It is nice to be in a business that the Sotheby’s/Christie’s Duopoly does not particularly care about and even discourages having to deal in it. Their thoughts on the decorative arts as it relates to antique furniture and accessories has clearly been exhibited by their lack of catalog sales, failure to promote the sector, onerous 2% surcharge for low-balling estimates to sell on behalf of a seller, and a profit taking 25% buyer’s premium on the price level of these goods. In an effort to go retail they have successfully destroyed the secondary dealer market in this segment of the industry, which had given a floor to pricing. What have they to gain now that they seemed to have a weak or limited market for their goods?
I don’t really want to give them some advice as to how they can be my direct dealer competitor with Private Treaty contracts, but then again, they seem to be focused on making the internet do all the heavy lifting in this area. Sotheby’s is going after the eBay market to resolve their decorative arts conundrum, and Christie’s believes it can develop its own methods of online high end consumer purchasers. Good luck gentlemen; go your own ways but you’ll always keep your eye on the fine arts big money.
With the 800 pound gorillas essentially out of this market, it makes the industry a bit more competitive and free of practices and methods that now offer more market based decisions for dealers, the rest of the auctioneers, as well as buyers and sellers. In other words, when you do not have the manipulation of both buyers and sellers, free competition for goods and their ultimate pricing becomes more realistic. It sounds almost like the old days (sans buyer’s premium). And as far as the buyer’s premium is concerned, since when have dealers had to add that kind of cost of operations to justify such an enormous revenue production.
The dynamics of the decorative arts market seem to be shifting constantly. From new trends in fashion, style, and sophistication, these items offer unique diversity and functionality that lends itself to personalize taste. Perhaps the high end isn’t as compelling in this part of the industry, but the gamut running from chocolate molds to Chinese Chippendale cover a lot of areas of collecting and price points. Maybe it’s just too much for the big two, but what opportunities must exist. Ebay, 1stdibs, and other online marketplaces seem to thrive in the decorative arts world, with a functioning and strong secondary dealer market making it all possible.
So let me be the first to recognize that I appreciate not having to compete in a marketplace that has fundamental flaws created by 2 controlling interests. Things appear to be quite efficient in how pricing and demand are now functioning. With both duopoly firms now in the throes of looking for a new executive leader to develop even greater profitability for ownership, the pressure to revisit the decorative arts areas might come back on their radar. Unfortunately for them, that train left.