|Anne Somers, CEO, ATG Media|
In 2006, the year it launched thesaleroom.com, ATG sold 3,722 lots online. Six years' later, ATG sold 335,311 lots – an increase of over 9000 per cent with hammer prices totalling £52m. (This is just its art and antiques auction business.)
Anne Somers led a successful MBO from then-owners DMG Media in 2008 with backers now called Mobius Equity Partners and raised a further £4.5m from Mobius to fund Bidspotter.
Not all hard-boiled print media executives have made the transition to this brave new world as successfully as ATG's chief executive, Anne Somers. Here are some of her thoughts about her journey.
Headhoncha: So how did it all begin?
Anne Somers: The Antiques Trade Gazette was founded in 1971 and the original founder saw an opportunity because until then the only way people knew what was happening in the arts and antiques market was from local advertising. Collectors and dealers only knew about auctions in their locality. The whole aim of the magazine was to bring together buyers and sellers, initially nationally but soon internationally, so covering auctions in Paris and New York. In a way that's what we still do today.
HH: When did you see the online opportunity?
AS: We watched the dot.com boom come and go: the antiques trade was to be honest quite traditional. So we were late into the market. Antiques businesses didn't digitalise their photos and many operated without computers. So we had a very thriving – still do actually – print business. At the end of the 1990s, as broadband became available, we sat down to work out a strategy. We decided to upload digital versions of our clients' catalogues onto our website. While in a print catalogue an auctioneer might be able to focus on just 20 lots out of a 600-lot auction, we could illustrate each lot. We started printing catalogues for clients but really so we could digitalise the images and then upload these onto our site.
HH: So you were a service provider?
AS: Yes, and we still are. After catalogue hosting, then we launched live auction bidding in 2006 and that's been our major success story.
HH: How did you get involved with BidSpotter?
AS: Initially we leased their live auction platform for two years from our launch, while we built our own. This was the beginning of our transition into a development environment, which is where we now operate. We then went on to run BidSpotter's UK site for two and a half years. We had also launched iBidder.com. It was a no-brainer when BidSpotter US came onto the market that we should acquire it in terms of fit. We want to service auctions in whatever discipline and this gives us a foothold in the US.
HH: Are you any longer really arts and antiques specialists?
AS: We are very focused on the auction market but now we offer a variety of portals for any item that is being sold at auction. We have also provided all the technology behind the German site, lot-tissimo.com, for example. We want to offer our auctioneers an extensive bidder list. Recently we had 1000 registered bidders for an arts and antiques auction. We have bidders registered with us from 150 different countries. Ten years ago you might have 50 people in the room and another 10 on the phones.
HH: What's in the pipeline?
AS: We are trialling a saleroom delivery service. We are trying to give people who buy through online auctions what you might call the Amazon experience. Last month we shipped about 1000 lots and we will now roll this out to all our auction house clients. It takes the headache away from them. The shipping is easy: the packing is the pain. We provide a professional packing service.
HH: Were you always entrepreneurial or did opportunities just present themselves?
AS: I think I always had a sense of entrepreneurship. We were privately owned before DMG owned us but even under DMG they encouraged us to be very entrepreneurial, so even as part of a much bigger group, there was that independent spirit.