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A. Alfred Taubman, owner of Sotheby’s from 1983 until 2005 said once:

    “God help us if we ever take the theater out of the auction business or anything else. It would be an awfully boring world.”

I think Alfred was on to something.

It’s worth noting that both Sotheby’s and Christie’s allows bidders four ways to bid at their locations worldwide: (1) in person, live, (2) by telephone, (3) online, during the live auction, and (4) absentee.

In taking a look at some of today’s largest and most successful auction companies, there does seem to be a pattern:

Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers says:

    “Despite the convenience of online bidding, most of our customers still prefer to bid in person at our auction sites, where they can see the equipment for themselves. When you’re selling a machine that’s worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s important to reach every potential buyer—not just the ones who bid online.”

Heritage Auctions combines online and proxy bidding with traditional live bidding. Co-Chairman Jim Halperin says,

    “Those who are passionate about the objects that we sell, and enjoy the process/show, usually make ideal auctioneers.”

Barrett-Jackson continues to hold live events with online bidding available. Yet, Vice President of Consignment Gary Bennett likens Barrett-Jackson’s live auction to the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup and World Series — He says:

    “It offers competition as real as what’s found in a sports arena. Consignors, bidders and spectators are part of the energy-charged, adrenaline-pumping seconds as bidders pursue a vehicle on the block with the same kind of steely-eyed determination of athletes focused on a scoreboard, finish line or goal post. Finally after other bidders concede, the winner will hear one sweet word of victory, “Sold!” accompanied by the pounding of the auctioneer’s gavel.”

Skinner Auctioneers & Appraisers offers several ways to participate in its auctions, whether you are attending in person or bidding from the other side of the world. They say,

    “If attending, simply obtain a bidding paddle and join the auction-floor action. If you cannot attend, join live bidding via the telephone or internet. Absentee bids are also accepted by filling out a form at the auction preview or by telephone, fax, or email prior to the auction.”

Doyle New York allows bidders to bid live, by phone, by the Internet and absentee. Yet, they tell their bidders that,

    “The most exciting way to participate at auction is the traditional method of bidding live in the salesroom with an auction paddle.”

Bonhams’ Chairman Robert Brooks, commented in June, 2011:

    “Over the past 10 years we’ve grown rapidly to become one of the world’s leading auction houses. We’re now starting to outgrow our existing premises and if we are to fulfil our plans for the future we need a new space to provide our customers with the improved quality of experience we believe they deserve. Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands have come up with a concept which will be a real enhancement to this historic area of London and, I believe, the most fantastic auction setting anywhere.”

It would appear from these comments and trends, most all prominent auction companies are basing their auction models around the live auction, with the phone, email and the Internet serving as supplemental bidding opportunities.

The live auction model requires real property, parking, seating and various other accommodations — and much more than does an online model. Yet, these companies continue to invest in the live auction method.

It seems doubtful this magnitude of investment is lacking in positive cost/benefit analysis … or maybe they too just want to keep the theater in the auction business?

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He is adjunct faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.