… there are many reasons one might want to buy a share of a company. The company might pay dividends, or it might offer the potential of paying dividends in the future. If you buy a big enough share you can have a real say in how the company is run. Even if you don't have the wherewithall to buy a big enough share to let you run the company, your small share might be sought out by someone who does have the means to buy a controlling interest. Or being a shareholder might entitle you to certain special privileges. (We own some stock in a winery that gives a 30% discount to its shareholders. We've made back our original investments many times over on wine discounts alone. The stock also pays dividends.)
But with Google, none of those reasons apply. Google has explicitly stated that it will never pay dividends. They have explicitly said that they will offer no guidance to investors. Their stock structure is such that even if you bought every single publicly traded share of Google stock, Larry and Sergey would still control the company because their privately held stock has ten times as many votes as your publicly traded shares. So there is no hope that your shares will ever be of value to someone attempting a hostile takeover of Google. Such a thing is simply not possible, so no one will ever try.
I had given pass to Google over the whole China censorship thing primarily because they're a public company and as such, they are practically required by law to increase shareholder value, and by passing up China, they would be negligent in not entering one of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world (if not the largest and fastest).
But I have to question Google's status as a public company. If buying stock yields no dividends (not unusual for growing companies) nor gives influence or voting rights (and I can't think of any other stock like that), can the company be considered “public?” And if Google isn't “public” then why even enter the China market as it goes against their “Don't Be Evil” ethic? (as far as the stock market goes, I'm guessing this is Larry Page and Sergey Brin giving the finger to Wall Street, which I don't think is a bad thing in and of itself, but China? What are they thinking?)