eBay and the fine-art auction house Sotheby's are teaming up to offer access to on-location auctions over the web, allowing people across the globe to bid on Sotheby's listings of antiques, artworks, and collectibles. To host the online auctions, eBay will launch a new page for auctions that tie-in with bidding at Sotheby's New York headquarters. Other sellers will eventually be able to take advantage of the service, though Sotheby's will remain its flagship partner. "We are joining with eBay to make our sales more accessible to the broadest possible audience around the world," Sotheby's COO Bruno Vinciguerra says in a statement.
Sotheby's own online auctions hit new heights this year
Sotheby's already offers online auctions on its own, but reaching out to eBay's millions of buyers opens up a vast number of new customers to it. According to The New York Times, Sotheby's doesn't think that eBay will help it reach the highest of its high-end customers, but it does believe that eBay could help expand the middle of its market, an area that comprises auctions that sell between $5,000 and $100,000. Sotheby's has reportedly been losing business to its main competitor of late, making its reach to eBay an unlikely but aggressive move to change the tides.
Even stranger than the fact that auction houses new and old are joining forces is the fact that eBay and Sotheby's have more or less made this deal before. Over a decade ago, in 2002, the two companies held a short-lived partnership to host Sotheby's auctions on eBay. The deal ended just over a year after it began, as Sotheby's found that the deal was not helping it generate profit. In fact, ending the deal actually led to a loss of money for the 270-year-old auction house.
There's some sign that Sotheby's could have better luck this time. On its own, Sotheby's has seen participation from online bidders in 17 percent of the lots it offered across last year. And in April, it sold John James Audubon’s The Birds of America to an online bidder for $3.5 million, setting a new record for an online purchase at its auction house. Mobile visits to Sotheby's have been increasing too, and it suspects that eBay can help it take advantage of that further. The web may be a hard place to bring a business as old as Sotheby's, but its initial efforts appear to be making progress. And if it's right that a deal with eBay will help this time around, those numbers may look even bigger this time next year.