Thursday, January 7, 2010

2009 Photography Auction Summary

With the 2009 auction season now completely closed up, it is now the time to go back and slice and dice the numbers a bit to see if we can derive some insights about the recent market for photography.

As regular readers know, we write preview and results post for most of the major photography auctions around the world, and also do preview and results posts for contemporary art and other auctions that contain a meaningful amount of photography. Additionally, we report on photobook auctions, and sales that offer both photographs and photobooks. Last year, we covered 67 different sales, from 14 different auction houses.

A couple of quick caveats. The auctions we have covered have taken place in Dollars, Euros and Pounds; for the purposes of these calculations and to smooth out the data a bit, we have converted everything into Dollars (where 1 Euro = 1.43 Dollars and 1 Pound = 1.59 Dollars). Also, it is clear that photographs and photobooks were offered for sale in many more auctions than we have covered here, perhaps in smaller houses, or in secondary and tertiary markets. As such, I think this data likely captures 85-90% or more of the actual sales, but certainly not everything.

Across the photography auction market for the entire year, the total sale proceeds taken together were $74,612,997. If we take as a hypothesis that the auction market is roughly half of the entire photography market (the rest is in galleries and elsewhere), then the size of the market in 2009 was approximately $150M. In the past, I have often heard the number $200M thrown around as the size of the entire photography market, so given the economic downturn, $150M doesn't sound too far from the likely reality. In contrast to the massive contemporary art market, the total photography market is indeed still quite small.

Here's how the sale proceeds for photography were divided up by auction house in the past year:

Sotheby's: $25,428,318
Christie's: $21,231,561
Phillips De Pury: $15,957,910
Swann: $4,061,690
Bonhams: $1,326,872
Villa Grisebach: $1,283,385
Lempertz: $989,540
Bloomsbury: $981,542
Galerie Bassenge: $880,234
Van Ham: $781,558
Millon: $742,298
Yann Le Mouel: $513,330
Heritage: $434,795

There was also one sale at Argenteuil (the Cami and Sasha Stone atelier), but I have not included this data, as I didn't ever locate lot by lot results. (For those of you who like to do quick math, take roughly 20% of the numbers above, and you'll get the approximate amount of total premium that the houses earned as fees.)

These dollar figures can then be turned into dollar-based market share numbers, tabulating the percentage of the photography proceeds in the market which fell to each house. I have added the actual number of individual sales that took place in parentheses as background. (As an aside, it would be fascinating to do this same exercise for the retail galleries to see where the share of market really resides; this is of course impossible to do, as the data isn't readily available, but an individual gallery could conceivably tabulate its own share by taking its top line photography revenues as a percentage of something like $75M.)

Sotheby's (12): 34.08%
Christie's (17): 28.46%
Phillips De Pury (14): 21.39%
Swann (4): 5.44%
Bonhams (2): 1.78%
Villa Grisebach (2): 1.72%
Lempertz (2): 1.33%
Bloomsbury (4): 1.32%
Galerie Bassenge (2): 1.18%
Van Ham (2): 1.05%
Millon (1): 0.99%
Yann Le Mouel (2): 0.69%
Heritage (2): 0.58%

So 83.92% of the photography market in 2009 was held by the top three houses (Sotheby's, Christie's, and Phillips De Pury), with Swann the only other house to capture more than 2.00% of the market.

There were a total of 10,530 photography lots on offer this year across the market. (The Top 10 photography lots of the year can be found here.) 6,173 of these sold, while 4,347 failed to sell, making the industry-wide buy-in rate 41.28%. The data below is the house by house overall buy-in rate, compiled from all the sales at that house. It is interesting to match each house up or down against the overall industry benchmark; it was tough year for many. (Millon and Argenteuil have been omitted, as there was only one set of sales data for each house.) I have added the total number of lots on offer for each house in parentheses as background.

Christie's (1495): 28.29%
Bonhams (317): 31.86%
Swann (1278): 31.92%
Villa Grisebach (380): 33.42%
Phillips De Pury (1619): 36.75%
Sotheby's (1100): 38.00%
Galerie Bassenge (906): 41.28%
Heritage (480): 42.50%
Lempertz (556): 55.22%
Yann Le Mouel (605): 59.83%
Van Ham (663): 60.33%
Bloomsbury (845): 64.62%

Another intriguing statistic is the $ per lot sold. One might call this an average selling price, for those lots that actually sold. (This would be fun to tabulate for retail galleries as well.)

Sotheby's: $37,285
Christie's: $19,806
Phillips De Pury: $15,584
Bonhams: $6,143
Villa Grisebach: $5,073
Swann: $4,723
Lempertz: $3,974
Millon: $3,639
Bloomsbury: $3,283
Van Ham: $2,972
Yann Le Mouel: $2,112
Galerie Bassenge: $1,655
Heritage: $1,575

While most of the major auctions houses provide both a low and high estimate for each lot, not all houses do, so it is impossible to tabulate industry-wide data for estimates. For those houses that do provide both a low and a high estimate, only Sotheby's and Christie's were able to bring in total proceeds (across all sales) higher than the total of the low estimates. All other houses failed to cover the low on an aggregate basis. The data for the two who did accomplish this feat:

Total Low Estimate: $23,711,484
Total Proceeds: $25,428,318

Total Low Estimate: $20,887,757
Total Proceeds: $21,231,561

Overall, I'd say that the weaker economic environment helped the bigger players stay dominant (even if their total revenues shrunk considerably) and exposed the weaknesses of the challengers a bit more; in a "flight to quality" world, the lower end competitors (especially those without deep, established client lists) got squeezed. With some glimmers of optimism on the horizon, perhaps 2010 will be a growth/rebound year for all.

As always, comments, clarifications and critiques are welcome.


QT Luong said...

I find it difficult to believe that the entire market for photography (as defined by print sales) would be just 200M.

For instance, I have read that Peter Lik alone sells annually for tens of millions through his galleries/stores. I assume that you (as well as the "art world") are not interested in his work, yet what he sells are photographs, and the people who buy them refer themselves as collectors.

There are also likely tens of thousands of photographers offering prints on the internet. If each of them sell maybe $10,000 of prints each year your number would be easily exceeded.

dlkcollection said...

QT is absolutely right that this analysis is focused on the narrow world of "fine art" photography (however we might define that term), where sales are primarily tallied via a third party retail gallery or auction house, rather than directly via the artist him/herself. It was not meant to include or exclude any specific photographers or types of photographers, just to tabulate the market data that is most readily available and extrapolate from there.

Trying to accurately add in all the sales of art photography that happen outside the usual fine art distribution systems would be pretty hard, as there isn't any reliable data to use for the calculations. You may indeed be right that the transaction volume for this kind of art photography may be substantial (and growing), but it is hard to verify at this point.

Anonymous said...

As an appraiser, we use very general market overviews. That the buy-in rate average is 41% is a pretty good indicator of the market in general.

Galleries are often restricted by client confidentiality so getting sales data from them can be difficult.

The prices that galleries post are what they truly feel a piece is worth, but not neccessarily what they sell it for.

So DLK calculations as a general market indicator are as accurate as artprice market indicators are or the Mei Moses art index.

It was pretty clear that the auction houses all scrambled to lower their reserves to lower the buy-in rates. said...

200 million can go along way though.
if 200 million is spread among 10000 artists, it is still 20000 a year.

200,000,000 divided by