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Are Antique And Art Auctions Dying On eBay

|Includes: eBay Inc. (EBAY)

*Licensed Auctioneers no longer use eBay for their live auctions.

*BidSquare may make eBay live auctions obsolete.

*Will Sotheby's jump ship to BidSquare?

eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) antique and art auctions have taken quite a hit over the past few years, with Live Auctioneers signing up many former eBay clients. On Tuesday, August 19, 2014 almost 400 auction houses were listed on offering everything from an electric hot water heating urn (sold for $10) to a Margaret Keane, American, b 1927, O/C, Young Girl in Orange, artist signed upper right, 21" x 7 1/2", framed with liner which brought $1800 from the Bunch Auction gallery out of Chadds Ford, PA. Basic auctioneer fees include a $500 set up fee (per auction) and a $650 auction fee, plus 3% of every item sold online. Live Auctioneers touts drawing on bidders in 181 countries, along with a 25% increase in sales and 15,000 visits per auction.

With such popularity, why would any auctioneer go elsewhere?

I was a little surprised, therefore, to read some PR from Skinner, Inc. out of Boston highlighting their jointly owned new online auction firm BidSquare at

Bidsquare is an online bidding platform founded by Brunk Auctions, Cowan's Auctions, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Pook & Pook, Rago and Skinner, Inc. The six firms are all world class companies and according to their BidSquare website, "wanted to be part of a safe site with known auctions, without junky bankruptcy sales or mysterious operators. We figured you might want that too. Bidsquare hosts our auctions. It also hosts those of other established and trusted auctioneers from across the U.S. and around the world."

BidSquare is not adverse to adding other auctioneers to the new website. According to their PR, "At Bidsquare, our goal is to attract the most qualified, serious bidders to qualified, serious auction houses."

"Aren't you tired of losing your under-bidders? With Bidsquare, you will have access to ALL of your bidders."

According to the company announcement, "Bidsquare is the only platform that provides all auctioneers free and fair access to their own data on bidders and underbidders, as well as a shared databank of non-paying bidders and the promise to go after these individuals."

Most current online auction companies do not share underbidder information with auction firms, something decried as keeping the auction firms from potential clients. If an online buyer reneges on paying, the auction firm isn't able to contact the under bidder to offer the item for sale.

In July, 2014 eBay announced a partnership with Sotheby's (BID) to launch their new online auction venue. According to an article in the BBC, Sotheby's chief operating officer Bruno Vinciguerra said Sotheby's hoped to reach "the broadest possible audience around the world" with the move. No start date for the service has been announced, but Sotheby's has said the joint venture will start with live auctions streamed from Sotheby's New York headquarters, allowing "real-time bidding from anywhere around the world".

This eBay and Sotheby's joint venture enters an already crowded online live antiques auction field, with InValuable (formerly ArtFact),, not to mention Live Auctioneers.

With Paypal clearly providing 35% of income to eBay and the eBay Marketplace almost 40%, according to TREFIS, there is clearly room to grow with eBay stock, assuming that the company can grow sales on the eBay Marketplace. While the impact of a recent security breach will fade with time, eBay Chief Executive John Donahoe needs to revive the growth of the eBay Marketplace to protect its stand alone valuation. If the company does decide to spin off Paypal in the future as suggested by activist investor Carl Icahn, company revenue would be mostly dependent on the eBay Marketplace.

Ebay stock has hovered in the $54 range, and some might think it is time to buy. Despite a TREFIS report stating the stock should be selling for $67, I just don't see the numbers. Particularly since fewer and fewer antique auctions are being offered on eBay and none by auction firms that I could find.

What if Sotheby's jumps ship and joins BidSquare?

BidSquare says its software is "powered by enterprise-class software already used by online art and antique auctions." If this venue is ready to go, why would Sotheby's join with Ebay to deliver its new live online auction site? In 2002, eBay promised to power Sotheby's auction website, but that partnership ended the following year. If eBay can't launch Sotheby's online live auction website soon, I suspect Sotheby's will be looking elsewhere. I know that I already am.

Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.