Artnet.com Suspends Online Auctions but may Partner with the New eBay Premier
By Lisa W. Romano
While the honeymoon for e-commerce ventures, such as eToys, seems to be over and concerns about profits for others are on the rise, Artnet fortunately has a more successful core business to fall back on as an information provider: its Artnet.com Magazine as well as its gallery network, fine art bookstore and fine art auctions database.
“I remain still an enthusiastic supporter of online art auctions but our Gallery Network has clearly been the more successful service to the art community,” said Artnet.com CEO and founder Hans Neuendorf in a prepared statement. “This move puts the company on a speedier path to profitability.”
And it is possible that a big new client will boost its database, which has spent some time offline for redesign: soon a relaunched Artnet may bear the eBay logo. The fine arts area of eBay, which has also undergone a seismic shift as it emerged earlier this month as eBay Premier (www.ebaypremier.com), could announce a deal any day to make artnet.com’s database the centerpiece of its plan to become a prime destination for traditional art buyers.
“It’s not a renaming,” eBay Premier General Manager Geoff Iddison says of his company’s makeover. “It supersedes Great Collections. Great Collections was selling high-end works of art. Premier has lots of value-added tools and services. It’s a window on eBay that’s pointed to the traditional art community, to give those people all the tools they need to spend more money online.”
Those tools will include an art database so buyers can research prospective purchases, whose entry onto the site is “imminent,” says Iddison.
“We’re in negotiations with a couple of online database companies, and artnet.com is one of them,” he said Monday, January 15. “They’re pulling out of their online auction area.”
The artnet.com database, in existence since 1989, is “the industry standard for appraisal of fine art,” according to a statement from that company. Its more than two million records cover 172,000 artists. These records and the tribal database of 38,000 African art auction records “bring transparency to art pricing and have been described by their current users, including the world’s major auction houses, as a superior resource.”
The artnet.com database may join the many other new partners of eBay Premier in wearing the eBay co-brand and using the same navigation software. The new eBay venture has announced deals with other online art venues such as icollector.com, guild.com and Latinarte.com to, in effect, provide a gateway to fine art on the Internet.
EBay Premier’s design and content was determined largely in response to feedback the company received since launching Great Collections in October 1999.
“One of the most common feedback suggestions was the need to have more art resources and more merchandise offered,” says Iddison. His deal with icollector.com links eBay Premier to 300 auction house partners for real-time online bidding. This will increase bidding activity in these brick-and-mortar venues.
Also, he said, “At the end of the year we hope to have well over 100 auction houses consigning to the site.” As well, eBay Premier works with dealers, and is signing them up to be listed on the site a the rate of six to ten a week. All auction houses and dealers are vetted to make sure their content is what traditional fine art buyers would expect, Iddison notes.
EBay Premier has added incentives on both the buying and selling ends to draw users. A newly instituted buyer’s premium, a ten percent charge to buyers that goes directly to sellers, entices the higher-end art sellers to offer their wares on the site by boosting their profits. And in answer to buyers’ concerns about authenticity, the new “Premier Guarantee,” featured front and center on the new site, backs all rdf_Descriptions up to $50,000.
“There was a need to give reassurance that if a buyer was buying, that the piece was as described,” Iddison noted.
Of course, all of this change required an equally impressive new design, which eBay has provided in a very Volvo-like way, shedding the old, Twentieth Century boxy look for curves and ovals, snappily illustrated links and easy-to-navigate paths to the goods. Want to go directly to dolls and toys? Click on the airplane. New to the site? There’s a blue oval, housing four link options, just for you. A quick scroll down brings you to “events” (live auctions), auction houses, dealers and fixed-price galleries.
“I think the user interface is cleaner and simpler,” Iddison says. “The rdf_Descriptions are displayed in a more straightforward way in a cleaner environment.”
Clicking on a category, such as Asian, brings up the same list of options available under “browse,” as well as a display of featured auctions, and then the full gamut of auction rdf_Descriptions in the category, all with photos.
Subcategories may not yet be fully accurate, however. Clicking on “Vietnamese Bottles,” for some reason, brought up bowls. Under “Decorative Arts,” clicking on the “Furniture: English” option on this day brought up four rdf_Descriptions, one of which was really a piece of furniture. Despite the three different subcategories under “Toys and Dolls,” for “Toys,” “Dolls” and “Trains,” dolls and trains were among the auction rdf_Descriptions that popped up when “Toys” was chosen.
Also, clicking through to an event, an online charity auctions sponsored by Traditional Home magazine, sends a user into the “big” eBay, without an option to return to eBay Premier other than clicking on the brower’s “Back” button.
It will be interesting to watch whether the site can remain organized as it evolves into an easy-to-use portal to fine art online, with an extensive database a click away.