Prints & Multiples: Auction v Private Sale

A black and white screen print depicting an auction house sale. The artwork for sale is in a yellow frame, and contains the words: “I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU MORONS BUY THIS SHIT”.Morons (LA Edition, white) © Banksy 2007
Florence Whittaker

Florence Whittaker, Urban Art Specialist & Sales Director[email protected]

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Entering 2023 with caution due to ongoing pandemic effects and geopolitical uncertainties, the global art market faced challenges despite a strong 2022 performance. Art Basel UBS Report revealed a $67.8 billion market in 2022, growing by 3% YoY. However, the 2023 landscape showed a nearly -19% decline in global auction sales, among major houses: Christie's, Sotheby's, and Phillips. On a positive note, online sales of lots increased by 5%, and prints and editions saw an 18% growth in sales value. These trends highlight the art market's resilience and adaptation, with online sales showing potential while traditional auctions face headwinds.

Blue Chip Masterpieces at Auction

Sales of original masterworks by Modern and Contemporary superstars demonstrate the excitement and relevancy of live auction sales and how effortlessly top-quality works can soar high above presale estimates. To see this in action, turn to the pinnacle of Modern & Contemporary auction sales in 2022: Andy Warhol's iconic masterpiece, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn. This highly anticipated auction broke records and ignited a fervour among bidders. Placed strategically as the grand finale, the tension and anticipation climaxed. As the bidding commenced, the electrifying question echoed through the room by Christie's president Jussi Pylkkänen, "Where shall we begin?" With a modest opening bid of $100 million, the atmosphere crackled with anticipation. For a heart-stopping 3-½ minutes, three tenacious phone bidders and one eager participant in the sales room engaged in a bidding battle. Finally, Pylkkänen’s gavel fell at the astounding hammer price of $170 million, a sale that resonated throughout the art world, marking an awe-inspiring milestone in the history of Contemporary art sales.

The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann Evening Sale Livestream © Christie's New York 2022

Prints & Multiples at Auction

The prints and editions market holds a pivotal position in the art world, constituting a substantial 47.3% of lots sold in 2022, as indicated by ArtTactic's inaugural Prints & Editions report. In 2023, The Art Newspaper's Tim Schineder shed light on this often-overlooked and fiercely competitive sector. Lindsay Dewar from ArtTactic also recognised the rising significance of prints and editions, describing it as 'gaining traction' and providing an accessible entry point into art collecting. Despite their comparatively lower price tags compared to unique pieces, prints and editions make a significant contribution to the global art market, offering appealing options for collectors. Complete sets, exemplified by Andy Warhol's Flowers, Endangered Species, and Marilyn series, commanded seven-figure prices in 2023, serving as powerful statements of an artist's body of work. You can read more about these sales, in deatil, in our latest Art Investment Report.

It's worth noting, however, that the fees associated with selling all types of works at auction, especially the higher the selling price tag, can be staggering. In auctions, we often only see part of the picture when it comes to the value of art. But now, there are more ways to invest in art, both through buying new art and through existing art sales. This means you can reach a bigger audience and invest without spending as much money. It's all about getting the most out of your investment. Plus, thanks to advancements in art technology and online sales, it's become even easier and more accessible to explore and invest in the art market.

It’s not just access and expertise that drives this, but as Charlotte Stewart explains - something unique to prints & multiples:

“Prints offer fair market value, making comparisons easier than with originals. While masterpieces create bidding wars, prints provide opportunities beyond auctions, thanks to increased accessibility. Private sales allow far more control for both buyers and sellers.”
Charlotte Stewart, MyArtBroker
iMac Desktop Computer with MyArtBroker Trading Floor Display.Trading Floor © MyArtBroker 2023

Auction Fees v Private Sale Fees

Selling through public auctions hinges entirely on the unpredictable final sales figure. Opting for private art sales through reputable dealers like MyArtBroker offer a notable advantage by allowing negotiation based on the seller's objectives and market conditions, avoiding sole reliance on auction outcomes. This approach provides greater control and potential for favourable returns, alongside enhanced transparency when working with trusted dealers and having access to Art Tech tools that aid in accurate real-time valuations based on market conditions.

