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Business.com reportedly in play

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In a development that could add to the already furious pace of media deals, business.com is reportedly on the block.

The b-to-b search engine could fetch $300 million to $400 million, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Entrepreneurs Jake Winebaum, who is the CEO of business.com, and Sky Dayton, a director, paid $7.5 million in 1999 for the Internet domain name business. com.

Potential suitors include Dow Jones & Co., which owns the Journal, and the New York Times Co., the Journal reported. Business.com would not comment on the report, nor would Dow Jones or Times Co.

Business.com includes a directory and pay-per-click advertising network. It has distribution partnerships with top-shelf business properties such as AllBusiness, BusinessWeek.com, Forbes.com, GlobalSpec, Hoover's and WSJ.com.

The site had 20.1 million visits in the first quarter, compared with 13.3 million in last year's first quarter.

"Winebaum is a bankable guy," said Tom O'Connor, a managing director at media investment bank Berkery, Noyes & Co. "He paid a big sum for the URL a while back and has done a great job with the Web site."

Business.com could attract other suitors, O'Connor added.

"Dow Jones is distracted [by negotiations to sell the company to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. for $5 billion], and the Times Co. may not have the vision [for business.com]; so I wouldn't be surprised if other players step up to the plate," he said. "There's a lot of money sloshing around out there."

Another industry observer, who requested anonymity, said business.com is definitely in play and that other media companies may jump into the fray.

"It could go to a Thomson or a Reed [Business Information] or McGraw-Hill, with BusinessWeek, or Time Inc., with Fortune," the observer said. "There are a large number of strategic players who ought to have a look."

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