More collectors are bidding online, and a partnership with tech startup Artsy will let Sotheby’s offer its first web-only auction.

(Bloomberg)—Sotheby’s is partnering with Artsy, a technology startup, to offer its first online-only auction next month.

The auction will include about 25 works from emerging and established contemporary artists on the theme of life and culture in the digital age, said Sotheby’s spokesman Dan Abernethy. Most works will have estimates of $50,000 or less and artists who will participate have not been confirmed yet, Abernethy said.

Sotheby’s lags rival Christie’s in its use of online technology, a point highlighted by hedge fund manager Dan Loeb, Sotheby’s biggest shareholder and director. Christie’s invested $50 million to develop online platforms under former CEO Steven Murphy and has been offering online-only auctions since 2012.

Global online sales reached 3.3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) in 2014, with most transactions between about $1,000 and $50,000, according to the annual art market report by the European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF). 

Since April, New York-based Sotheby’s has been offering the contents of its live auctions on a specially designated eBay channel. Collectors bidding online increased by about 55% in the first half of 2015 from the same period a year ago, Sotheby’s said. An online bidder paid $3 million for a painting by Chinese artist Zao Wou Ki at Sotheby’s Paris sale in June.

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Online sales represented 6% of the global art market in 2014, according to the TEFAF report. Christie’s online sales in the first half of 2015 tallied 9.9 million pounds ($15.3 million), or 0.3% of its 2.9 billion-pound global revenue.

Artsy test

Sotheby’s first online-only auction will be offered on Artsy’s website and iPhone and iPad apps, the companies said.

Artsy, backed by investors including art dealer Larry Gagosian and Russian collector Dasha Zhukova, offers free access to its database of more than 300,000 images of art and architecture. It has hosted 20 online auctions for nonprofit arts institutions and museums.

“We have brought galleries, art fairs and museums onto Artsy and the auction houses are the natural extension of our platform,” said Sebastian Cwilich, Artsy’s president, in an interview.

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Artsy tested its commercial auction technology when it partnered with Los Angeles Modern Auctions, which focuses on modern and contemporary art and design. The event in March had similar parameters to Sotheby’s upcoming online-only sale: 25 lots, estimated at $1,000 to $50,000, Cwilich said.

Every work sold and 85% of buyers were existing Artsy users, a sign that the company can deliver new clients to partners, he said. “We hope to do something similar at Sotheby’s,” Cwilich said.

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