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The online auction site Auctionata, was founded in Berlin by Georg Untersalmberger and Alexander Zacke in 2012. Shortly after, a New York office was set up, focusing on art and collectible sales. With other digital auction sites launching on the market to mixed reviews, we decided to sit down with COO Joseph Stasko to hear about when and why someone should look to sell their items online.
WHITEWALL: You joined Auctionata, an online art and collectibles auction site, in January of 2014. Other online auction sites have not been super-successful. What makes Auctionata different?
JOSEPH STASKO: I don’t think that others are trying to do what we are trying to do. We all remember Sotheby’s foray into online auctions and how challenging it was for them. It proved to be ineffective because they could not control the quality.
So what is it that we are doing? We really are in a certain way a traditional auction house. We do everything that Christie’s and Sotheby’s do, right from beginning to end. We source the property, we ship the property here, we do condition reports, we check authenticity, we photograph it, we catalogue it, and then we have a live auction. We bill the buyer, we pay out the seller, and then we ship it to the buyer. What is different is we are really focused on this middle market, so within that five-thousand-dollar to fifty-thousand-dollar range.
If you have a million-dollar painting, you say, “I could go to Christie’s or Sotheby’s,” but if you had a five-thousand-dollar object, you are not thinking “I can go to Sotheby’s,” you are not thinking of going to Christie’s, you might not think, “I am going to sell this on Craigslist,” because it’s too much value.
WW: How does the experience of an online auction at Auctionata work?
JS: At all our auctions, we have a specialist. When you log in and you want a piece, you can also interact with this specialist and be able to see the person next to the object, which gives you a real sense of scale. We are trying to do the entire auction experience, from getting the catalogue, going to the preview, speaking to a specialist, and the excitement of the auction itself, providing all of that, just in a different order, and we are providing that in people’s homes.
WW: What is the time frame that you work with viewing a sale before it goes to auction? What happens to the items that don’t get sold?
JS: The online sale is viewable four weeks before the auction itself. Then the auction happens; things are sold. What is not sold goes into our online shop, where people can browse and shop after the sale.
WW: What are some of the top-selling auction categories for you?
JS: We launched heavily into watches with a partnership with Chrono24, and that has been very successful for us. So that is really our top category; that is the easiest thing to sell and to move. Jewelry is still growing. We just launched cars, and it has been going incredibly well, shockingly; it has really been fun, cool, and everybody loves it and everybody wants to be auctioneer for the car shows.
WW: Are there any areas where you are looking to expand?
JS: We are trying to leverage the platform into different categories, beyond the traditional auction categories. So we’ll do an animation sale in the fall; we have a meteorite, and fossil sale. We are looking at musical instruments, all the traditional categories; the breadth of them are all there. We have a network of experts that work for us in short time increments as we need them. So they help us to value things, they help us to look at things, and then some of the experts actually curate auctions for us. That enables us to be much broader without having to have the overhead of a full-time expert staff.
WW: You’ve worked in museums, auction houses, finance—while being at Auctionata and working with its encyclopedic categories, have you discovered a new interest?
JD: I do not come from a background of knowing a lot about watches, but it is such a strong part of what we do at the moment that I find myself just learning more and more about things like watches. We have a specialist meeting, once a week, where everybody sits down and brings along one piece. So you will have one watch, one piece of jewelry, information about snuff bottles, or an art print. Then there are items like fossils, meteorites, or we have an erotica sale . . .
My background is in contemporary art, so I very much like working with living artists so that is really where my love is. But living working artists don’t really make it to the auction platform.
This article is in Whitewall‘s fall 2015 Fashion Issue, out this month.