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GTE may buy BigBook site

The telco has been negotiating with BigBook and is a leading candidate to buy its popular Internet yellow pages directory, sources say.

GTE has been negotiating with BigBook and is a leading candidate to buy the company's popular Internet yellow pages directory, sources familiar with the deal said today.

The sources cautioned that no final agreement has been signed. But board member Woodson Hobbs said a deal to buy the Net directory--though not the rest of Big Book's business--is "imminent" and could be announced later this week. Hobbs would not comment on any possible buyers.

GTE would neither confirm nor deny any interest in Big Book. "We talk to people all the time about potential ventures," said Bobbi Hennessey, a spokesperson for GTE Directories. GTE also provides its own online directory called GTE Superpages.

As previously reported, privately held Big Book has been in talks with a handful of companies to sell its Web site, its mainstay business for three years. The sale of the Web directory is part of a corporate transformation to become a network marketing company.

"We are going from a technology Web site to sales and marketing [business]," Hobbs said. "It has been quite a transition."

BigBook plans to devote its energies to offering small businesses and home offices the tools to run the online side of their businesses. The company will provide Internet access and Web hosting, as well as sell network computers or Net phones--essentially serving as a one-stop shop.

Like many Net start-ups, BigBook is unprofitable. But it has sufficient cash reserves from venture capital funding and expects to turn a profit by 1999, Hobbs said. "This is an effort to reduce our costs and bring in cash," he added.

BigBook has faced stiff competition from the likes of Big Yellow, Switchboard, and the Baby Bells, which run their own online yellow pages. The Baby Bells' plans to muscle in on the market drew an antitrust lawsuit from GTE last year. The telcos deny the charges brought in the suit.

In addition, Internet directories must compete for ads with giant search companies such as Yahoo and Excite, which offer online yellow pages as one of their many features.

Hobbs served as interim chief executive for about six months. He succeeded earlier this month by Chris Running, who most recently served as chief operating officer of PrimeQuest International.

Hobbs said he is retreating to his position on the board of directors and will no longer be a part of the company's daily operations.

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