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Hearst Interactive Media has bought into local search in a big way by loaning $8 million in a debenture to The amount would translate into roughly 20 percent of the publicly traded company if Hearst converts the debenture notes into an investment.

The relationship with Hearst puts in a good position to integrate its offerings with other Hearst Interactive Media investment properties, including Jingle Nets’ 1-800-FREE411 and iVillage. Other relationships could be formed with core Hearst properties, including White Directory, the fourth-largest independent directory with properties clustered largely in Florida and New York; its 12 daily newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News and the Albany Times Union; 30 weekly newspapers; and Hearst-Argyle Television, which has 29 stations around the U.S.

Local.Com CEO Heath Clarke says the relationship with Hearst is starting out as a pure investment. “It is in its very early days” and the two companies are basically “shaping ideas” at this point. But Clarke says the deal could be seen as an affirmation of local search in general. claims 10 million unique visitors per month. It recently acquired soUno Directional Media Solutions for $2.25 million and also announced that it was providing local search solutions for Microsoft Office Live.

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