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eBay deal resurrects live auctions

The online auction giant teams with Internet auction company Icollector to let eBay customers place live bids on artwork, antiques and collectibles.

Online giant eBay on Monday said it has teamed with Internet auction company Icollector to let eBay customers place live bids on artwork, antiques and collectibles with more than 300 auction houses around the world.

Under the terms of the agreement, eBay will offer its Live Auction technology to Icollector's partners, allowing all eBay-registered customers to access those sites.

With Monday's deal, San Jose, Calif.-based eBay appears to be giving live-bid auctions a second chance.

eBay last year said it would allow a limited, live-auction service for higher-end items such as fine art, wine and antiques. The online auctioneer funneled this service in part through its Butterfield & Butterfield unit but ran into technical difficulties, including problems with tracking and shipping. Last November, eBay pulled back from live auctions--going as far as to lay off people from Butterfields.

Although eBay is one of the few Internet companies turning a profit, it continues to look for new revenue streams to help it live up to its large market value. The company last week raised listing fees for some auctions--the first such increases since December 1996.

Analysts have often noted that eBay can go only so far with its emphasis on auctions by individuals selling collectibles and other knickknacks. The company last year jumped into business auctions when the business-to-business craze was at its height, hoping to create an official strategy for such auctions, which were already common on the site at that time.

Using the Live Auction system, bidders must first sign up for the event online as registered eBay users. Before placing bids, people can browse auction house catalogs for upcoming sales. They can then place their bids before or during a live event. Bids placed beforehand--absentee bids--are sent to the salesroom during the auction.

The agreement with London-based Icollector comes as eBay is making a full-court press to expand its brand name and presence worldwide through partnerships with international Internet companies, said Mark Gambale, an analyst with Gomez.

"The live-auction space helps the company to continue to strengthen its hand in different areas" and to open other revenue streams, Gambale said. "It also allows them to bridge the gap between smaller bidders and auction houses."

The deal also may work to calm customer uneasiness about bidding online, he said, in the wake of a recent scheme in which sellers on eBay's regular service pumped up prices of their own goods by placing bids under other screen names. It should help reduce incidents of that nature, Gambale said.

The Live Auctions technology is featured on the eBay Premier site or directly at the Live Auctions Web site. Live Auctions software enables real-time transmission of bids to and from the auction house. In addition, it has online audio-streaming capability for selected auctions.

Founded in 1994, Icollector represents more than 300 auction houses and 650 of the world's dealers and galleries.