World-renowned auction house
Sotheby's said on Tuesday it has signed up 1,500 art dealers in
the United States and Europe for its new Internet site, allowing
them to trade their wares online starting in July.
The site, sothebys.com, will offer an online platform for
auctioning art, antiques, and jewelry and is aimed at
complementing Sotheby's core live auction business.
David Redden, executive vice president of Sotheby's in New
York, said the site's 1,500 charter members represented a
significant portion of the world's art dealing elite.
"That's an overwhelming number when you think that a great
antiques show might have 70 dealers involved in it," he told
Reuters in an interview.
Sotheby's announced in January that it was launching an
Internet auction business, joining the flurry of companies
rushing to capitalize on electronic commerce.
Its first online auction will be baseball memorabilia from
collector Barry Halper's collection, which will take place via
the Internet and also a live auction in New York.
The company plans to make an initial investment of more than
$25 million for personnel, marketing and capital costs for the
Internet venture over the next 12 months.
Sotheby's said this outlay will weigh on earnings, but it
declined to put a figure on the impact.
Only professionals will be allowed to sell on the site,
although anyone will be able to buy over the Internet. The site
will initially focus on goods with auction prices of
$300-$10,000, with bidders paying by credit card.
Asked whether clients would be willing to buy works without
having actually seen them in person, Redden pointed out that
many bidders already buy their works via catalog.
"The imaging has become so good on the Internet that it
rivals that of the catalog," Redden said, adding that the
Internet also allows for increased text and pictures.
Sothebys.com will be headed by Susan Solomon, former chief
executive of Sony Worldwide Networks.
The launch of sothebys.com follows the U.S. stock market
flotations of auction services uBid Inc and eBay Inc. However,
Sotheby's expects little overlap between its high-art business
and that of existing online auctioneers.
For example, uBid offers mostly close-out and refurbished
consumer electronics, while eBay matches buyers and sellers for
a range of items from Hollywood memorabilia to antiques.
"As far as auction sites that deal with higher quality
works of art, this is really a very empty area," Redden said.
Eventually, as online technology develops, the Internet site
might complement or even replace phone-in bids at live auctions.
"We have a great number of people who bid over the
telephone, but they obviously can't see what's going on. The
Internet can actually provide a very enhanced access to the
auction process eventually," Redden said.