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Sotheby's And eBay Join Forces For Pricey Auctions

The famous auction house and the Internet giant will team up to allow easier worldwide bidding on artwork and collectibles.
Posted at 9:52 PM, Jul 14, 2014

You can buy pretty much anything on eBay — cars, old video game collections, canned unicorn meat ... And soon you'll be able to add Picasos and Warhols to that list.

The famous international auction house Sotheby's, known for putting priceless pieces of art under the gavel, announced Monday that it has teamed up with the Internet retail giant eBay to bring those expensive art auctions online.

A news release by the two companies says they are creating an "innovative online platform that will make it easier for millions of people worldwide to discover, browse and acquire exceptional works of art, antiques and collectibles". (Via Business Wire)

In other words, Sotheby's auctions will be streamed online, enabling eBay's 145 million active buyers to bid. The New York Times writes that while bidding online isn't new for Sotheby's, the way the company is expanding its audience is.

"Sotheby’s is trying to reach beyond its traditional customers to an enormous affluent global audience for whom online buying has become second nature. Luxury shopping websites ... have shown that shoppers are willing to spend many thousands of dollars on everything from handbags to sconces."

The move shows that 270-year-old Sotheby's is ready to update its business practices — which is probably called for when your largest shareholder writes a letter comparing your company to "an old master painting in desperate need of restoration." (Via The Telegraph)

MarketWatch points out that the deal is pretty important for eBay too, writing that "finding a new growth avenue is crucial for eBay as it faces increased competition from other players led by Amazon, and its own sales growth has slowed."

A June article from The Wall Street Journal examined auctions performed by Sotheby's biggest competitor, Christie's, and found that auction sales are increasingly being completed by phone and online, as opposed to physically being in the auction room.

And a March report by The European Fine Art Foundation found that 2013 online art and antique auctions contributed to about 5 percent of total sales, but could grow at about 25 percent per year in the future.

Sotheby's and eBay have attempted to join forces before. In fact, they tried pretty much this same partnership based around online bidding in 2002 but parted ways after only a year due to low profits.