Seeing as it is hard enough for a youngish fogey journo like me to understand the ever-changing world of social media, how can the art and antique experts out there be expected to take advantage? ‘New fangled’ to many in this very traditional industry means trying emails instead of carrier pigeons.
This is, of course, being completely unfair on the many auctioneers and dealers who are indeed not just dipping toes into new media but firmly embracing it with arms open. For a start, many dealers ATG talks to these days are pioneers in using Instagram to get their stock out there online and are now used to making quick and easy deals.
And it is not just the dealers. Many auctioneers, having become old hands at online bidding at live sales, are looking at what new media can offer.
The Hollywood West Midlands treatment
A good regional case study is Chris Aston, of Astons Auctioneers in Dudley, the West Midlands. He has been putting videos up on YouTube for a few years but his latest (or the latest as I type, anyway) is a new one on him: a 3min 39sec guide filmed actually at an anonymous vendor’s premises.
Called The Yeovil Collection, it first shows Aston going into what must be the Man (or indeed, Woman) Cave of Dreams for many: a large space kitted out with Second World War memorabilia, even including a mini-pub in which the lucky auctioneer pours himself a pint. After hitting the bullseye on a dart board (Aston denies this took lots of takes…), he heads to the real subject of this video: a film memorabilia treasure trove complete with red carpet and cinema chairs in the middle.
The wartime collection is staying put for now, but the film memorabilia is heading for two sales in September.
Aston says he put the video on YouTube and Facebook and the reaction has been very favourable. Importantly, showing the memorabilia in place gives potential bidders a chance to envisage what it could look like when displayed.
“It’s the first one we’ve done in situ,” he says. “I walked in there and I thought ‘hang on, once we take this back to our warehouse there’s no way we can make it look as good as this, all lit up, red carpet and so on’.”
He got a friend of his, a videographer who has worked for Aston Villa FC among others, to help out (the bribe of a paid-for hotel break in Yeovil swung the deal). Working with a professional in this field meant Aston had to up his game when it came to presenting.
“Normally I stand there and I’m quite monotonous but he’ll say stand there and say that again, you’ve got to have a big grin on your face, be more smiley, do exaggerated arm movements… you feel you’re being a bit of an idiot at the time but then you see the video and it does come out more professional.”
Expand your horizons
One of the serious sides of such videos, along with those showing the bidding battles on sale days and discussions of objects and what they make, is widening the audience beyond bidders who will be interested anyway to those who may not usually go to an auction or consign lots, making them more familiar and comfortable with the whole process.
As an example, on July 11 Astons’ specialist camera sale came under focus. “I sat down with our camera expert Tim after hours – I’m acting as the auctioneer/presenter and he’s the camera expert – and we picked some of the star lots and said ‘what’s this?’ and he’s telling me the reason this is rare because of this and so on… it then cuts to ‘what does it sell for then?’ and then we have a picture of the rostrum when it’s being sold.
“The amazing thing is that 90% of the vendors will say ‘I’ve never been to an auction, I’d love to see what it’s like…”, so obviously everything you are doing is ‘selling’ it to the vendors really. We say ‘this is what we do, we get the item, price it at £80 and, oh look it sold for £200’ or whatever, and it looks really impressive doesn’t it? A bit more exciting than a photo.”
Aston says the plan is now “really start pushing” the videos. With 10 auction weeks in the saleroom’s calendar, every five weeks or so he aims to look at three or four sales coming up and make the effort to do as much filming as possible.
“The other thing we did for the first time with the camera sale was a live video feed on Facebook,” he adds. So while something like 250 people may have been watching that auction as registered online bidders, Aston says around 900 looked at it (or bits of it) on Facebook.
“There are lots of local people who follow us we can market it to, lots of vendors, but they might not bother going to the auction or bid on anything but think ‘let’s have a look’, people bored at work or looking through their phone perhaps.
“The main thing is you’re not too worried about it… cameras is specialised stuff, London dealers have driven up for it, and the stuff is going to make the right money really, once you do a big sale of that kind of thing. But Facebook is about attracting the vendors really, getting more people that notice ‘Astons are getting good money for this stuff, I’ll have to go to their valuation day with my old cameras’. That the thinking behind it.”
Along those lines, Aston believes the best videos for this wider market are not the very specific ones, in detail, but more timeless ones giving solid information.
“Rather than saying ‘oh look we’ve got a specialist camera auction on this week’, I haven’t even mentioned the auction date or anything. I thought that’s just boring people and we’re trying to sell it to them too hard, so I just talked about one camera, and then it’ll stay on there.
“Obviously we’ll say how much it sold for, but prices changes over time. In 10 years that price may be irrelevant, but if you’ve got good-quality information explaining when it was made, how it worked, why it was popular at the time and so on, that is information people will always want to see. That’s my theory, anyway…”
Aston does caution that in his experience Instagram is much more use to dealers than auctioneers, however. “I’ve played around with it Instagram and I reckon it’s brilliant if you are a dealer, specialising in one thing, because you build up followers.
“For example, if you are a Star Wars figure dealer then every time you post a Star Wars pic you’re going to get more followers and everyone’s going to be very interested. What I found though is because we do different kinds of auctions, if you post a load of comics for instance, you get a load of comics people following you but next week you post some cameras and all the comic people hide you or unfollow.”