Launched in July 2014 in Geneva, Auction after Sale is an online platform dedicated to the unsold sales at auction. The aim of the site: after any sale in the world, the client has ten days to acquire the unsold lots via the platform. To find out more, Art Media Agency went to meet the founder, Jean-Baptiste Fabre, and his partner Ugo Scalia.
How was the Auction after Sale project born?
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: I spent 15 years in the universe of auction sales. The media puts a lot of attention on the records; that is the tip of the iceberg. In fact, behind the scenes there exists a large quantity of very important lots which do not find buyers. Today, in the domain of contemporary art, around 37% of lots are not sold, 50% in China. This is a real loss to auctioneers, who do not have the time to process all these unsold lots afterwards. Auction after Sale does not come to lecture for all that, we just provide a service. I want to present the after sales as an opportunity and not as a scrapheap. I want to operate a very short manoeuvre, on the few days following the auction, during which it is necessary to make the seller understand that the price they was demanded for was not right. We propose the lot for ten days maximum. But we do not put it in auctions: the first offer is the first served and the lot is immediately taken off the site. When we have reached our cruising speed, I hope to reduce this period to seven days to stay in the dynamics of the auction.
We have listed 1,300 auction houses in the world. The internet today allows to bring to the client very diverse offers, thinking outside of the box. As such, we always specify the location of the auction room where the object is found so that the client is informed of the shipping fees.
Do you not have any legal problems regarding international transport of works and right of duties?
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: As it happens, it’s the auction house who manages all of that. We are not a financial intermediary or a database: Our job, is to connect.
Who is your target?
Ugo : Dealers, at first, because they are already used to buying objects in after sales and because, by putting them according to their speciality, our site allows them to save a lot of time and to have access to all the unsold items of the world from the preceding ten days. They do not have additional costs: the costs on Auction after Sale are the same as those applied by the auction sales for lots of less than 50,000€. Our second target, are the collectors, those accustomed to auction sales. The site was created by professionals of the art market, according to the codes of that art market. We take over the estimation of the catalogue, we make an offer and we wait for it to be accepted or not. This is not a frequently visible model on the internet.
Based on these targets, we hope to get as far as convincing a wider audience: the eBay generation, these people who will buy their first art work on the Internet because they have already bought everything on the internet.
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: What is extraordinary for us, auctioneers, is that eBay has managed to instil in a population far from our bases the mechanisms of the auction sale by making it fun. eBay has managed to convince a large share of the world population to bid online from a bad photo and a description entirely subjective as it is that of the seller. Despite this, eBay is the first sales room in the world.
Why is this ?
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: I think that the world of auction houses is intimidating. As the media mostly relays records, we have the impression that it is reserved to an elite. However, the major part of the market is done with lots priced between 1€ and 20,000€. We do our business in this bracket.
Ugo: We bring to auction houses a know-how that is not theirs, digital marketing, and we can reach an audience much broader than the one they reach alone. We generate to them a revenue that they no longer expect, and they integrate in their files a new customer, the buyer with whom we put them in touch.
What are your mid-term objectives?
Jean-Baptiste Fabre : The world. Seriously, we want to give the outset an international dimension to the service. We are trying to organize ourselves in London and New York to have representatives. It must be admitted that France is no longer the main target. Then if we can be also represented in Hong Kong thereafter, it will be really great.
Ugo: We want to propose solutions to auction houses in the whole world. Every year, the market grows exponentially with 70% of lots. Our goal is to rely on the 30% missing to go seeking for growth.
How are you going to adapt to particularisms of auction houses from different countries?
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: We are very flexible. But it is invariable in some respects: you have to understand what they need and make them gradually enter into our model.
Ugo: Then offices must be put in place. We have for example, a Chinese collaborator who helped us launch the site in Chinese, even if we put it between brackets for now. We want to focus on a more limited scope to start. When we go back there, we will put in place the Chinese specialists.
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: To come back to the eBay clientele, we do not do the expertise ourselves, but we offer objects that have been by the auction house, that are well photographed and for which the auctioneers are responsible.
Ugo: In general, the main obstacle to purchasing works of art online, is the authentication and expertise. Our model protects us in relation to this because the entirety of the lots are passed into the hands of experts in the sales rooms.
How did you put this project in place? Where are you in the development?
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: To have ideas is good. But it is also necessary to have determination and to meet good people. I had the chance to meet Ugo a year and a half ago. We have found other collaborators. I recently met a young auctioneer who wanted to show me his CV, I told him that it didn’t interest me. I hold at my intuition. It’s a flexibility and an effervescence that allows the model to start-up – 30 years ago, it was more difficult. We had an idea, we quickly put it into application.
Ugo: The team is very diverse and united around Jean-Baptiste, the expert of the art market and of the auction sales system. We have many digital marketing experts who work with us as they could do for any type of product, and a young woman trained in art history who writes for the blog. Jean-Baptiste is rather more a specialist in antique art than me, I have little experience in the contemporary art market. We therefore have different and complementary profiles.
