Where Art meets the Internet: the rise of online auction websites

Posted on October - 9 - 2018

Courtesy: Artnews

Courtesy: Artnews

When people are asked to name the first thing that comes to their minds when thinking about an auction, most would imagine a fast-talking, well-dressed auctioneer, closing a sale with the sound of his wooden gavel. Attending auctions was an activity of its own and defined the art world for decades. However, now a day, with the permeation of technology in every corner of society, digital auctions are a possibility for buyers. No longer does the iconic gavel solely judges the best bidder, now in the age of clicks and swipes, the whole transaction can be done miles away behind a screen in the comfort of a living room.

A couple of years ago, the online market was dominated by polar companies such as the likes of Etsy and Christie’s. There was nothing really coexisting in the middle offering art-loving individuals works of art carefully curated as well as a fighting chance to bid on them in real time. This vacuum in the marketplace led to the proliferation of online companies who catered to these needs.  As more companies beginning to come forth at the moment there are two who directly compete with each other for the market share. These two companies have been taught to include or center on middle-class consumers looking for mid-range art pieces and incorporated auctions into their business model.


For anyone interested in online auction sites, Paddle8 was created with them in mind. Founded in 2015 by Phillip’s chief auctioneer Alexander Gilkes, the site targeted middle-class individuals, with works averaging at $5,000. With an industry connoisseur as its leader, the tech-savvy company was expected to succeed, especially after further validating itself by its 2016 merger with Auctionata. Nevertheless, although the online art market appears to be booming, the merger ended on a sour note in 2017, with Paddle8 firing a third of its staff. While the website it’s still operational and meticulously curated, it goes to show that the market is still in a nascent stage and quite volatile.


Since its beginnings, Artsy has made a name for itself, adopting an innovative model, that focuses on fixed-price listings of blue-chip galleries as well as themed actions on its site or live auctions in conjunction with other big auction houses such as Phillip’s, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. In 2017 the growing company hosted over 150 auctions with its numbers and scope growing through the globe. Interestingly enough, most of its transactions are done through mobile phones.

There are many other auction companies or existing houses that are adopting these models out of necessity to keep their competitive advantages in this competing market.

By: Gabriela Martinez de la Hoz