Google laying off 10,000? Maybe — lose the extra 0

Tech and business sites are lighting up today with rumors of big layoffs at search giant Google. The most eye-catching story appeared on WebGuild, which cites anonymous sources claiming that up to 10,000 jobs “could be on the chopping block.”

Now, the only official word I have from Google is the standard “We don’t comment on rumors,” but my gut reaction is that no matter how badly the company is doing — and clearly, Google is scaling back by focusing on its core products and eliminating projects like Lively — that number sounds insanely high. According to Google’s most recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company employees 20,123. When you count contractors, that number comes out closer to 30,000, but even so, that means the layoffs would come to about 33 percent of staff. In comparison, Yahoo (where Jerry Yang recently announced he will step down as chief executive) has only announced cuts of about 10 percent, or 1,500 jobs.

Last month, cofounder Sergey Brin told the San Jose Mercury News that the number of contract employees is “really high,” and that Google has been planning to significantly reduce that amount. If we take Brin at his word, Google either has already started or will begin shedding contractors soon, but it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which significantly reducing the number of contractors would mean eliminating that role entirely (which is what laying off 10,000 would amount to).

It’s also hard to reconcile the rumors of such huge layoffs with Google spokeswoman Jane Penner’s statement earlier this month that Google’s hiring has slowed, but not stopped. A more plausible suggestion comes from a site whose name I shouldn’t print — let’s call it F***edStartups — which is reporting that Google will cut more than 1,000 jobs within the next week. Who knows whether the timing is accurate, or whether these cuts are part of a larger, continuing effort to scale back, but at least the size is a little more believable.

[photo:flickr/bradleypjohnson]