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
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.”