If you're an online content provider, you're not being paranoid. They really are out to get you. Last night New York Times (NYSE:NYT) announced that it would be acquiring master-of-all-trades specialist About.com in a $410 million transaction. This follows some recent high profile moves by offline ink players to pick up some magnetic dot-com real estate. Between Washington Post (NYSE:WPO) scooping up Slate.com from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Dow Jones (NYSE:DJ) paying up for MarketWatch.com, will the last independent hot spot in cyberspace please turn out the light on the way out?

Sure, all three of these companies weren't true indies. About is being handed over by magazine giant Primedia (NYSE:PRM) while MarketWatch looked like it was going to spend the rest of its life with Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) CBS broadcasting brand surgically attached before DJ started to play.

Yet the common thread here is that all three popular sites are going into the portfolios of companies best known for their flagship newspapers. So what's the attraction? Is it that black ink doesn't smear onto your fingers as you click around Web pages? Is it that the virtual delivery boy can nail every house on the wired planet with one published heave?

Behind every company with a great reason to buy lies a company with a great reason to sell. These deals haven't come cheap so what do the newspaper companies see that the trade periodicals giants and operating system software juggernauts don't? The reason may be that they fear growing irrelevant. Sure, they have all established busy sites to dispense their news and features, but there is more competition online than there is on your front porch. These companies know how important eyeballs are because they have been fed circulation metrics since birth. They also have established relationships with mainstream sponsors and that will help fortify the business models now that online advertising is growing strongly.

So what's black and white and red all over? If you're an online content site, the red is the laser sight pointed at your head. The black-and-white print world is aiming your way. Make sure you don't go down without a fight -- or a worthy premium.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz loves the Internet, but he still reads his paper every morning. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.