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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 08:21 GMT
Sotheby's sides with eBay
Sotheby's auction room
Sotheby's stresses that gavels and auction rooms remain its primary focus
In a move which sees traditional business capitulate to the new economy, US online auctioneer eBay says it is collaborating with the venerable UK firm of Sotheby's.

The two will work together in the online environment, hoping to put more expensive art on eBay and drive more customers to Sotheby's.

The 226-year-old UK auctioneer has had trouble with its web operations, which despite acclaim for pioneering fine art auctions online - and selling a copy of the US Declaration for $8.1m - have struggled to make headway.

Trials and tribulations

Its reputation - and its earnings - have also suffered from the scandal of having its former chief executive, Diana Brooks, convicted of price fixing last year. The first half of 2001 saw the company lose $8.3m (5.7m).

In contrast, eBay has spent the handful of years since its inception going from strength to strength, presenting its 42 million registered users with everything from beanie babies to relics of the Enron collapse and even marriage proposals.

David Redden, Sotheby's vice chairman, said his company hugely admired eBay's success. "I use eBay all the time," he said.

Old meets new

The deal means that although the old site will continue to present the art, antiques and jewellery it presently displays, it will cease to be a separate entity, instead appearing within eBay.

That gives Sotheby's access to eBay's bidding technology, and means that bidders worldwide could conceivably participate in offline auctions at Sotheby's rooms in New York and London.

EBay has already ventured into the fine arts world by buying Butterfield and Butterfield, a smaller competitor of Sotheby's in 1999.

Sotheby's was at pains to stress that real-world auctions, complete with nods and winks, gavels and auction blocks, will remain the core of the business.

"We have sales rooms around the world filled with auctioneers and auctions," Mr Redden said.

"The internet is a way for people to access information about the live auctions. It's like the telephone. You can only go so long without using it."

See also:

15 Jan 02 | Business
Investors snub Ebay profits rise
17 Dec 01 | Business
Ebay loses chief operating officer
06 Dec 01 | Americas
Former Sotheby's chairman guilty
12 Oct 01 | Business
Sotheby's reviews flagging website
31 Jul 01 | Business
Ebay sues fellow auction web site
19 Jan 01 | Business
eBay profits surge
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