The Economist has its say on Google’s plans for an IPO next spring, which could value the company at USD 15 billion or more:
To be worth the rumoured $15 billion for longer than it takes a bubble to burst, it will need to raise its profitability substantially. That means matching such internet stars as eBay (market capitalisation $37 billion), but without the natural-monopoly advantages that have made eBay so dominantthe classic network effect of buyers and sellers knowing they do best by all trading in one place. For Google to stay permanently ahead of other search-engine technologies is almost impossible, since it takes so littleonly a bright idea by another set of geeksto lose the lead. In contrast to a portal such as Yahoo!, which also offers customers free e-mail and other services, a pure search engine is always but a click away from losing users.
Yahoo!, in fact, will probably be the first to attack. It now owns rival search technologies including AltaVista, AlltheWeb and Inktomi. With the contextual-advertising technology of Overture, Yahoo! now has under its own roof all the elements of the business model that made Google such a success. It cannot be long before Yahoo! turns from a lucrative customer of Google’s into a powerful rival.
Even more frightening (especially to those who remember Netscape’s fate in the browser wars), Microsoft smells blood. It is currently working on its own search algorithm, which it hopes to make public early next year, around the probable time of Google’s share listing. Historically, Microsoft has been good at letting others (Apple, Netscape, Real) pioneer a technology before taking over, exploiting its dominance in desktop operating systems.
Google the new-age advertising agency makes money, but it is Google the search engine that builds the consumer brand which makes the ad agency powerful. Whenever users click on advertisements on Google’s own site, Google gets all the revenues. Whenever users stray to other search engines, even ones where Google has placed sponsored links, Google has to share the revenues with the site owner. As the competition between Google, Overture and others heats up, Google’s profit margins will fall.