The introduction of our Art Tech platforms, including MyArtBroker's live trading floor, MyPortfolio collection management system, and the MAB100 print market index, powered by our exclusive algorithm, SingularityX, empowers clients to make informed art investment decisions.

While high-profile auction sales often receive media attention and tempt sellers with promises of profitable returns, it's crucial to acknowledge the inherent uncertainty of auction consignments. Non-sales at auctions, or 'unsolds', can significantly harm an artist's market and the value of their unique works. This impact was particularly evident in 2023 during a soft market, as consignors resisted adjusting their work estimates to match market conditions. Therefore, the advantages of online private art sales become evident in these situations.

This change may be seen as somewhat overdue, as it has taken four decades to revamp the traditional auction fee model.

Auction Fees And How They Work

Sotheby's New Auction Fee Model

In a groundbreaking announcement that sent shockwaves through both the art world and auction houses, Sotheby's unveiled its revamped fee structure in January 2024, aimed at shedding light on the art market's intricate fee system. The auction house has streamlined its buyer's premium, reducing it to 20% of the hammer price for artworks up to $6 million (USD), with a further reduction to 10% for values above that threshold. This marks a significant departure from the previous buyer's premium, which varied from 26% for works under $1 million (USD) to 13.9% for those exceeding that amount. The seller's commission has also been revamped, with a cap of 10% on the first $500,000 (USD) of the hammer price. Larger clients stand to benefit from more favourable terms, including waived seller's commission for lots with a low estimate exceeding $5 million (USD) and a seller's premium of 40% of the buyer's premium for lots estimated between $20 million and $50 million (USD).

Additionally, Sotheby's has eliminated the Overhead Premium, previously a 1% administrative charge on all sales, while introducing a 'success fee' of 2% for lots that surpass their high estimate. These adjustments apply to artworks without a guarantee, which will now involve a 'commitment fee' of 4% of the guarantee, payable by the seller.

So, what does this imply? In essence, Sotheby's is striving to implement a more transparent fee system to make auctions more attractive to both buyers and sellers. This initiative comes at a pivotal moment when auction houses are vying for attention in a challenging economic landscape, and the rise of online sales, particularly in the prints and multiples segment, is reshaping the market. However, it's worth noting that this change may be seen as somewhat overdue, as it has taken four decades to revamp the traditional auction fee model. However, it's worth noting that this change may be seen as somewhat overdue, as it has taken four decades to revamp the traditional auction fee model.

Traditional Auction Fees

While Sotheby's has introduced a new fee structure, most other auction houses continue to operate under the traditional commission-based model. In this system, both buyers and sellers face various fees when participating in an auction.

Sellers are typically responsible for a vendor's commission, which can be as high as 15% of the final sale price. They may also incur extra charges for services such as marketing, cataloging, shipping, and artwork storage.

On the buyer's side, winning bidders are subject to fees based on a percentage of the hammer price, typically ranging from 25% to 27%. These fees are also subject to Value Added Tax (VAT) in accordance with local regulations. In cases where the final selling price significantly exceeds the high estimate, an additional performance commission of 1% to 2% may apply.

“The juggernaut of auction requires significant commissions on sellers and buyers to support an industry that sells everything from miniature snuff bottles, 19th-century furniture and colossal marble antiquities - in short, you’re paying other people's costs when you consign a print.”
Charlotte Stewart, MyArtBroker

This dual-sided fee structure allows traditional auction houses to cover their operational expenses and facilitate the exchange of various types of artworks. Charlotte, our MD, who spent a decade as a Business Director at a major auction house before joining MyArtBroker, highlights that the auction industry relies on significant commissions from both sellers and buyers to support its diverse range of offerings.

Understanding these associated fees is essential for both sellers and buyers, as they can impact the overall financial outcome of a transaction. This awareness empowers individuals to make well-informed decisions and navigate the auction process effectively.

