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July 14, 2014

Wheelings & Dealings: A Shot of Class for eBay? New Partnership With Sotheby's Says Yes


While eBay is a great place to find just about anything one could ask for online—particularly if the something in question is used or otherwise previously owned—sometimes eBay can get a bit heavy on the kitschy, the crafty, and the plain old utilitarian. Things like art don't always come easy on eBay, particularly originals from the great masters of the field. But that may be about to change thanks to a new partnership between eBay and Sotheby's, the legendary auction house that may well provide a whole new injection of culture into eBay.

The newly-minted team-up, at last report, will allow eBay to stream sales conducted at Sotheby's New York, which in turn will appear live on a section of eBay's website specifically devoted to the high-end auction house. That by itself will likely be interesting enough for wealth fanciers, but will only get better from there as Sotheby's looks to expand the arrangement, bringing new online-only sales and streamed auctions from other locations as well, including standards like Paris, Hong Kong and London.

Interestingly, Sotheby's and eBay first tried something like this back in 2002, a partnership which ultimately collapsed after just about a year. But a change in the market, as well as in the overall positions of potential buyers, has prompted a second look and a new bid for matching the high-end fare of Sotheby's with the sheer reach and power of eBay.

It's not that Sotheby's has never been online; indeed, registered bidders routinely join in the action online, and reports suggest that sales on Sotheby's website were up fully 36 percent in 2013 over 2012. But Sotheby's is eager to expand its reach beyond the well-heeled who are already in the know and tap into markets held by places like Gilt and 1st Dibs, websites showing that the luxury market has a reach well beyond the standard Sotheby's crowd. Meanwhile, other major auction houses like Christie's are likewise looking to get in, but not always through partnerships.

Indeed, eBay is already home to some fairly expensive fodder. A Viking 48 foot yacht is currently available with a “Buy It Now” price of $729,000, and there are several classes of art from direct from the artist to direct from resellers to even entire wholesale lots of art on hand. Though some might think it's not necessarily a great idea for eBay to start offering artwork with a six figure price tag while there are still people out there trying to choose between food and medicine on this month's budget, there are plenty of people for whom times have never been better, and these are the people for whom eBay is going. It may not find much of a reception, but the gross revenue tends to be the same whether one item is sold for $100,000 or 1,000 items are sold for $100, and the profit may be better on the one item deal.

Only time will tell just how well this ultimately works out, but a new niche always has some possibilities. Sotheby's and eBay may well find the partnership works well this time around, and either way, there will be some impressive new things showing up on eBay soon, even if it's just video footage.




Edited by Maurice Nagle


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