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Disruption without Destruction

In 2013, I wrote about a fascinating new app called Vivino that used image recognition technology in place of the traditional database search interface. Snap a picture of a wine label using the app, and Vivino would search its database to return information on the wine, including ratings and price.

Lest you think this was a specialized, one-off application of image recognition technology, we now learn that Vivino has licensed its technology to a new app company called Magnus that wants to apply the same concept to the world of art. Step up to any painting or other piece of flat artwork (it reports over 8 million pieces of art in its database already), snap a picture, and the app will match it to a database record that will tell you the artist, the year it was created, the medium, and most significantly, the price most recently commanded at auction or the price being asked by the gallery where the art is currently being offered for sale.

Content comes from auction data results. To crack the gallery market, Magnus turns to crowdsourcing, but with a demanding quality control process behind the scenes.

The app is currently free, and this has a double benefit to Magnus. First, it builds the size of its audience some of whom will start to supply price data as well. Second, if Magnus gets to a critical mass of users, art galleries will feel compelled to supply price data to stay competitive, and that would really change the art market, which remains inordinately fond of supplying prices only “on request.”

And that’s truly what is most fascinating about Magnus: it is technically a disruptive data play in the art market, yet it’s not meant to displace galleries. The simple objective of Magnus is to get galleries to be more open about their pricing in the belief that this will make buying art less intimidating to the average consumer and grow art sales overall. There’s no evidence that Magnus is anything but sincere in its desire to help change gallery practices for the good of the galleries.

To date, disrupting a market has typically meant re-ordering an existing market to make a place for the disruptor, typically at the expense of some or all existing players in that market. Here, Magnus is simply trying to disrupt a single, hidebound industry practice for the greater benefit of the industry. Magnus creates a place for itself, but at nobody’s expense. This notion of “additive disruption” is intriguing, and worth further discussion. If there are opportunities to re-arrange or re-invigorate existing markets rather than blowing them up, the number of potential opportunities out there increases dramatically – a pretty picture indeed!