Sotheby’s brings in nearly £2 billion in sales from online auctions

This week, international auction house Sotheby’s announced sales of $2.5billion (£1.9billion) so far this year, largely thanks to “innovation [and] adaptation.” According to a report on Monday, more than $285m (£218m) was brought in through online auctions alone and a further $575m (£441m) was generated through private sales.

When the pandemic wreaked havoc around the world, forcing many countries to implement lockdown measures around March, the art market and auction houses grew wary. However, Sotheby’s soon began to ramp up its online auctions. Between January 1st and July 31stover 180 online auctions were held, involving 44 different auction categories, resulting in a massive 540% increase in online sales compared to 2019. Online auctions ranged from single item sales, as was the case with a pair of 1985 Air Jordan 1s, signed and worn by Michael Jordan, which sold for $560,000 (~£430,000), at major “multicamera global livestream” auctions that replaced the marquee sales.

An auction at Sotheby's that contributed to sales in 2020
Oliver Barker is hosting a live auction at Sotheby’s. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

“The fine art and luxury markets have proven incredibly resilient, and the demand for quality across all categories is relentless,” said Charles Stewart, CEO of Sotheby’s, in a press release. While Stewart referred to “strong customer demand” throughout the year, year-to-date totals for the auction house are down 25% overall, according to Pi-eX, an art market analysis company in London, despite their strong performance in online sales. This drop in overall revenue is due to a 42% drop in live auctions, which so far this year have brought in just $1.6bn (£1.2bn). Christie’s, on the other hand, would have seen a bigger drop of 53% for its counterparts at online and live auctions.

Much of Sotheby’s success in weathering such a strange year is down to innovation that has allowed them to be more adaptable, but live auction revenue remains a key player in the success of the world’s auction houses. whole.

Other key points from Sotheby’s report include an average overall sell-through rate of 80% in the first seven months of the year. The reconfiguration of their marquee sales saw a new approach to live auctions and the evening brought in $363m (£278m), which was, however, significantly lower than the $692m (£531m ) brought by the evening sale of May 2019. .

“Auction houses release detailed sales information to remind buyers and shippers alike at times like this that the art market is open for business,” said the former chairman of Christie’s for the Americas, Doug Woodham. The New York Times. “It’s impressive to see how Sotheby’s has managed to accumulate so many sales. Because they are owned by a telecommunications mogul, they seemed to innovate faster than their competitors. »

Despite impressive navigation, the auction house is not completely unscathed. In addition to an overall drop in revenue, Sotheby’s laid off around 12% of its roughly 1,700 staff in April and the remaining staff took major pay cuts.