NEW YORK, N.Y.—Barnebys, the online search and valuation tool for artworks, antiques and collectibles that has taken Europe by storm, will officially launch in the United States with an office in New York City, soon after the turn of the year. Already, representatives from the company are in Manhattan, gearing up for the launch.
From their other offices in Stockholm and London, Barnebys has already revolutionized the auctioneering landscape, but not as an online-bidding platform in an already crowded space. Rather, it is an auction house aggregator. The company’s free, one-stop service allows potential bidders immediate access to items they desire at a host of major international auction houses as well as regional houses and specialist collections around the world, regardless of where and when the sale happens.
Users are given instant entree to virtually every auction item in the marketplace at any given time. They are also furnished - for free - historical data documenting an item's previous sale history. It's a concept that has caught on mightily in Europe since the firm's launch in 2011. On any given day, Barnebys curates more than 400,000 available objects from 1,000+ international auction houses and dealers.
Barnebys operates on a unique pay-per-click business model, generating its revenue from participating auction houses. That revenue is based on the amount of traffic Barnebys redirects to online auction catalogs. The firm enjoys a healthy and cooperative working relationship with international auction houses large and small, averaging around 20 new auction house sign-ups per month. It also sells banner ads on its website.
In the United States, top-tier auction houses such as Sotheby's, Christie's, Paddle 8, Phillips and Heritage have already signed on to become cooperative partners with Barnebys. Others are expected to follow suit, once the concept is more widely understood and the potential for increased revenue is explained. International users include Catawiki, Dorotheum, Tajan and Auctionata. Further global market expansion is planned for 2016.
Cracking the American market has not been the uphill climb that company co-founders Christopher Barnekow and Pontus Silfverstolpe - both successful Swedish businessmen long before Barnebys - had feared. “I'm impressed by how American auctioneers are open to new ways of marketing themselves,” Barnekow said. “They clearly see the value-add of what we're selling - a wave of bidders and buyers.”
Barnebys was Barnekow's brainchild; in fact, the company name is a twist on his own last name. “I was struggling to find a particular still-life painting online,” he explained, “and I was just very frustrated by the multiple sites I had to navigate, not to mention all the time it was taking. And I thought, ‘Why isn't there a tool or a centralized search engine that would incorporate the lots of many auction houses?’”
Barnekow was already an experienced entrepreneur, having founded the ad agency Smith International, where he worked for 12 years. He was also a founding partner of Rodeo Magazine, Sweden's most exclusive fashion publication; as well as the e-commerce site Got2get. Still, with all his online marketing and services know-how, he didn't know much about the auction industry.
Enter Barnebys co-founder Pontus Silfverstolpe, who is now the firm’s Director of Content. His impressive background included serving as head of the Lilla Bukowskis auction house, curator of Amells Art Trade, host of the television program Antique Detectives and author of the book Swedish Antique Dealers. He has extensive experience and expertise in the fine art and antiques industries.
Together, Barnekow and Silfverstolpe created a user-friendly business model with consumers in mind. They shared a vision for a single, easy-to-use tool to centralize, aggregate and navigate an auction marketplace that many find frustrating. “Who knows how many potential buyers threw their hands up in frustration and abandoned online buying altogether, depriving the auction sector of incalculable revenue,” said Silfverstolpe. “We have eliminated the frustration, and the results are clear. Barnebys’ site attracts over a million visitors per month.”
Listings on Barnebys are organized under logical item categories, such as art, furniture, jewelry, silver and gold, etc. Bidders are presented with what they are looking to buy in the foreground; the auctioneer selling the item is secondary. But the auction houses are what drive the revenue stream. “We're like Kayak, a meta search engine,” Barnekow said. “Transactions are not conducted on Barnebys. We just deliver traffic and branding.”
Two features make Barnebys unique. One is the prices realized feature - the only free service that provides precise data about an item's sale history. By revealing how much an item has sold for in the past, as well as how similar objects have performed, Barnebys helps sellers to value items realistically. They are given a powerful tool in the form of hammer prices realized on more than 10 million previously auctioned lots.
The other key feature is Barnebys' free-to-use valuation service, which gives users access to established antiques experts who can offer estimates and advice to potential sellers. Users who seek an evaluation can go to www.barnebys.com, input information about their objects and upload images. The data is then sent to several auction houses, where in-house experts analyze and evaluate the items.
“The auction market is undergoing significant changes,” said Peder Isacson, Sotheby's Scandinavian Director, “and Barnebys is leading the way in terms of using its platform to bypass once-restrictive issues of geography to connect with both new and established users. Barnebys is democratizing the auction space, making people realize we sell more than just fine art pieces that make the headlines.”
Barnebys has received enthusiastic investment money from a host of sources, including Active Venture Partners, Howzat Partners and Monkfish Equity. The latter two companies were already well versed in meta-search services, having worked with Momondo and Trivago. A recent Barnebys investor, Chris Vroom, is the founder of Artspace and has worked for eBay. Combined, these investments exceed $4 million.
Moving forward, Barnebys plans to develop its auction news content, as it sees itself as a source of information on what is happening in the world of international buying and selling. There are already nine blogs, one of them written by Silfverstolpe, in which he gives recommendations and insights, with a finger on the pulse of developments within the auction world.
To learn more about Barnebys and how to become an auction-house partner, visit www.barnebys.com.