Sotheby’s – ‘Business as usual’ in Hong Kong

In a Sotheby’s press release dated today 7 October, CK Cheung, Head of Sotheby’s Chinese Painting Department says:

The results of today’s sale of Fine Chinese Paintings are testament to the appeal of Sotheby’s careful sourcing strategy of assembling works of great quality with high artistic value at attractive estimates. Sotheby’s stature as an international auction house allowed us to offer paintings from an important North American private collection which appeal to our clients.

The market responded with tremendous enthusiasm: competitive bidding lasted a remarkable twelve hours, giving us a sale total which more than doubled its pre-sale estimate, achieving $52m and a high sell-through rate of 95.3%

As Melanie Gerlis of The Art Newspaper put it:

Following a week where Sotheby’s was in the headlines for the wrong reasons, Sotheby’s can justifiably be satisfied with this performance in a relatively new market. With some back-of-the-envelope calculations, the average lot in Hong Kong sold for $152,000, with ten star lots selling between $700k and $4.4m.

Last week, the New York Times reported that 95% of artworks on Amazon Art are for sale at less than $10,000. Previously, the Economist quoted Skate’s prediction that Amazon Art was “unlikely to sell many masterpieces.

This nicely demonstrates the bind which Sotheby’s is in when considering how to position its online sales strategy – as doubtless they are (or will be) in response to Loeb’s shareholder activism. How does a high-end, premium brand diversify into the lower end of the market, yet not damage its reputation? Yesterday, we published an opinion piece on some considerations which Sotheby’s needs to bear in mind when deciding its digital strategy.

Post Hong Kong though, it’s clear that this is becoming less of a technology strategy question, and more of a sales and brand positioning one.

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