It’s been an open secret since July that Yahoo was shopping HotJobs, but now it’s public. Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz discussed the potential sale at an investor conference in New York earlier this week.

            “We’ve said all along it’s not strategic to the company, so if we got a decent price we’d do something,” Bartz said at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York. Reuters reported that Yahoo wants $350 million to $500 million for the unit. By contrast, Monster Worldwide, which is much larger, has a current market capitalization of $2.1 billion.

            But who’d buy it? The issue is simple: Traffic. Yahoo HotJobs has two primary assets right now: its traffic, which is largely derived from its relationship with Yahoo and its placement on the Yahoo home page and in strategic advertising locations on Yahoo, and its affiliation with some 700 newspapers that sell its services and brand their recruitment services with the Yahoo HotJobs name.

            Neither the traffic nor the Newspaper Consortium relationships are portable. And therein lies the difficulty for Yahoo (to say nothing of the question, “Is it worth $300 million?”) Yahoo could make some interim or even long-term arrangement to continue sending traffic to HotJobs under new owners, and even to promote it on its home page, we suppose, but would it? If it sold the property as “not strategic,” does it want to continue sending traffic?

            And the Newspaper Consortium relationship has grown far beyond the HotJobs ties, so we doubt that it would go away completely if Yahoo sold HotJobs. Newspapers have generated an estimated $65 million in sales through the Yahoo behavioral targeting and display advertising platforms. (That figure does not include the newspapers’ HotJobs revenues.) While they only keep half of that, and $32.5 million is hardly “chump change,” the current sales rate — while it’s likely to keep growing substantially — is a bright spot but won’t save the world of newspapers as we know it.

            Newspapers could choose to stay with HotJobs if it’s sold, or could move on. A lot would depend on the buyer and the traffic opportunities HotJobs retained under a new owner. If they were to switch, there are only a few obvious choices: CareerBuilder has signaled its disinclination to add newspaper affiliates (although that could certainly change if HotJobs is sold). Monster is an option for a branded national platform, but does not have the broad distribution opportunities that Yahoo affords. And hundreds of newspapers work successfully with Adicio, which provides a white-label recruitment platform, feeds job listings into Monster for participating newspapers, and has a growing national job board brand, CareerCast. Other options might include working with an application service provider like Madgex or Matchwork, but the newspapers would then face major branding issues and the problems of working with a substantially different recruitment product.

            Potential buyers for HotJobs? We still say CareerBuilder and Monster are the most obvious, but they might face antitrust issues and might not see great value in buying a “distant third” horse in what has become a two-horse race among major boards. Members of the Newspaper Consortium itself might consider buying it, but most are in divestment mode or “extreme cash management” mode right now, and don’t have spare millions to throw into a new investment. (To say nothing of the great difficulties newspaper consortia have had operating businesses: See, for example, the history of CareerPath, AdOne, PowerAdz, EmploymentWizard / CareerSite, and more.)

            Long-shot buyer for Yahoo HotJobs? News Corp. or Fox Interactive Media. It owns MySpace, has the financial resources to make a purchase, and has corporate ties with Adicio. Would such a purchase make sense? Long shot. At best. But if we’re speculating, we might as well speculate about the interesting possibilities, rather than just the obvious ones.

            Oh: And in all of this, we continue to believe that Monster Worldwide is an obvious takeover or merger candidate. Why? It could fit into a global advertising company, a global publishing company or even a major dot-com. With an economic recovery brewing, and a long-term talent shortage looming that will pose huge recruiting challenges for major employers, why not buy Monster Worldwide when it’s worth $2 billion and change, rather than waiting until its market cap again exceeds $4 billion?