Sotheby’s to Shutter Online Auction in May

Sometimes even marriages seemingly made in e-heaven don’t work out, and that’s just what has happened to famed auction house Sotheby’s, which is calling a halt to general auctions on its own eBay-powered Web site and will focus efforts on eBay itself.

Just last June, San Jose, Calif.-based online auction giant eBay and upscale auction house Sotheby’s launched a new, joint Web site for the Internet sale of the kind of fine art, antiques and collectibles for which London-based Sotheby’s is famous.

But the site, built and hosted by eBay and billed to the world as “Sotheby’ online auctions presented by eBay,” never made any real money. In fact, just the opposite.

“As our online auctions offered by our Dealer Associates and Sotheby’s have not generated a profit for Sotheby’s, we are discontinuing separate online auctions (in May),” said Bill Ruprecht, president and CEO of Sotheby’s Holdings Inc. He added that the company is taking a one-time restructuring charge of $2 million to $3 million in the first quarter of 2003.

The Web site itself will continue, but the focus will be on supporting Sotheby’s real-world live auction business, using eBay’s technology for integrating real world and online auctions. Sotheby’s will concentrate its own Internet efforts on eBay’s arts and antiques categories, which generated $1 billion plus in sales last year.

Clearly Sotheby’s sees some benefits from its integration efforts, as Ruprecht said that eBay’s Live Auctions technology “is of growing interest to Sotheby’s existing clients
because it allows them to follow Sotheby’s traditional auctions via the Internet and place bids online, in real time. We anticipate increased interest as clients become more familiar with its availability and ease of use.”

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