The successful dot-coms are suddenly
looking a bit old, just as Australia’s most successful net business – Wotif.com – is about to
float.

Amazon.com overnight followed on eBay’s
heels by announcing a surge in sales but a fall in profit – the sort of numbers
you might expect of mature industries stretching to expand a bit faster than is
wise.

eBay reported a 35% surge in first quarter revenue, but a 3% dip in profit
while Amazon had a 20% rise in revenue for a 35% profit fall. Both companies blamed the cost of employee
stock options and higher operating expenses.

Amazon made US$51 million on sales of $US2.28
billion – a profit margin that almost makes Myer look good. It’s been trying to
buy business by subsidising shipping costs – just like the good ol’ bad ol’
days of the dot-com bubble.

The performance of the dot-com giants makes
Wotif.com’s pending float look good. While Australia had its share of dot-com bubblers – worthless companies passed off
on nearly fraudulent terms to the mug punters – Wotif.com quietly went about
building a real and profitable business.

The founders are taking the opportunity to
take some money off the table, but they’re retaining control instead of just
selling out to either of the obvious local media companies trying to make money
from the web.

Wotif is predicting a $15.7 million profit
this year and $19.1 million next. The IPO should value it at about $400
million. Fairfax or News Ltd are still only dreaming of being as successful –
on a proportionate basis.

Peter Fray

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