Christie’s informed its clients today that it will shift its buyer’s premium policy on lots won at its auctions, widening the brackets for prices charged the highest fees and increasing the percentage tagged on its most expensive items. The new fee structure, which takes effect September 11, just as the fall season starts, closely mirrors some of the alterations that its arch-rival, Sotheby’s, made public last week.
Any price paid up to $250,000 will now require the highest levy, 25 percent. Previously, the upper limit on that bracket was just $150,000, so the change means that the number of lots being tagged with the highest fee will likely increase.
Totals in the range of $250,001 to $4 million will be charged 20 percent. Previously, that bracket had been smaller: $150,001 to $3 million. And all totals above that will be saddled with a 12.5-percent fee—a slight uptick from the previous figure, which was 12 percent.
The fee plan is similar to the one that the house’s main competitor, Sotheby’s, announced a week ago, which calls for a 25-percent levy on amounts paid up to $300,000, a 20-percent levy on prices between $300,000 and $3 million, and a 12.9-percent levy on work priced at $3 million and higher.
There are some key differences between the new policies of the two houses. Sotheby’s announced that it would be doing away with all buyer’s premiums in its online-only sales, a move that Christie’s has so far resisted. Though the online field is still only a developing slice of the market for both houses (and the no-fee policy does not apply to work bought online during live auctions at Sotheby’s), it often attracts first-time auction buyers and collectors who shop for emerging artists. The online-only auctions have long been touted by auction house spin doctors as the future of sales—or at least a gateway drug to the live events—and with Christie’s now confirming that its general fee structure will still apply to online-only sales, no-fee Sotheby’s could see a larger share of young and new buyers online.
While losing revenue from not charging those buying work on the web, Sotheby’s may hope to make up for it from the high-high end of the market: its fee on the ritziest threshold is bolder than that of Christie’s—12.9 percent, compared to 12.5 percent. (Though Sotheby’s starts that fee at a lower threshold—$3 million rather than $4 million.)
While shifts in fee structures are typical at the start of the fall season, this year’s come at a time of uncertainty in the market, especially for auction houses. Earlier this year saw Christie’s restructuring its postwar and contemporary department, a sector of the market that has considerable sway over the industry at large. At Sotheby’s, a disappointing quarterly report has put higher pressure on the house to sell big in the fall. And this summer, Christie’s closed its South Kensington salesroom, after 42 years of ancillary sales of objects, antiques, and design pieces there. Many of those sales will become online-only.