Lisa Simmons: Time to pick up a Net bargain

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The Independent Online

Wanted: careful owner for abandoned website. The Markou brothers, who two years ago spun-off their family's print magazine, Business and Premises For Sale, into an internet business (www.businessesforsale.com), never expected to be picking up the pieces of so many internet has-beens and might-still-bes. Selling everything from chocolate factories to floating prisons, the site has recently seen a boom of dot.com companies up for sale - 150 at the last count, compared with 12,000 bricks and mortar companies.

Wanted: careful owner for abandoned website. The Markou brothers, who two years ago spun-off their family's print magazine, Business and Premises For Sale, into an internet business (www.businessesforsale.com), never expected to be picking up the pieces of so many internet has-beens and might-still-bes. Selling everything from chocolate factories to floating prisons, the site has recently seen a boom of dot.com companies up for sale - 150 at the last count, compared with 12,000 bricks and mortar companies.

Those up for grabs include www.911-classified.com, which is not a boy-band fan site but a Porsche website that's going for just £50,000, or FindConsultancy.com, a directory for US and UK consultants, going for just $48,000 (£33,540).

What has taken the Markou brothers most by surprise is the number of internet cafés up for sale, including a chain of 10 across London and Bristol, for £3m, and there are yet more in Costa Rica, Greece, Australia, Romania and across the US. The brothers hope that bricks and mortar companies that have yet to develop an online strategy could benefit from the sweat and investment that has already gone into these sites. So get yourself down to the dot.com bargain basement now.

Salvage operation

Talking of snapping up bargains, eCountries, the online b2b marketplace for companies looking to expand internationally, has been rescued, or rather its assets have. 4C, a professional services marketplace (www.4Cassociates.com), has stepped in to take all it needs from the deceased dot.com to expand outside of the UK and Europe and offer procurement services globally.

Donal Smith, former managing director of FT.com, and Jonathon Schmidt, who headed the FT Group's interests in Asia, founded eCountries, which went out of business last month when investors 3i, Elderstreet, and Pi Capital pulled their backing. With 50 staff, including Michael Elliott, the former editor of Newsweek International and Washington bureau chief of The Economist serving as editor-in-chief, the company had offices on three continents.

Prior to its collapse, 4C worked with eCountries to help companies expand into the UK and Europe. "When they ran into difficulties, we found ourselves in the right place at the right time, and picked up their physical assets," said Peter Marson, chief executive of 4C. This includes all of their customers, suppliers, content, brand awareness, URLs and domain names, and an eCountries site is set for a relaunch by 4C soon. The high-profile, journalist-heavy workforce who lost their jobs, however, do not benefit. "Building proprietary content does not match our current business model, as we would get that from third parties if we needed it," said Marson.

Shopping around

Interesting to see that among all the bad vibes surrounding Yahoo!, including the resignation of Anil Singh, Tim Koogle and Fabiola Arredondo, Yahoo! UK has taken over the 12-month sponsorship of Channel 5's 9pm film slot - which attracts audiences of up to 5.4 million - for an undisclosed amount.

Could this mean what we think it means for ShopSmart, which previously sponsored the slot in a reported £3m, 12-month deal? ShopSmart is rumoured to be in talks with beeb.com, the BBC's shopping portal, which may take a possible stake in ShopSmart. With AOL and Wal-Mart as stakeholders, ShopSmart has already been in talks with several possible partners.

Last month it emerged that it had made an 11th-hour retreat from a deal with the rival US-based shopping site Dealtime in favour of another partner. Speculation arose about whether this was beeb.com, and what this would mean for ShopSmart's peak-time ad spots on Channel 5. Judging by ShopSmart's reason for leaving Channel 5 ("It's time we moved on and let our customers know exactly what we do") they obviously subscribe to Breathe.com's advertising philosophy. In the run-up to the relaunch of the Breathe.com's ISP service, the vice-president of marketing, Kath Bailey, was heard to say, "We never wanted people to understand the campaign." Good thing too, since no one did.

Up in lights

Speaking of advertising philosophy, the-postcode driven information site UpMyStreet.com has decided to launch its first national print and radio ad campaign over the next couple of weeks. The site is straightforward - you only need a postcode or the name of a town to find out everything about it, from local hairdressers to the best schools. Until now, the site has relied on word of mouth to generate its impressive user base, as well as tenancy deals with sites such as assertahome.co.uk and Multimap.com. But the time has now come, says the company, to put the name UpMyStreet up in lights. Rather than shouting about a service that doesn't actually work, or no one needs (I could give examples, but we'd be here all day), UpMyStreet decided to create something that people told their friends about.

"We are one of the few new media companies who have created something useful, and half of our traffic has been generated by word of mouth," said Mohammed Raja, head of marketing and communications. "We want to raise the awareness of this well-kept secret."

Now the company has splashed out an initial £500,000 on a six-week campaign, with the strapline, "The code to discovering hidden treasures in your area." For me, these include 3 times the national average burglaries, twice as many violent crimes and 10 times the number of complaints received by the police.

Lisa.Simmons@haynet.com

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