Sothebys - Getting Small - Good or Bad?


Like many Sothebys subscribers I was a bit shocked in the last several weeks when I received my tribal art catalogs. The old catalog format was 10 1/2" by 8 1/4"... the new format for some of their catalogs is 6 1/2" x 6 1/2". I have no idea how much money is saved in catalog costs and postage by going small but the idea was rationalized as being handy enough to fit in your pocket. The format might fit in a big purse but certainly not in a man's pocket unless he was wearing cargo pants, which is not seen often at the auctions. Both buyer and seller are diasadvantaged by this move. The seller's must log on to the website to get a good view and to check out any research or collection history provided by the auction house. In this economy removing obstacles for the buyers seems more prudent. From the seller's perspective it would have been nice to be informed of the change before consigning the goods. I can't speak for all consignors but I know a client I am representing that has consigned some major objects was not advised. Had we known prior to the sale as consignors we might well have waited until we saw how this new format worked out. It seems short sighted on the part of Sothebys when the differences between selling and not selling could easily be six figures. And remember Sothebys also charges many sellers extra fees for insurance and photography which further offsets costs. We will all find out what happens this next week at the tribal sales.

Sothebys has also, according to the New York Times, sent out more than 10,000 USB sticks (thumb drives) which feature electronic versions of catalogs. This decision is exciting for a number of reasons. First it is handy and you can put it in your pocket. As a collector you can examine all the data including high resolution photographs. It is easily downloaded and sent to colleagues. So what's the difference between between going online and using the thumb drive... simple, ease of use. I don't need to click through all those screens. I have the data where I want it, when I want it. I could live with a 6 1/2" x 6 1/2" format if I had the thumb drive with it.