Amazon and Sotheby’s Launch Upscale Auction Site

Tradition met technology today as Amazon.com and Sotheby’s Holdings, Inc. launched sothebys.amazon.com, a new online auction site that is jointly backed by the international art auctioneer and the top U.S. e-tailer.

This move comes only five months after Amazon pumped about $45 million (US$) into Sotheby’s through stock purchases. The London-based auctioneer used some of the money to help pay for the site’s pre-launch expenses, which are reported to have soared to nearly $40 million — about $15 million more than originally projected.

The new site will auction off a broad array of art, valuable objects and collectibles from more than 100 categories via the Internet. Auction bidders will be able to buy items that are guaranteed for authenticity and condition by acknowledged experts, including 4,500 worldwide dealers.

“In the world of valuable objects, a big problem with online auctions has been authenticity,” explained Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. “With Sotheby’s reputation and expertise in sourcing and authenticating art and valuable objects, and both companies’ relentless focus on the customer, auction bidders can now buy these items with confidence, because they know they’re getting the real thing.”

Many Join Online Arts Auctioning

Sothebys.amazon.com will complement the launching of sothebys.com later this year. The focus of that site will be fine art treasures and collectibles that are traditionally sold in live auctions, while the joint site will offer a wider variety of items.

Nonetheless, as sothebys.amazon.com makes its debut, a myriad of other online auction sites have also begun bringing fine art and antiques to their virtual auction blocks. These sites include eBay and such lesser-known players as eHammer.com, iCollector.com, Artnet.com, Art.com, NextMonet.com and Guild.com.

In addition, Sotheby’s rival Christie’s plans to enable online auctions on christies.com by the first half of next year.

International Presence

Many industry observers feel that sothebys.amazon.com could easily dominate this niche. Amazon.com’s strong branding and large customer base, coupled with Sotheby’s 255 years of collectibles expertise, seem to be a formidable combination.

“The new medium offers new as well as experienced auction bidders access to the two standards that have ensured Sotheby’s success since 1744: Unrivaled expertise and a vast selection of exciting property,” said Diana D. Brooks, Sotheby’s president and CEO.

Additionally, the new site will have an immediate international presence by offering its service to bidders and sellers in the U.S., Canada, Britain and Germany. Company officials noted that the joint venture is set to expand to more countries in the near future.

Time Machine On The Block

Among the highlights of today’s inaugural auction on sothebys.amazon.com is the auctioning of Austin Powers’ time machine from the hit film: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

The vehicle, popularly known as the “Shagmobile,” is a 1998 customized convertible Beetle with a psychedelic paint finish, and is expected to fetch from $30,000 to $50,000.

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