RealTime IT News

About.com on The Block

About.com, the eight-year-old guide to the Web, is up for sale, according to the New York Times, with bids due on Tuesday.

The Times said Google , Yahoo , AOL and Ask Jeeves all will bid in a price range of $350 million to $500 million.

About.com was founded in 1997 as The Mining Company on the original Yahoo model of a human-edited Web directory. About.com took the human bit a bit further, by installing "Guides" who were subject experts as hosts of approximately 700 different topic areas. It was renamed in 1999, and acquired by Primedia, a publisher of niche interest magazines, in 2000.

Primedia touts About.com as "the Internet's largest creator of original content," with over 1 million links and 250,00 articles -- each one a potential vehicle for ads.

Primedia is selling those content pages at what could be the top of the market, according to David Jackson, editor of the Internet Stock Blog and a hedge fund manager. "Content inventory is getting very valuable. Compared to three or six months ago, this is a very good time to sell," he said.

Search engines are hungry for content, according to Jackson, as they morph into what he calls "content engines." If there's little competitive advantage to be found in quality of search results, the search services hope to get an edge with proprietary content.

However, according to Jackson, the question is whether the acquisition would provide enough proprietary content to show up as a qualitative difference in a search provider's results -- and whether About.com's content is good enough to give a competitive edge.

"One remarkable thing about the deal is the list of buyers," Jackson said. "That the New York Times and Google are on the same page should really make people sit up and take notice."