per cent that is frequently taken by physical galleries. In addition, he said Bluethumb reinvests most of the money in the technology and enhancing the business.

Next: Developing in Adelaide

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