Sotheby’s auction house has tapped eBay to expand its offerings online, the companies announced in a joint statement today. The deal marks the second time Sotheby’s has partnered with the internet auctions giant — a 2002 venture saw Sotheby’s hire 200 employees in an attempt to bring live auctions to the eBay platform. Though according to the New York Times that project failed after a year, the current effort capitalizes on an increased consumer comfort with online retail. “Even if we only reach point 1 percent of eBay users, that’s huge for us,” Sotheby’s chief operating officer Bruno Vinciguerra told the Times.
eBay claims a user base of 145 million; a redesigned eBay website planned for October will feature Sotheby’s as an “anchor tenant.” The Sotheby’s presence will begin with live-streamed auctions and expand to online-only sales encompassing 18 “collecting categories.”
In an earnings call in May, Sotheby’s chief executive William Ruprecht stated his firm’s intent to expand its online offerings as well as its sales in the so-called “middle market” of artworks priced between $50,000 and $2 million. These were both identified as areas of weakness against Christie’s by activist investor Dan Loeb, who has castigated Ruprecht for “shun[ning] the lower value lots that your top competitor has effectively captured by leveraging new technologies.”
A number of companies have established themselves in the online art sales category in recent years, with online retailer Amazon’s launch of its fine art section last May joining an already crowded online art marketplace, comprising Artnet (founded 1998), Artsy (founded 2009), Artspace (founded 2011), Paddle 8 (founded 2011), and Auctionata (founded 2012), among others. (Of those, Artnet, Auctionata, and Paddle 8 offer auctions.) Christie’s has also invested $50 million in developing an online platform for auctions, with several sales under its belt, the New York Times noted.
The logic behind the eBay-Sotheby’s deal is further explained in the infographic below, which was provided to Hyperallergic by Sotheby’s: