Newhaven firm aims to become ‘iTunes of art’: East Sussex-based online store EasyArt is licensed to sell more than 60,000 images from 1,500 artists

EasyArt picture store sets forth from Newhaven to revolutionise access to art

Chairman of site with licence to sell more than 60,000 images from 1,500 artists says the goal is to become ‘the iTunes of art’

Sarah Butler

The Guardian, Monday 17 March 2014 19.58 GMT

Newhaven may not be seen as the centre of the art world, but the East Sussex town is home to a British business that is hoping to harness the cultural credentials of the Tate galleries to the pop sensibility of 1980s poster shop Athena, powered by technology developed for the Red Bull Formula 1 team.

The online store has licences to sell prints of more than 60,000 images by 1,500 artists including Andy Warhol and Picasso as well as an eclectic array of images including vintage Vogue shoots, classic Hammer film posters and Penguin bookcovers. It is aiming to at least double sales over the next two years from about £10m this year and then look beyond the current markets of the UK, France, Germany and Sweden across Europe, where it has exclusive rights to make prints of many images.

All that could create more jobs in Newhaven, where EasyArt prints out all its images using 12 massive machines developed using the technology created to cut out F1 racing car panels. There a team of 50, or up to 90 at peak selling times such as Christmas, build frames and pack and prepare the prints to send out within 24 hours of receiving the order.

James Bidwell, chairman, has ambitions to turn the site into the “iTunes of art”, giving easy access to beautiful works forgotten in bank vaults, archives or dusty museums. Other licences include the RHS archives of botanical paintings and images from the Guardian – including the once-cult wallcharts.

“There is amazing activity in the auction houses which is all great and fuelling interest in art. What’s fun for us is a major work sells for £23m and you can go onto EasyArt and buy a print for £230,” said Bidwell, who joined the company just over a year ago.

Set up during the last dotcom boom – in 1999 – survived the ensuing bust by merging with traditional art publisher King Publishing. After fighting off legal action from Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of EasyJet, over its use of the easy name, it went on to win investment from Scandinavian private equity group Verdane Capital. Now the company is keen to ride the wave of enthusiasm for online stores which has seen the likes of launch on the London Stock Exchange at heady valuations.

It may sell the famous saucy Tennis Girl poster which, thanks to Athena, once adorned the walls of thousands of teenage bedrooms, but Bidwell says EasyArt will not follow the once ubiquitous high street poster store into obscurity.

“We think we can encourage people to buy more art,” he said. “Ikea encouraged people to ‘chuck out the chintz’, we are encouraging people that have had a poster on the wall for years to think, if you’ve been to see the latest art exhibition why not have a beautiful artwork from it on your wall?”

Some museums are experimenting with Apple’s iBeacon technology, which enables visitors to wander through the galleries receiving information about exhibitions on their phones. Bidwell envisages a world where such set-ups will be widespread and seamlessly lead to fans ordering a print for delivery to their home within 24 hours.

As a veteran of eToys, an online children’s store that died in the millennium dotcom bust, Bidwell knows better than many how bubbles can come to a painful end. He insists that this time it is different.

“Back then the numbers never stacked up at all. We were spending so much on the technology and marketing that it was hard to find a business that worked. Now it feels the economics have changed on the technology side, if not so much on marketing,” he said.

A former head of Visit London, Bidwell was part of the team that led the turnaround of Selfridges in the early 2000s, putting it back on the map with attention-grabbing events such as a Bollywood week featuring music, dancers, film screenings and a celebrity-studded opening night attended by Indian film stars such as Amitabh Bachchan.

He is on board at EasyArt to help build similar excitement around the brand and he admits that is likely to include some real-world events such as pop-ups and exhibitions as well as more kiosks to complement the ones already in a number of museums and galleries, and a tie-up withJohn Lewis.

There are further opportunities with other department stores that may want to sell art, but do not want to hold on to piles of stock that may go out of fashion, leading to the kind of cost pressures that put Athena out of business. EasyArt prints and frames each picture to order.

Bidwell compares the change in the print market to that in music and film, where physical stores are now a rare presence on the high street after Athena’s demise in 1995. “The likes of Athena have gone digital,” he said. “Having piles of stock on the high street is no longer commercially viable. We have the opportunity to be a framer brand across Europe and that will help us grow the market and make it more accessible and democratic,” he added.

He also is keen to turn the website from a workaday digital shop into more of a magazine, with discussion and information on the latest art-world events and guest curators from other worlds, such as fashion, putting together their own virtual exhibitions and helping shoppers to find new, or old, gems to put on their wall.

“We want to become part of the zeitgest – engaging and brave. It is about the democratisation of art and our mission is to bring art to the people at relatively low prices.”

If it can pull that off, EasyArt may be able to call itself the poster child of the second dotcom boom.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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