The Catawiki Books Department Expands Its Reach

With new staff and expertise, the online auction platform is primed for growth

In a turbulent year for many auction houses, Catawiki, an international online marketplace headquartered in the Netherlands, has thrived. Not only did Catawiki’s web-based model prove stable amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted book fairs and traditional live auctions across the globe, but one of the platform’s guiding principles—the democratization of collecting and selling—has also helped the platform capture new users at an unprecedented pace.

To date, over 12,000 unique items are submitted by sellers on the platform each day. Once reviewed by one of the company’s more than 240 in-house experts, the auction is posted to the site, which sees 10 million unique visitors per month. Of the more than 65,000 special objects auctioned each week, books account for around 2,500. Marc Harrison, category manager of Books, Manuscripts, and Cartography at Catawiki said almost 10,000 books were sold on the platform in April alone.

Each lot on Catawiki is curated by experts who use their in-depth subject matter knowledge to aid buyers and sellers alike, while the platform connects individuals and streamlines the sales process.

“If we had to handle, process, and ship every book like a traditional auction house, we could never manage the number of sales we do now,” Harrison said. “Our peer-to-peer market allows us to connect sellers with buyers almost anywhere in the world, which makes it easier to sell difficult items.”

“For example,” Harrison explained, “an English collector might have trouble selling books written in Dutch in the UK, as collectors usually buy books written in languages they can read. However, online, that seller can also reach buyers in the Netherlands.”

Meanwhile, Catawiki—which announced a €150 million investment round led by Permira in 2020—is also staffing itself to handle a more diverse range of books.

“Our book team includes brilliant men and women with very different skills and backgrounds to help us grow the department in interesting directions while also helping us be more representative, especially with the addition of three new talented women to our team,” Harrison said. “Two of our new hires bring expertise in Italian—one with a solid antiquarian bookseller background and one who reads Arabic and has curated a library on rugs, carpets, and textiles in Europe. The third addition is Russian and adds expertise in a language which many auction houses can’t read or write.”

With this expanding range of expertise, Catawiki’s book department has created a buying and selling experience so efficient and effective it boasts an extremely low return rate.

“Sometimes dealers wonder how it’s possible to sell books properly without handling them,” Harrison said. “But the majority of our sellers are professional booksellers, and we’re enabling them to reach a wider audience while providing buyers with a wider selection of items and prices than they would find at a traditional auction house. Our low return rate is proof that this model works.”