Sotheby’s and eBay Unveil Details of New Joint Venture—Will it Work?

Can two corporate giants really work together? It failed last time.


Seven months after announcing a major partnership for online auctions of art and collectibles, Sotheby’s and eBay are making sale property available online for the first time today. Viewers will be able to browse and place advance bids ahead of the first scheduled sale on April 1.

Since the partnership was announced this past July, teams from both companies have been  building a “unique, curated, smart new live auction experience that captures the best of both companies,” according to a release from Sotheby’s (see Sotheby’s Names Tad Smith as New CEO—He Was Former President and CEO of Madison Square Garden).

The venture is being closely watched by the art world and e-commerce observers alike since it constitutes the second such foray by Sotheby’s and eBay after their first attempt in the late 1990s, when e-commerce for nearly all industries was in its infancy.

Notwithstanding that related technology  has developed at warp speed in the years since, observers are keen to see which platforms will prove successful (See Picassos and Pez Dispensers? Sotheby’s and eBay Team Up Again and Weighing The Pros And Cons of the Sotheby’s eBay Partnership).

In its latest release, Sotheby’s also cited data from the recent TEFAF 2015 art market report (for which artnet is a key data supplier) about online sales. This included statistics that in 2014, sales of online art were estimated conservatively to have reached €3.3 billion, or around 6 percent of global art and antiques sales by value. (See: World Art Market Passes €51 Billion Says 2015 TEFAF Art Market Report and 40 Percent of World Gallery Art Sales Made at Fairs and Other Key Findings in the TEFAF Art Market Report 2015).

Another statistic that Sotheby’s has repeatedly noted in an effort to promote its new venture in the online realm is that the “the middle market has been the focal point for online selling with the majority of sales taking place between about $1,000 and $50,000.”

The first auctions will be a New York-themed sale and a Photographs sale on April 1 (see Reggie Jackson Is Selling the Giant Yankee Stadium Sign at Sotheby’s), but the venture will also include sales ranging from furniture to Old Master paintings, to prints, and other specially curated themes.

According to a statement from Sotheby’s the partnership will initially be focused on New York sales and expand to auctions at other global salerooms though no official timetable has been set.

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