Case | HBS Case Collection | July 2009 (Revised March 2010)

Sotheby's & Christie's Inc.

by Ramon Casadesus-Masanell and Catherine Jane Wise


The fine art auction business has remained a duopoly over its 250 year history. The industry is dominated by Sotheby's and Christie's Inc. Curiously, neither competitor has been able to overtake the other by a notable margin despite the clear network effects of this platform business. As we enter unprecedented economic times, as technology pushes forward infiltrating almost all areas of business, and as new competitors fight to enter the fine art sales space, these two auction houses explore modifications to their business model. Some efforts by the two organizations have already begun but are in the infantile stage and thus the success of these initiatives is entirely unproven. Sotheby's and Christie's must decide how to respond to this economic and cultural turning point and whether to keep investing in these ancillary aspects of their operations.

Keywords: Arts; Business Model; Restructuring; Economics; Auctions; Market Entry and Exit; Two-Sided Platforms; Duopoly and Oligopoly; Operations; Competition;


Casadesus-Masanell, Ramon, and Catherine Jane Wise. "Sotheby's & Christie's Inc." Harvard Business School Case 710-412, July 2009. (Revised March 2010.)