Search for buyers no longer secret for some dot-coms

More and more floundering dot-coms are publicly putting themselves up for sale. Those that do so may find themselves rescued from the casualty list - a long shot but better than no shot at all.
Written by Mindy Charski, Contributor

Josh Silverman, chief executive of online invitation site Evite, had always made himself available to the press. Recently, though, he's been surprising reporters with news that his company has retained Chase H&Q to help look for a buyer, and that it's cut 60 percent of its staff. The news itself isn't surprising, given today's gloomy dot-com climate, but what stands out is Silverman's willingness to take the offensive in getting the news out.

"It's very unusual for blue-chip investment banks to broadcast [a site is for sale]," said Tim Miller, president of online research firm Webmergers.com. "They usually quietly approach prospects and send out prospectuses, and make phone calls to a tight group."

But that was before the New Economy took hold. Now, more Internet companies are announcing their acquisition search, Miller said. That's part of the reason Webmergers plans to launch a system that will help sellers of midmarket "developed Web sites" publicize themselves to potential buyers.

Online music site Riffage.com recently went public with news it is looking for a merger partner or an infusion of additional capital.

MP3Bestsellers.com, a lesser-known site, makes it clear on its Web site that it is for sale, saying: "We feel that we do not have the necessary resources to get the most out of this great site and domain name."

Dotcomfailures, which tracks downtrodden companies, added a new category listing "Companies 4 Sale"; it currently lists 18 companies. Dotcomfailures itself is for sale there, too - for $1.

Sounding desperate - and losing leverage - is a risk for companies that take their quest for a buyer public. Evite's Silverman said he decided to approach the press primarily to ensure his story got covered accurately. Evite's cash position of $17 million was one fact Silverman wanted mentioned.

Webmergers' Miller said other sites should follow Evite's lead in looking for a buyer before their cash runs out. A recent report by the firm said 130 Internet companies have folded since January; 75 percent of those shutdowns involved business-to-consumer companies. Though it may be difficult to take the bad news public, companies that do so may find themselves rescued from the casualty list. It's a long shot - but it's better than no shot at all.

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