What difficulties are you currently confronted by and how do you respond to them?
Jean-Baptise Fabre: The first challenge, is to be recognised. As I explain to auctioneers when I go to see them, I do not invent anything. Today, we have the means to industrialise programs that are quite laborious, including the after sale. Whether it is us or someone else, we are heading towards that. So it’s about getting us known, to defend the value of the unsold lot and to change attitudes in that area. Customers must understand that this is a pool of opportunities.
The price of a lot is very diverse and very subjective. When I was an intern, I took purchase orders for a lady for a lot which she never came to get. I therefore had to pay for it myself since the auctioneer, whom I was working for, had paid the seller. He then suggested to me to put it in an upcoming sale: we passed it three times and we finally doubled the price to when it was first sold. The price of a lot, the price that a bidder is willing to pay for a lot is dependent on many factors, as varied as the aura of the auctioneer to the atmosphere in the room.
Can we reduce and should we reduce this variability?
Ugo : No I don’t think so
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: No. Nor even with Artprice and Artnet. We want to bring to the box things that can’t return. Two Picasso’s in the same format and painted in the same week, do not have the same price. When we were interns, two of us asked to do the inventory of an apartment, to see the difference. We each started on different ends of the apartment. Less than 20% closer, the overall value of what we had estimated was the same. But when we went through item by item, we found impressive gaps. It is linked to our culture, our central interests and our respective passions. Emotion, for the bidders as for the auctioneers, is a key determinant for the price of the lot.
For you, how is the auction world outside of the records?
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: I think that it’s the model which generates the most reactivity today, with art fairs. Galleries are a bit retired. This reactivity of the auction sale is both fun and reassuring. The bidders are brought into the dynamics – and are generally disguised to the point when the final price falls: +20%! This model is very important and eBay consists of this: This is the future, and everyone knows it.
How do you bring the eBay clients to auction houses?
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: Sotheby’s recently launched a partnership with eBay but there were attempts before that. It was too soon. This question also arises for us. But finally we describe under this logic allowed by the e-commerce: we must at all costs make the best deal possible. When I enter a shop with my children, they take a photo of what they want and go on the internet to see if it is being sold cheaper.
As it happens, is the place still important today?
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: I don’t know.
Ugo: What is interesting for our model, is that it is situated between two worlds. The art market on line exploded, its revenue could triple between now and 2019. There will therefore soon exist giants of online art who will severely compete with traditional players. However, our model has brought up an online solution for these traditional players. And it is precisely reassuring because it is based on the physical device.
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: Since I was little, I have been fascinated by department stores and the idea of grouping all the brands in one place. For each, there is a parent company but the clientele are happy to be able to shop in one place. I explained recently to an auctioneer that we do not phagocytose its after sale, we propose to them to exhibit their unsold items on another platform and to come back with offers that can increase its revenue.
How many objects would you like to offer per day?
Ugo: Today, we offer around 1,200 objects per day. I think that the market will allow us to do three to four times more than that. We are on a very seasonable market, therefore the quantity is diverse and we need to optimise the offer throughout the year. Besides that, our platform is representative of the diverse lots offered in the auction rooms: our site lists them into 10 main categories and 70 under-categories. On the same site, a client can buy a painting from the 17th century, a Hermès bag or a car from the collection. The only thing that we do not sell yet, is wine.
What is your price range?
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: As the sites of the auction houses do not offer individual photos for a lot estimated below 500€, we do not offer any item below this amount. In the business plan, we rose to 20,000€ and, if it’s possible we can make operations from 40,000€ to 50,000€, but it’s another logic. But we do not have limits.
A small word on your respective paths?
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: I have the training of an auctioneer and I am passionate by this. I come from a line of Parisian dealers specialised in French furniture of the 18th century. I have always been intrigued by the development of the Internet and I have always wanted to look for matches there with our business. Today I think we found them. The production of contemporary art is booming – particularly with urban art – and there are many lots available, even for the most prestigious artists. A customer asks me for an Anish Kapoor, it is still possible; he asks me for a Van Gogh, it is not because the best are all in museums. The hyper-responsiveness of the Internet is in line with the continuous and exponential production of contemporary art. It’s an incredible pool of opportunities.
Ugo : For my part, I am a lover of contemporary art. I worked for a program called La semaine de l’art which abled me to travel a bit on the road of art and to meet artists, curators of exhibitions and collectors. I found this fascinating. Today, I always work as an agent of artists, I organise exhibitions for young artists, a bit outside the box, in surprising places. I was interested in nearly all the models of art on line then I met Jean-Baptiste.
Have you got something to add ?
Jean-Baptiste Fabre: Ultimately, I think we will have to provide a service which is a little more educational.
Ugo : We need to explain a bit more why we select the lots that we want to offer and inform the client on what is interesting compared to their domain and their range of price, soon after an auction.