The diminishing status of the decorative and fine arts industry has been quite consistent. Decades of industry scandals and government actions have defamed the reputation of both dealer and auctioneer participants. The need to re-imagine how a dealer can function is at a point of evolving or perish. The cross hairs of digital vs. reality have now collided.
While I can’t say I prefer having a showroom over a warehouse setting, the physical possession offers the ability to touch, and see texture, color, and form. It’s something that a virtual presentation can’t quite duplicate even in a 3 dimensional view. Of course there is the option of consigning and shipping “on approval”, but this isn’t a pair of shoes. 1stdibs is planning to impose rules that put that burden on me with the obligation to do the financial transaction through their system, which imposes a potentially 13% monetary charge off the eventual selling price.
Pricing is only part of the issue. Now, long established clients, and those who want to do business with my firm, are excluded to purchase through my company when there is a correspondence through or indirectly by inquiry of a posting on 1stdibs. Quite honestly, I hate telling my clients that they cannot buy that item from me directly. Am I supposed to lose many of my clients that could have seen the identical piece on my web site or in the showroom listed at the same price, but with a different and possibly lower negotiated price? Pricing is an issue, but client contact is something I’m not prepared to loose. My problem with 1stdibs is this isn’t what I signed up for when I first became a 1stdibs member.
I can’t deny that 1st dibs shouldn’t get some form of remuneration for assistance in selling an item, but it can’t be on a commission basis. It should just be a transaction fee of maybe 2%, with payment directly to the dealer or a 3% credit card charge. If 1stdibs wants sales volume, keep the costs low; think Amazon. I can only offer 1stdibs my thoughts, but David Rosenblatt the 1stdibs CEO, and his management team have venture capital and hedge funds calling the shots.
This is a conundrum. How do I stare down a (presently) financially strong company without any organized group of dealers that could inflict some economic pressure to their operations? On the one hand, both the dealers and 1stdibs are experiencing a contraction in the market, and 1stdibs isn’t the elixir that is makes itself out to be. The tattered image of the industry is beyond a disgrace. The Antiques Roadshow isn’t exactly leading the industry on a growth path.
The best part of this crisis for dealers and their customers is the opportunity to re-image and remake how the decorative and fine arts are sold and valued. How and why you own these objects must always be a part of the value. 1stdibs with their new amended terms, offers a new-fangled method as to how the industry should evolve. I can’t say that it works for me, as they might not have anticipated for most dealers; but I know I can adapt with and to 1stdibs, hopefully for everyone’s benefit. I adapted to the auctioneer’s buyer’s premium and somehow Newel is still standing abet with a good parallel rental business. The evolutionary dynamics in the last two decades of this industry have been extraordinary. But through it all, a dealer focused association has never been able to coalesce around some form of shared common values and image.
Whether it’s going the 1stdibs route or an alternative virtual medium, this is all about the survival of dealers as we know them. The shrinking dealer population over the last 2 decades can and will continue unless there is some unified direction to the benefit of those who aspire to be in the trade. We are caretakers and educators who survive within the economic principles of supply and demand. Only openness and transparency of the market will help to rebuild its potential. What alternative is there to 1stdib? The short answer is none, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to image that something else might evolve, just like eBay did before 1st dibs, or Sotheby’s $60 million internet disaster, or Circline, etc. etc. etc. The market and industry exist in a dynamic environment.