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Values And Egos Inflate: The Bubble Returns

A $750 billion Google? A $15 billion Facebook? $100 million for TechCrunch? Valuations like these are inspiring one of three reactions: laughter; elation; and déjà vu all over again. Even as that word is at the back of everyone’s (well, at least the skeptic’s) mind, some analysts say fat times are ahead in e-commerce.

Bubble. There, I said it. Just two years ago, a half-billion dollars for MySpace seemed a bit on the frivolous side. But now it’s obvious News Corp. got in on something before the rest of the media world caught on, especially as Facebook, with a fraction of the audience, demands a steeper and steeper price.

But, say supporters of these valuations, it’s not just the size of the audience or the annual revenue taken into account, but the margins of profit they bring in. Online properties, especially Web 2.0 properties, are so low-cost to run compared to brick-and-mortar one that it’s not unreasonable for them to sell for as much as 100 times earnings.

Critics were blisteringly quick to point out Henry Blodget’s unpardonably sinful Wall Street history of inflating values just before the dotcom bust – the term “gasbag” came up in one place, in lieu of bubble. Blodget argued Tuesday that Google shares could hit $2,000 one day.

This number, even as we remember the flack analyst Jim Cramer got flack for suggesting GOOG might reach $800, earned no shortage of scorn (and attention); TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington called for Blodget to be “muzzled.”

In an ironic twist, Douglas McIntyre, editor of 24/7 Wall Street crunched numbers suggesting blogs like TechCrunch and The HuffingtonPost were worth upwards of $100 million to outfits like CNet or the Washington Post, as big media organizations look to find less expensive ways to build a loyal, sustainable audience.

Blodget concurred with that valuation; Arrington decided Blodget shouldn’t be muzzled after all; and Howard Lindzon, creator of CBS-owned Wallstrip, thought it quite funny “the lamest asshat on the internet” (he means Arrington) was buying into the hype.

Potshots aside, are we or are we not looking at (or standing within) the next dotcom bubble. If so, will it burst?

Lindzon seems to have his umbrella ready. “We just started another bust in real estate,” he tells WebProNews. “This is another side book and may not end until the China Olympics. Obviously the global new wealth is not as sophisticated about the dangers of asset bubbles and it will be especially ugly when it ends.”

Cynthia Brumfield, president of Emerging Media Dynamics, Inc., seems to agree these valuations are bubblish, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“I do think these valuations are over-the-top but I don’t think a ‘bust’ is imminent,” she said. “For one thing, Facebook and Huffington Post are privately held companies and individual and institutional investors in general will probably be spared the rude smack of any ultimate come-down in value.

“They might feel a trickle-down effect in the sense that Microsoft, for example, might have to write-off some portion of its investment in Facebook, but that loss will be blended into a very big company. As for Google, investors are already forewarned that it might be overvalued even at today’s prices, and that doesn’t seem to spark much fear.”

Even then, eBay’s not so happy about the $2.4 billion they shelled out for Skype – and they were warned rather loudly then. How many overpriced purchases can the major players afford to make?

The answer to that may be relatively simple. There is an echo of Brumfield’s assertion that the Microsofts and eBays of the world can afford to overpay in the words of McIntyre. They can afford it because the cost of running Web 2.0 companies is virtually nil.

“We know that Huffington raised $10 million from Softbank and other VCs,” said McIntyre. “With the election year about to begin, Huffington’s pageviews, advertising, and value are only going to rise. Is $100 million the right number? No one knows that, but I think $75 to $150 [million] is not even close to wild, especially given the strategic value that a strong online brand could have for a company like the Washington Post.”

An online property bringing $1 million annually, for example, could pull in 100 times revenue because of the relative low cost of operation.

“What people don’t want to look at is the value of these brands and how inexpensive they are to run compared to traditional media. The margin leverage is tremendous.”

[Via WPN]

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Social Guy
Social Guy is a tech buff, online entrepreneur and social animal. He is best-known as the Editor-in-Chief of SOCIABLE, the world’s leading social media news source. Social Guy's 7+ year career with SOCIABLE began when he joined as a blogger in August 2007. Guy’s work has been quoted or featured in media such as ZDNet, Examiner, Marketwatch, PC Magazine, Wired, CNET, and The New York Times.