Ebay and Sotheby’s are partnering to stream high-end auctions online, the firms announced on Monday.
Starting in the fall, a portion of Sotheby’s New York auctions will be live-streamed on a new section of eBay’s site, opening up the 270-year-old auction house’s refined collection to eBay's 145m customers.
Sotheby’s already hosts online bidding on its site – that’s where John James Audubon’s folio The Birds of America sold for $3.5m in April – but its online strategy has been criticized internally and externally. The company’s largest shareholder, Daniel Loeb, said in an October 2013 letter that: “Sotheby’s is like an old master painting in desperate need of restoration.”
He also expressed concerns about the company’s declining performance in relation to that of its rival, Christie’s, which has announced its own forays into online sales. The auction house is scheduled to launch a redesigned website in October that is partially guided by experts at high-end online retailers like Gilt.
“There is a demoralizing recognition among employees that Sotheby’s is not at the cutting edge – demonstrated by the company’s inability to even develop a coherent plan for an internet sales strategy, much less implement one,” Loeb said.
This deal seeks to challenge that characterization, and is marked by a careful integration of online live auctions to eBay’s site. Initially, New York auctions for 18 collecting categories will be streamed on the site, not including the legendary evening sales where works by renowned artists like Yayoi Kusama and Jackson Pollock go for millions. The companies also hope to eventually broadcast auctions from its global locations like Milan and Doha.
EBay’s general manager of emerging verticals, Gene Cook, told the Guardian that the company was compelled to enter the live auction world after discussions with customers and sellers of collectibles on the site. “A lot of this inventory that is upmarket, but still at an accessible price point, lives in a live auction experience,” Cook said.
More than half of all lots sold at Sotheby’s in 2013 were between $5,000 and $100,000 – a price range Cook believes will appeal to eBay customers who bid for collectibles on the site. Each day, more than 3,500 eBay auctions close at more than $5,000, according to company figures.
“The growth of the art market, new generation technology and our shared strengths make this the right time for this exciting new online opportunity,” Bruno Vinciguerra, Sotheby’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “We are joining with eBay to make our sales more accessible to the broadest possible audience around the world.”
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