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French Auctioneers To Take Net Bids

March 3, 2000

PARIS (AP) _ Antique buffs turned off by the crowds at France’s main auction house soon will be able to bid for treasures at their computers, thanks to a new service that lets Internet users try to buy as if they were at the sale.

Starting March 20, eAuctionRoom will broadcast live on the Internet a sale of haute couture clothes, including evening wear by Elsa Schiaparelli and Pierre Cardin.

The sale will be taking place simultaneously at Drouot, Paris’ main auction house.

Current technology will allow about 400 Internet users to bid online in real-time, said Frederic Thut, president of eAutionRoom.

``The idea is to increase the number of people attending and buying at Drouot auctions. At some point soon, Web surfers will be able to follow three auctions at a time on a single screen,″ he explained.

EAuctionRoom, funded partially by the French telecommunications giant France Telecom and banker Edmond de Rothschild, offers its services to auctioneers in Paris and the provinces.

For now, only 20 of France’s 400 certified auctioneers have expressed interest in transmitting their auctions live in cyberspace. Some 60 online auctions are scheduled at Drouot through June.

``This is not meant as a substitute for real auctions that you attend in person,″ said auctioneer Eric Couturier, who is handling the March 20 sale of designer outfits owned by French actress Daniele Parola-Daven.

``It’s an innovative way of getting more buyers involved in the sale, without losing the excitement and tension of being there in person,″ Couturier said. ``This is the same kind of leap forward as when we first started taking bids by telephone.″

Internet users interested in bidding must register with the auctioneer before the sale to prevent fraud.

EAuctionRoom earns 0.5 percent of each sale, Thut said.

Catalogues with information, documents and photographs of sale items _ a click of the mouse brings stunning enlargements of the smallest details _ also are available on the Web site.

Cameras shooting in the auction room will transmit the action as it happens. A clerk working at a computer will alert the auctioneer as to the latest bid coming through via the Internet, and the faraway bidder will learn whether his bid has been accepted thanks to system of lights: green if the bid is his, red if it’s not.

Internet auctions have become commonplace thanks to companies like California-based eBay Inc., which sells items to the highest bidder over a limited period of time.

But real-time bidding at live auctions still has not been practiced successfully, Thut said.

Drouot auctioneer Couturier said the new technology would help French auctioneers stay competitive in a recently opened market that was regulated for generations to keep out foreign rivals.

Fred Goetzen, head of public relations at Christie’s Europe, said it would take Christie’s about a year before Internet users could bid online in real time.

``Our clients could follow the Webcast of sale of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia in January from the comfort of their own homes, but there wasn’t the technology to allow them to bid live,″ Geotzen said.

As for Sotheby’s, spokeswoman Marie-Odile Deutch referred interested clients to two Web sites currently providing customer services, including access to information, documents and photographs of items for sale.

``We don’t do what eAuctionRoom does, but we’re working on it,″ Deutch said.

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