2009年 05月 11日 10:53
Few Match Google; Does That Make It A Monopoly?
If there was any doubt about whether or not Google is under the antitrust microscope, it has been erased by news that antitrust regulators may try to break up interlocking directors at Google and Apple.
This is now the fourth real or threatened antitrust action against Google in just a year, suggesting that regulators are itching to pull the trigger. Last year, the Justice Department already had drafted a complaint and was minutes from filing suit when Google (wisely) dropped its plan to handle some of Yahoo's Internet ad placements. Google was finally allowed to acquire DoubleClick, the online-ad company, but only after extensive antitrust investigations both in the U.S. and Europe delayed the deal and allowed competitors to streak ahead. Today, Google remains a distant sixth in online display ads, behind Yahoo, Microsoft and even AOL, according to Internet-information provider ComScore. So much for market dominance.
Why would the U.S. government be so eager to punish the country's most successful and innovative start-up in recent memory?
Google is indisputably a victim of its own success. Its market share of Internet search has continued to rise steadily, encompassing roughly two-thirds of total searches. At 76%, its share of search advertising is even higher, thanks to Google's technological prowess at matching ads to people's search queries. Given the accompanying high profit margins on this lucrative business, Google displays the telltale characteristics of a monopolist: high, even dominant market share, with high profits and pricing power that are evidence of high barriers to entry for competitors.
Of course, this is exactly what makes Google so attractive to investors, and why I've been a shareholder since the public offering in 2004, when I participated successfully in the auction. I've continued to recommend it at times of weakness in its share price.
Google's continued gains in market share bear out my contention that Google is that rare breed: the natural monopoly. By natural, I also mean lawful, since the monopoly derives from Google's skill and qualities inherent in the business, not from anticompetitive behavior.
I sometimes get the sense that antitrust regulators, in their single-minded zeal to promote competition, ignore the fact that monopolies, in and of themselves, aren't illegal, or even necessarily bad. To quote jurist Learned Hand in the oft-cited Alcoa case, 'A single producer may be the survivor out of a group of active competitors, merely by virtue of his superior skill, foresight, and industry. . . . The successful competitor, having been urged to compete, must not be turned upon when he wins.'
To me this fits Google precisely. Its search-market dominance is a function of its prowess in search and ad placement. I'm not an advertiser, so I can't speak to its effectiveness there, but as a frequent user of Google search, I continue to find it the most effective search engine by far. Google likes to say that its competition is 'just a click away,' so periodically I try the same search on some of those competitors. So far, none comes close to the effectiveness of Google (which isn't to say there isn't plenty of room for improvement). Apparently that's because Google created better algorithms, which it derived from a vastly larger database of search activity than its competitors. If that isn't the result of skill, foresight and industry, what is?
Google has been arguing that it isn't a monopolist because the market is much broader than search, or search advertising. (Pointing to a report by Cowen & Co. that says Google has just 3% of the global advertising market if you count things like billboards and radio, Google says it is only a bit player.) That strikes me as a stretch, but the government's apparent threat to separate two directors who sit on the boards of both Google and Apple seems to play right into Google's argument. If Google and Apple, which doesn't even have a search business, are competitors, then the relevant market is far bigger than even Google has argued.
I don't even need to make that argument. Given Google's original idealistic manifesto and subsequent innovations (many of which are losing money), Google strikes me as highly unlikely to abuse its market power. It knows as well as we do that its every move will be scrutinized. That doesn't mean antitrust regulators shouldn't be vigilant, but they should be just as careful not to punish competitive success. Given all the wrongdoing we have just witnessed in the financial crisis, I would think there would be plenty of more-pressing enforcement opportunities for regulators.
James B. Stewart
(James B. Stewart, a columnist for SmartMoney magazine and SmartMoney.com, writes weekly about his personal investing strategy. Unlike Dow Jones reporters, he may have positions in the stocks he writes about. For his past columns, see: www.smartmoney.com/commonsense.)
