Sites such as GUILD.com and alibris seem to be answering "Yes!" to these questions. GUILD.com connects artists with buyers, while alibris maintains a database of used and rare books for sale. The founding idea behind alibris is very akin to that of Amazon.com: provide a categorized, browsable site that acts as an intermediary between buyers and sellers (for Amazon.com, this meant distributors, while for alibris it means used book dealers).
For example, anyone who needs the first edition printing of that Grant F. Gilmore classic The Problem need look no further. Alibris is also a community, included discussion areas devoted to and articles about used books.
GUILD.com has a different feel to it. Most of the works on the site are new and many of them are one-of-a-kind. Just in case you need a US$7500 Post Industrial Cuckoo Clock to wake you up in the morning, GUILD.com can deliver.
Now, don't let my facetious remarks fool you. I think sites such as GUILD.com and alibris are a welcome relief from commodity exchanges like Amazon.com. But what kind of relief is it? Both GUILD.com and alibris sport the slick interface and crafty salesmanship as Amazon.com and CD.now. Both sites advertise in mainstream periodicals
Compare GUILD.com to specialized sites like Pan African Imagery or the grassroots Original Art Works. Original Art Works even has a gallery of art by school children (not for sale, of course). Sites like these have much more of a community spirit to them then the manufactured communities of GUILD.com and alibris.
So maybe authenticity is only relative. GUILD.com still panders to mass-market appeal, even if it is selling limited-edition wares. But whether you are buying from Amazon.com and alibris, or GUILD.com and Original Art works, it still comes down to consumer empowerment, especially if you have US$45,000 to spare.