Massive Destruction Of Shareholder Value, Employee Morale and Internet Balance Of Power

I don’t believe that there is anything Yahoo could do at this point to further destroy their business that would surprise me.

At 1:35 pm EST yesterday we posted that we believed Yahoo would announce a search marketing deal with Google, essentially ending their negotiations with Microsoft and, pending government approval, sealing Google’s monopoly position in search marketing. Twenty-five minutes later a massive sell off of Yahoo stock began – the company lost billions in market valuation over the course of the next hour as the market made it’s bets on the news.

At 3 pm EST Yahoo announced that all talks with Microsoft were formally off, and the stock fell further. It eventually climbed back a little, but by the end of the trading day, $3.6 billion had been removed from the pockets of Yahoo stockholders. Well after trading ended, Yahoo confirmed our original report that they’d signed a deal with Google to hand over much of their search marketing business.

The deal terms announced with Google appear to be fairly innocent – a non-exclusive arrangement that let’s Yahoo take Google’s ads if and when they choose to, and put them alongside their own ads, and/or other third party ads. But the truth is that this will cause even more advertisers to flee Yahoo’s platform. Which will drive auction-determined ad rates down. Which will drive Yahoo to take more Google ads. Which will…

It’s a vicious cycle and they will have no choice, as a public company, but to rely more and more on Google as time goes on.

Our sources inside Yahoo had interesting things to say about the general state of things at the office today as Yahoo’s stock price fall apart. “Unclear what’s happening” said one vice president. “Fucking train wreck, total chaos” was the less eloquent observation of a more junior employee.

When I accused Yahoo of playing the crazy card in their negotiations with Microsoft, I never thought these people were actually insane. Handing Google a monopoly in search marketing was just a ploy, I thought. A way to get Microsoft to bid a little higher than $31 per share.

But it turns out I was wrong. Yahoo’s hatred of Microsoft runs so deep that they were actually, in the end, willing to destroy the future of their company just to keep it independent for a short while longer. They’ve ignored the wishes of their shareholders, employees and many now former key employees in killing that deal. And apart from Google, CEO Jerry Yang, President Sue Decker and possibly Tim O’Reilly, I don’t believe there is anyone in the world that is happy with what has happened.

As much as everyone still has lingering doubts about Microsoft after their hardball monopolistic practices of the nineties, it’s clear that they, along with Yahoo, were the only force counterbalancing the massive presence of Google in search marketing.

Without them, Google would continue to keep the lion’s share of search marketing dollars to themselves, and distribute next to nothing to third party publishers. But Microsoft and Yahoo were both willing to fight for some of those deals, at least pushing Google’s profits down a little. Now, with Yahoo taken out of the game, it’s unclear that Microsoft can fight Google on its own. How long will they pour profits from Windows and Office into trying to compete in search?

The delicate power balance among the big players was disrupted today in a big way, and the consequences will be felt over the coming months and years. We needed a competitive market in search to ensure the health of the Internet. Now, it’s nearly impossible to see how that can happen.

It took me about five minutes of watching Yahoo’s top two executives talk last month to realize that they had no fight left in them. The fact that they simply gave up wouldn’t matter so much if the only people hurt by their actions were their employees and stockholders. But that just isn’t the case, and now we all have to deal with the fallout.