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The year 2013 is summarized by successful auction after auction. The latest to relinquish their figures, Christie's, reported a record year. The auction house has increased its turnover by 16% from the previous year. Much thanks to contemporary art, eclipsing the most part right now, but not least, thanks to the ever-growing Asian market

Christie's turnover rose for the fourth consecutive year to 4.54 billion pounds in 2013. The highest figure in the company 248-year history. The record high turnover is due to two reasons; wealthy people around the world have increasingly become interested in fine art and antiques auctions and the fine art and antique auctions are becoming more global as customers are increasingly becoming accustomed to using the internet to search for their next lot. A decade ago a lot of people were surprised when Christie's invested heavily in a new digital platform. The investment proved to be the right one - Christie's have adapted well to the opportunities the internet offers, launched more internet auctions, and have subsequently managed to find an array of new customers. Christie's invested many millions in a new digital platform, which meant that it took a further step to sell more and more through online auctions. Last year Christie's held 49 online auctions which was an increase of 700% from 2012. The new strategy has pulled, through online auctions, nearly 21 million users to Christie's new site. At the moment they are busy launching the page in Mandarin and several other languages.

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In an interview with Newsweek, Christie's CEO Steven P Murphy tells us that online auctions have been critical to growth. The challenge is to bring buyers and sellers back to Christie's and remain customers of Christie's in competition with the range of auctions that are available today. It's about attracting buyers and building a strong brand. When asked how important the market for online auctions will be in the future, Steven P Murphy answered: "the new 'geographical' (virtual) world is a challenge for all auction houses as they are not used to operating in it.”

“Why would the art world be different from music, film, media, industry and other creative industries,” answered Christie's president rhetorically.

Earlier this year, Christie's sold an Apple-1 computer for almost 400,000 dollars on online auction, which represented a symbolic value for Christie's who have no hesitation about its strategy to be the leader in the world market.

But Steven P Murphy says while it primarily involves the art.
“It is about the art values in terms of how much we talk about the market economy mechanisms. It's about two people becoming passionate for a work of art or an object, they decide that they cannot live without it, and then bid against each other. One bidder makes no auction.”

Not less than 30% of last year's buyers were new customers, many of them from Asia.

It was as I said contemporary art which accounted for major growth, with an increase of 29% in a year. It is more specifically the auctions in New York that has gotten the art world boiling.

The most expensive was Francis Bacon triptych from 1969, "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" sold to Elaine P Wynn, billionaire and ex-wife of casino magnate Stephen A. Wynn. The painting went for 142.2 million dollars. Despite the extreme end price it should be added that there were a total of 58 works that sold for 10 million dollars in 2013. A remarkable figure, which may well increase this year.

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One can only suspect that the owner Francois Pinault is more than satisfied. Especially considering that his holding company, paid 1.2 billion dollars for the entire company in 1998.

Historically, there has been a derby between Sotheby's and Christie's for centuries. The question is whether the playing field will look the same in the future with online auctions?

“It keeps me awake at night, is just what our family is all about: Are we moving fast enough forward. Where is our great challenge,” says Christie's CEO Steven P Murphy. Within two years, we shall be established with online auctions in China.

Someone else that should be happy is David Rosenblatt, CEO of 1stdibs, the New York-based equivalent of Barnebys, focused solely on design and antique dealers, rather than auction houses. The search service 1stdibs launched 13 years ago. Two years ago, it was felt the market was mature enough to take the next step, which it did by taking in 117 million dollars (!) from previous investors. Now they have just brought in an additional 15 million dollars on the Chinese massive e-commerce site Alibaba in a way to approach the Chinese market. Alibaba Group owns, among other things, the site Taobao, the most popular e-commerce site in China.

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