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The inevitable, irreversible death of the Art auction houses, says Artemundi Global Fund

MIAMI, Nov. 30, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Technology has changed our lives in so many ways – even the way we buy and sell art. Sotheby's and Christie's have watched with trepidation as their profitability rapidly declines. In fact, the very concept of selling art at auction house establishments is quickly becoming an anachronism held up by traditions, old forms and stodgy protocols about how to connect buyers and sellers. With the internet this connecting mechanism is no longer necessary.

The technology revolution is pretty much decimating every storied seller in every industry and the art auction houses are not immune. Clearly, it was inevitable. Long serving as a middleman that earned commissions averaging 25 percent, the auction houses have marked their own grave through high costs and inefficiencies. A seller was willing to pay a premium because there were limited means to reach buyers. But those days are gone. The auction house is an expensive middleman that has become an unnecessary transaction cost.

We are all well aware of how the internet has changed the way we get our news, listen to music, how we communicate with one another, and watched as the internet brought about dramatic change in so many other industries. So it's inevitable that the auction houses too will be relegated to a footnote in the annals of history. Far sooner than most of us can imagine.

Apart from a couple of 'trophy' sales purchased by the super rich that do not reflect the general market, the bottom line is that the amount of auction middle market sales are rapidly decreasing year after year. The simple fact is that auction houses have onerous overhead, which they cannot shed. You cannot blame them, but they have marked their own graves. Theirs is a fate that they cannot avoid without sacrificing the wealthy trade that has kept them afloat for so many years.

So, is it any wonder that Art funds are growing in value and in number? What began as an investment experiment in the late 70s has now been accepted as an institutionalized investment vehicle. Moreover, Art funds have the resources to attract highly valued art portfolios and form synergies with all the players in the art market. Internet sales are changing the infrastructure of the market; in the last couple of years they have had a slow but steady growth. On average 5% of the auction bidding and 10% of dealer sales are done online. Furthermore, the internet has increased the amount of information available to the public, creating a more transparent and competitive environment.

Ask the auction houses these questions: Why do we need you? What are you doing for me? The answer is increasing irrelevant as they try to hold onto a position that is slipping away. We are heading towards a competitive art exchange with a lower overhead where commissions will be almost zero. Art objects will arrive to a centralized location, be catalogued and inspected by experts, and then sales will be conducted. It is a system that is already in place and has shown the ability to grow and prosper.

Javier Lumbreras

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