這 已經是一年里針對谷歌發起的第四次或實或虛的反壟斷行動了﹐顯示出監管機構正迫不及待地想扣動扳機。去年谷歌（明智地）放棄與雅虎(Yahoo)在互聯網 廣告業務上進行合作時﹐美國司法部已經起草了一份起訴書﹐馬上就要提起訴訟了。谷歌最後被獲准收購網絡廣告公司DoubleClick﹐不過在美國和歐洲 詳盡的反壟斷調查拖延了交易﹐讓谷歌的競爭對手搶到了前面。據互聯網信息提供商ComScore的數據﹐谷歌如今在網絡展示廣告上仍遠遠落在第六位﹐排在 雅虎、微軟(Microsoft)﹐甚至美國在線(AOL)的後面。市場壟斷也不過如此。
谷 歌無疑是自身成功的犧牲品。它在互聯網搜索業務上的市場份額一直持續穩步增長﹐約佔了總搜索數量的三分之二。由於谷歌的技術能力使廣告與用戶的搜索匹配起 來﹐它在搜索廣告業務上的份額還要大﹐有76%之多。考慮到伴隨這項賺錢的業務而來的高額利潤率﹐谷歌展示了一位壟斷者的特質﹕很大（甚至壟斷性）的市場 份額﹐高利潤和強大的定價實力（顯然對競爭對手的進入是個很高的障礙）。
我 有時候感覺一味追求倡導競爭的反壟斷監管機構忽視了這樣一個事實﹕壟斷本身並非不合法﹐也不一定就是壞的。引用法學家漢德(Learned Hand)在經常被引用的美國鋁業(Alcoa)的案子中的話﹕一個生產商可能僅僅憑藉自己高超的技能、遠見和勤奮而成為一群積極競爭者中的倖存 者......這個一直被敦促著要進行競爭的勝出者不應該在獲勝的時候被秋後算帳。
在我看來﹐這句話對谷歌非常貼切。谷歌在搜索市場上的 壟斷地位是它在搜索和廣告業務上實力的產物。我不是廣告商﹐所以我無法說谷歌在這方面的效率﹐不過作為一名經常使用谷歌搜索的用戶來說﹐我不斷發現它是目 前為止最高效的搜索引擎。谷歌喜歡說﹐它的競爭優勢“點擊一下﹐立見分曉”﹐所以我時不時地會在它的那些競爭對手上試試同樣的搜索。到目前為止﹐它們都遠 不如谷歌有效率（這並不是說谷歌已經沒有太多改善的空間了）。很明顯﹐這是因為谷歌創造了更好的算法﹐它是從比競爭對手大得多的搜索活動數據庫中研究出這 些算法的。如果這不是技能、遠見和勤奮的結果﹐那麼又是什麼呢﹖
谷歌一直在辯稱自己不是壟斷者﹐因為市場比搜索或是搜索廣告要廣闊得 多。（谷歌以Cowen & Co.的一份報告為證﹐說自己只是一個小小的參與者。這份報告說﹐如果算上戶外廣告牌和電台廣告﹐谷歌在全球廣告市場上只佔3%。）這讓我很吃驚﹐不過政 府欲將同時任職谷歌和蘋果的兩位董事分開的明顯威脅看來正好利用了谷歌的說法。如果谷歌和甚至沒有搜索引擎的蘋果是競爭對手的話﹐那麼相關的市場就比谷歌 所稱的要大得多了。
我甚至無需為此爭辯。鑒於谷歌最初理想主義式的宣言和之後的創新（很多是賠錢的）﹐谷歌讓我覺得它幾乎不可能濫用自己 的市場實力。谷歌和我們一樣明白它的每一步都會受到監督。這並不是說反壟斷監管機構不應該保持警惕﹐而是說他們也應該小心不要懲罰競爭成功。考慮到我們剛 剛目睹的金融危機中的所有錯事﹐我會想監管機構有著很多比這更緊迫的執法機會。
James B. Stewart
（編 者按：本文作者James B. Stewart是《財智月刊》(SmartMoney)雜志和SmartMoney.com的專欄作家。他每周都會撰文與讀者分享他的個人投資策略。和本 報記者不同﹐Stewart可能擁有他在文中所提及的股票。更多相關文章請見：www.smartmoney.com/commonsense）