The Google-eBay Spat and What It Means to You
The auction seller struck back forcefully. They immediately pulled all of their advertisements from Google. eBay runs numerous "adwords" advertisements that show up when users conduct a search on Google. They lead to items being offered for sale on eBay auctions. The exact amount is not publicly known, but it is reported that eBay's expenditures with Google are in the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. This is not an amount which will break Google, but it is enough to get their attention. Google immediately backed down, calling off their planned event. Freedom may ring, but money talks. Besides which, Google was portrayed as the aggressor in this incident, attempting to steal customers from eBay at eBay's own conference. To a company that built itself from upstart to dominant force in search on a "do no evil" model, their action looked anything but nice. They attempted to portray the whole thing as a joke, but eBay did not see it that way, nor did many observers. Instead, they saw this as an out of character giant step over the line by Google. Google's backing down can be seen as an attempt to quickly restore its reputation.
On its Google Checkout Blog, a Google blogger explained, "eBay Live attendees have plenty of activities to keep them busy this week in Boston, and we did not want to detract from that activity. After speaking with officials at eBay, we at Google agreed that it was better for us not to feature this event during the eBay Live conference." In other words, never mind. eBay 1, Google 0. To appear unruffled, eBay responded that it already planned to test other vehicles when it pulled its Google budget and replaced it with advertising on Yahoo and MSN. Perhaps, but not like this.
What does all of this mean to the small businessperson, say a bookseller? Probably nothing new, but it does reinforce one of the most basic rules of business. Your business relationships need to work for you, and you cannot depend on anyone else to look out for your interests. Relationships work only if they are mutually beneficial. Those who sell on eBay will not be surprised by their sharp response, though their willingness to take on the likes of Google must be a first. eBay has always been willing to make changes it felt were in its own best interests, even if their sellers did not feel they equally suited their own. If eBay is not afraid of Google, they are not afraid of you. Threats to withdraw from selling and the like are not likely to affect them. You may want to express your opinion to their management, but the basic rule is to sell on eBay if it's profitable, and withdraw if it is not. Actually, that's good advice for your relationship with any other site. They are partners, not friends. And, do not become dependent on any one of them.
As for Google, the message is again, you cannot be dependent on others, no matter how friendly and benign they might appear. Google is probably the nicest site to deal with. They have made "do no evil" the basis of their business model, and it has worked quite well for them. Nevertheless, it must be looked at as a business practice, subject to change if a different model appears to them to be more profitable. Now that Google is a public company, being profitable inevitably must be their number one goal. As the eBay incident reveals, Google is now more willing to test that border to increase profits. A line has been crossed. Make use of Google's services, particularly their free ones, to the full extent possible, but always keep your eyes open.