How much is that Safari search box worth?

One of the more annoying things about the Safari Beta 3 is the inability to add search providers to the search box in the top right. At least there's a good reason for limiting choice: Money.

One of the more annoying things about the Safari Beta 3 is the inability to add search providers to the search box in the top right. At least there's a good reason for limiting choice: Money.

This topic is more of a passing interest to me given that I'm doing a tour of alternative search engines. It also reveals the economics behind these default search boxes powered by Google and why alternatives stay out of view. Here's how you swap search engines on IE and Firefox.

In Safari (review,

gallery) you have two search options: Google and Yahoo without any other options even as an add-on. Google most likely paid more since it's the default. The numbers could become potentially large if Safari gains traction on Windows. And chances are that Safari will get that traction since Apple is likely to include a Safari download with an iTunes update. Given there are about 100 million iPods that have been shipped since 2003 that means there are at least that many iTunes downloads. However, many folks use iTunes without the iPod so the 100 million download tally is a low-ball estimate.

The economics of the Google-Apple default search arrangement are unclear--Apple makes no mention of the financials behind the Mac version of Safari in its SEC filings. And for now the economics of the  Safari search box is being overshadowed by security in today's coverage.

But we should pay attention. After all, Google is bankrolling the Mozilla Foundation courtesy of that Google search box that most people use just because it's the default. For 2005, Mozilla reported $50.5 million in search royalties. The bulk of that was Google--the default. For context, Mozilla had 2005 revenue of $52.9 million. According to this ClickZ story from January, Mozilla gets paid every time you use Google to search from Firefox.

John Gruber reckons that Apple gets $2 million a month based on Google's current Safari integration. That's small potatoes with a larger Windows audience.

My somewhat-informed understanding is that Apple is currently generating about $2 million per month from Safari’s Google integration. That’s $25 million per year. If Safari for Windows is even moderately successful, it’s easy to see how that might grow to $100 million per year or more.

The unfortunate thing is that even at a $100 million a year for Apple the search engine payola is a rounding error. We'll never know what the financial arrangements between Google, Yahoo and Apple really are.

All of this does raise a few interesting questions:

  • Does Google pay less to Mozilla since it allows you to add other search providers?
  • What's Google paying Microsoft to be included in IE?
  • If Safari takes off will Mozilla get less revenue from Google?
  • Does Apple have an obligation to at least allow other search providers in Safari?

I'd love to hear some answers.