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The auction for Ziff Communications shifted into high gear last week when several dozen bidders sent preliminary bids to investment banker Lazard Freres & Co.

Reed Elsevier, K-III Communications Corp, and Britain's United Newspapers are among those in the running, but it's unclear who has the inside track.

The Ziff family has maintained it won't sell to rivals International Data Group or CMP Publications, but financial executives said IDG Chairman Patrick McGovern is lining up money for a last-minute bid.

Meanwhile, United Dutch Publications, Capital Cities/ABC, Times Mirror Co. and Time Warner appear to be out. Their absence could increase the likelihood the company will be split into at least three units so Ziff can fetch its $2 billion to $3 billion asking price.

Ziff, whose holdings include PC Magazine, PC Week and other technology-oriented magazines, is believed to post revenues of about $900 million.

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