No One Looks at Them Anyway

At our recent American Civil War auction at Leonard Joel an interesting fact emerged. Not one of the forty four buyers had received a hard copy catalogue in the mail. This raised several questions. How did the buyers find out about the auction? What was the pointof a catalogue being printed? Just how long will it be until auction catalogues, in their hard copy format, become an extinct species?

27Recently a client advised me not to illustrate a painting in a forthcoming catalogue to relieve him of the applicable Viscopy reproduction fee. His opinion was that “everyone is online and no one looks at the catalogue anyway”. I’m not convinced he’s entirely correct but his observation, every year, every month and every week seems to be becoming more accurate. Auctioneers will not tell you this but they would love to mostly dispense with the time, expense and angst associated with the production of large scale catalogues. Why don’t they/we? A few reasons at present.

Firstly, it is still considered the most prestigious marketing tool in the suite of communications before an auction. Secondly, not everyone is online, yet! Finally, I think we humans have a very real and very primal attachment to documenting, in physical mediums, and storing our achievements or our memories on a shelf or on a wall. I suspect that over the next decade hard copy catalogues at auction will simply no longer exist unless a very big client, with a very big collection, wants to subsidise the expense; either for memories sake or because they believe the “thumping big catalogue” is still the way to go.

So the question remains. If catalogues in hard copy are so important why were they so unimportant at our recent American Civil War auction? Probably because not even we are aware of how vast and pervasive the movement of information through the internet quite is. The beauty of the internet, for me as an auctioneer, is that itseems the information that we upload takes a journey much further and wider than our traditional comprehensions about the reach of websites and emails. There’s something a little Russian Roulette about posting out 1000 catalogues and crossing your fingers that they hit the “right” mailboxes!

Digital technology has taken the traditional catalogue on a much wilder and more valuable ride and this evolution will only continue.