News Corp bought MySpace just six years ago for $580 million. Now, it's selling it to Specific Media for just $35 million at a loss of $545 million, 94 percent, according to AllThingsD.
Before you call News Corp stupid, consider that the social networking website industry is probably worth at least $50 billion (the low end of Facebook's valuation alone) in 2011.
If MySpace had succeed instead of Facebook, News Corp would have made an astounding return of about $49.5 billion, or 8,500 percent. Then, everyone would be lining up to praise its acumen.
Back in 2005, News Corp was right in assessing that social networking was going to be huge. Its only task, then, was to buy the leading social networking website.
In 2005, you can easily make that case for MySpace. Consider that MySpace had 22 million visitors per month while Facebook only had 8 million, according to comScore data reported by ABC.
One can also argue that MySpace had the first mover advantage, the support of the music industry, and greater ability to customize. It had its share of problems like annoying bugs and a cluttered look, but it was difficult to predict that Facebook would wipe the floor with it.
The point is that the online technology sector is a highly unpredictable and volatile industry. Get it wrong and you can lose your shirt. Get it right and you can make billions. After you make billions, you can just as easily fall off a cliff.
The truth is that virtually no one, not even top executives and their high-priced advisors, could predict the future.
AOL, for example, was the unquestioned dominant player in the Internet Service Provider sector back in the days of dialup conneciton. Its online community and widespread adoption seemed to secure its entrenched advantage.
At the height of its power in 2000, Time Warner merged with AOL in a deal that valued AOL at $164 billion. Then, cable connection and Google destroyed AOL.
Today, AOL is worth just a little over $2 billion, which is $162 billion, or more than 98 percent, lower than its 2000 valuation.
From this point of view, News Corp got off easy with its MySpace misstep.