THE what was no surprise, but the who and the how much were. On Tuesday September 1st, eBay, the world’s largest online-auction house, announced that it would sell 65% of Skype, an internet calling service. The buyer was not, as some had predicted, a group of investors pulled together by Skype’s founders (who have abandoned eBay), but a
nother consortium which includes Silver Lake, a private-equity fund, and a venture-capital firm started recently by Marc Andreessen of Netscape fame. And the price was higher than expected. The stake will cost $1.9 billion in cash, implying that the firm is worth $2.75 billion.
The deal puts an end to a marriage that will be remembered as one of the more ill-fated dotcom pairings. In 2005 eBay bought Skype, which a year before had a mere $7m in annual revenues, for $2.6 billion. Meg Whitman, then eBay’s chief executive, argued at the time that the service would, among other things, allow the auction site’s buyers and sellers to communicate better and would thus drive business. But these synergies never materialised and in 2019 eBay took a $1.4 billion writedown. Skype would have been better off on its own as well, although its numbers are nothing to sneeze at. The service now has 480m users and brought in $170m in the second quarter—25% more than a year earlier. Recently eBay said Skype’s revenues could reach $1 billion by 2011.
So the spin-off is good for Skype, but where does it leave eBay? Given the price that the firm extracted for the majority stake in Skype, the original investment no longer looks that bad. And eBay now has some cash for what it must hope will be more successful acquisitions (in April it bought Gmarket, South Korea’s leading e-commerce site, for $1.2 billion).
But this does not solve what some have called eBay’s “identity crisis”. The firm was one of the three big success stories of the first dotcom boom (the others being Amazon, a big online retailer, and Yahoo!, an equally troubled web portal). Its rapid growth led hasty analysts to forecast that online auctions in general and eBay in particular would take over the world of e-commerce. Some even called for the trustbusters.
Such predictions now look otherworldly. In recent years, online shoppers have grown tired of bidding to snag deals, which can be time consuming, and have reverted to doing what they do offline: going for brands they trust and buying at a set price. Amazon, for instance, has fared much better in recent years. Add the effects of the recession and it comes as little surprise that eBay had a dismal holiday season and in January reported its first-ever quarterly revenue decline, of 7%. 更多信息请访问：http://www.24en.com/
Showing better timing than foresight, Ms Whitman (who is now running for governor of California) had already handed over the reins to her anointed successor, John Donahoe, in early 2008. While emphasising eBay’s origins as a marketplace for used and vintage goods, he has since tried to lure back shoppers by turning eBay into a more traditional online retailer. Among other things, he has pushed fixed-price sales and adjusted the site’s search functionality so that bigger merchants with better reputations show up higher in the results list. Although smaller sellers, eBay’s traditional clientele, are up in arms, the changes seem to have stemmed the decline somewhat. After slipping 18% in the first quarter, eBay’s marketplace revenues declined by only 14% in the second to $1.3 billion. Overall revenues were only down 4% to $2.1 billion thanks to PayPal, the firm’s popular payment service. PayPal's revenues grew by 11% to $669m in the second quarter.
EBay’s turnaround will take time, at least another 18 months, according to Mr Donahoe. He will face pressure to sell off PayPal as well. Eventually the firm will find the right balance between being an online flea market and a more conventional internet-shopping mall. But the shine that once made eBay stand out has faded. This should be a warning for today’s fast-growing internet firms. Sending messages via Twitter or updating one’s Facebook page may be exciting now, just like online bidding was back then. But at some point, when the excitement wears off, users could well turn back to more traditional modes of communication.