The MyArtBroker Private Sale Advantage

What sets us apart is our vast network of buyers and sellers dedicated to contemporary and modern prints and editions and our bespoke algorithm that analyses our private sales and valuation data blended with auction sales data allowing us to stay informed on the complex interplay of artists’ market performances. For example, two artists currently dominating the art market are Andy Warhol and David Hockney, showcasing remarkable resilience despite economic downturns. Our comprehensive Market Watch report delves into Andy Warhol's market trends, while our Modern British Artist report explores the success of David Hockney. These reports, compiled with public auction data and our private sales, are available for free download and closely align with ArtTactic's Prints and Editions report (compiled with auction data only), ranking Banksy as the third most influential artist in the prints and editions auction market.

By embracing the online art market, sellers benefit from a seamless selling experience that optimises returns and provides flexibility and access to a global network of passionate art enthusiasts. Take advantage of MyArtBroker's industry-leading platform to unlock the full potential of your collection via our newly launched MyPortfolio feature.

Buying at Auction

To participate in an auction and successfully make a purchase, you can choose to be physically present at the auction venue on the specified date and time. Alternatively, if you cannot attend in person, you can pre-arrange a call with a specialist who will assist you remotely. Another convenient option is to log in online and participate in real-time bidding during the auction. You must plan accordingly and allow for approximately 60 to 100 lots per hour. Miss your lot, and there is no going back.

Before the auction begins, it is essential to determine your maximum bid—the highest amount you are willing to pay for the artwork. It is often recommended to add a buffer of around 30% to your top bid to account for competitive bidding and unexpected price increases. Once you have established your maximum bid, it is crucial to stick to it, even when faced with intense bidding competition. Maintaining discipline and not exceeding your predetermined limit is essential to ensure a successful and financially sound purchase.

Selling at Auction

To sell your artwork at an auction house, the first step is to select the right auction house for your print and approach them where you will be passed to the right department. Depending on the lead time to the next auction, you’ll hear back when their next consignment deadline is fast approaching. The auction house's specialists will evaluate your work, sometimes in person, to provide advice on pricing and determine the best sale for it.

As previously discussed, when selling an artwork through an auction, the seller is typically responsible for paying a vendor's commission, which can reach up to 15% of the final sale price. In addition to the commission, the seller may incur additional charges for services such as marketing, cataloguing, shipping, and storage of the artwork.

Once you have agreed upon the details of your consignment with the specialist, an administrator will contact you and provide the necessary paperwork. In most circumstances, it becomes your responsibility to arrange and cover the shipping costs to send your artwork to the auction house's storage facility before the auction.

Auctions are usually scheduled a few months before, as auction seasons follow a fixed timeline. Even if the auction is approaching soon, consignment deadlines are typically set 2 to 3 months prior. If your consigning a print, you may be asked to wait for the next, or even the next, Prints & Multiples sale if a work from the same series is already consigned. A frustration for sellers, particularly in a hot market, when 3 months can make a huge difference to the value of a work.

What Happens If My Artwork Sells or Doesn’t Sell At Auction?

If your artwork sells at the auction, you can expect to receive payment a few weeks after the completion of the sale. However, if your artwork does not sell, you will be responsible for managing and covering the costs of safely returning your work. Additionally, you may need to pay unsold fees to the auction house, often calculated as 1.5% of the average of the high and low estimates provided by the auction house. You will typically have a timeframe of two weeks to one month to collect your unsold work from their storage facility before storage fees begin to accrue.

There are situations when offering at auction is favourable, this depends on value. Lower-level works, entry-level prints, prints with considerable condition issues, or with relatively new secondary markets sometimes perform better in the decorative market or indeed at houses that specialise in an artist, and we can advise on where to offer for the best upon consultation with our specialists, free of charge.

iPhone showing a detailed view of MyPortfolio features.MyPortfolio © MyArtBroker 2023

Selling at MyArtBroker

We are happy to provide a guaranteed 0% seller's fee without any hidden charges. We have over 20 years of experience and unlike our competitors, we leverage digital innovation to offer a 0% fee to our sellers simply because we have the means to do so and specialise in this area.

Here's how our process works: Once you reach out to us, we will assign you a dedicated broker to assist you throughout the selling journey. Together, we will agree on a price for your artwork that you are comfortable with, have its condition checked, and then we will promptly list and promote it to our extensive buyer network.

You decide on the return price, and what you’d be happy to sell the piece for, if we can achieve that we arrange the sale and the shipment of the artwork eliminating the need for a storage facility. We make a competitively low commission on the buyer’s side, ensuring we stay the best option in the print market for both buyer and seller. At MyArtBroker, our mission is to provide more or the same level of return expected from an auction but with the added convenience of control.

How does MyArtBroker offer this service at 0% sellers commission and auction houses can’t?

With our extensive experience in the prints and edition market, we have actively listened to our buyers and sellers, refining our platform and network to meet print collectors' needs - access, control, value data and sale transparency. Our optimised service distinguishes us from traditional auction houses by minimising overhead costs and enabling significant investments in digital innovation and targeted marketing strategies within our network.

When it comes to selling your artwork, achieving the best price relies on accessing a niche market with a dedicated community of collectors. If you have a print to sell, turning to a specialist in the print market yields superior results compared to approaching an auction house, which caters to broader categories of artwork.

For buyers, we offer the advantage of thoughtful consideration for each purchase without the time constraints of a live auction. We provide a simplified and secure platform to bring a wide selection of artworks to the market. Our brokers are experts in their respective fields, facilitating seamless communication between buyers and sellers. Moreover, we take pride in offering balanced market advice to first-time buyers and sellers alike, ensuring informed decision-making processes.

Specialists in Prints & Multiples

Before venturing into selling your prints online, it is advisable to seek guidance from experts rather than navigating the field independently. Art is a unique and personal investment, and relying solely on online platforms, no matter how advanced, may not adequately cater to the evolving collecting market or the needs of established collectors with significant inventories.

Buying at MyArtBroker

By buying through MyArtBroker, you gain access to an experienced personal broker who will support you throughout the process. They will assist in finding the appropriate artwork, handle authentication, negotiate a price, and oversee the delivery process, ensuring a smooth and secure transaction. You will also have access to MyPortfolio and our trading floor allowing you to see which works and artists are in the highest demand allowing you to make informed buying decisions.

We have been sourcing Urban, Modern and Contemporary prints for our network since 2010. Our team comprises specialists from auctions, galleries, dealerships and art tech. This means we know the art market, the people, the data and the artwork itself better than anyone else.

Final Advice

  1. Get Advice: Wherever you choose to buy or sell, ensure your transactions are secure by utilising a trusted platform, examining testimonials, and seeking expert advice. While the online art trade is gaining trust, platforms like eBay still grapple with the issue of artist authenticity. For example, even with Banksy's Pest Control Certificate of Authenticity, the market is plagued by counterfeit works. Opting to purchase through a fine art professional guarantees complete assurance, and our brokers are here to provide valuable guidance in this respect, even if you’re set on buying elsewhere.
  2. Use Market Data: Take advantage of our platform's features MyPortfolio and the Trading Floor, which allows you to post listings for desired artworks within a global community of buyers and sellers. This is particularly beneficial for collectors in search of elusive works that are harder to find and can give you a real idea of the value you’re looking to return or spend.
  3. The Art Market's Future is Online: According to the most recent Hiscox Online Art Trade Report, although fewer people bought online in 2022 (78% compared to 85%), the number was still higher than pre-pandemic levels. This preference shift is evident as buyers and sellers veer away from traditional auction houses and gravitate towards online private sales. The access and value that trusted online sales offer have long eclipsed that of century-old auction houses.

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Data-driven market commentary on what's driving growth, supply & demand in the Prints and Multiples market.