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Digging for dirt in the Demand Media IPO – roundup

Kevin Murphy, August 9, 2010, 11:15:04 (UTC), Domain Registrars

Demand Media, parent of second-largest domain name registrar eNom, has filed to go public, and the publication of its S-1 registration document has given an unprecedented glimpse inside the company.

Unsurprisingly, the “content mill” part of Demand’s operation, which accounts for more than half of its revenue, has garnered the most media coverage over the weekend.

Demand says that the fact that is “transforming traditional content creation models” and is “frequently the subject of unflattering reports in the media about our business and our model.”

Reports of its IPO are no exception.

This report in DailyFinance.com observes that the key difference between Demand and traditional media is that Demand does it “at scale”, with some 10,000 writers producing 5,700 articles per day.

DaniWeb notes that Demand’s freelancers are “working for wages often well below industry standard to churn out content” and said the company is subject to “redundancies, inefficiencies and the reliance on trying to game Google”.

Others are more direct: “wtf: this is why the Internet is full of unreadable junk”

CNNMoney.com reports that Demand is “notorious” for paying as little as $15 per article, and that it can make a 58% return on a month’s articles over seven quarters.

As a freelancer reporter, I don’t like Demand’s model either. I think it devalues the profession. The S-1 reveals that the company is well aware that it’s also quite exploitative:

We believe that over the past two years our ability to attract and retain freelance content creators has benefited from the weak overall labor market and from the difficulties and resulting layoffs occurring in traditional media, particularly newspapers. We believe that this combination of circumstances is unlikely to continue and any change to the economy or the media jobs market may make it more difficult for us to attract and retain freelance content creators.

On the domain name side of the business, DomainNameWire was quickest off the mark, digging out the fact that eNom uses look-ups by prospective registrants to decide what articles might be profitable and what web sites it could develop.

The S-1 says:

These queries and look-ups provide insight into what consumers may be seeking online and represent a proprietary and valuable source of relevant information for our platform’s title generation algorithms and the algorithms we use to acquire undeveloped websites for our portfolio.

eNom has already said that this should NOT be interpreted as “front-running”. (apologies, the first version of this article accidentally omitted the word “not”)

Also found in the S-1, and already known from eNom’s registration agreement Ts & Cs, the company keeps some customers’ expired domain names for itself, if they have value.

I can remember a time not too many years ago when this kind of behavior was frowned upon.

DNW also points to the list of Demand’s subsidiaries. There are 146 of them, at least 100 of which are shells for ICANN registrar accreditations.

Others, such as Acquire This Name, which KnuJon had beef with (pdf) a year ago, act as eNom resellers.

Looking at the financials, All Things Digital gently mocks the company’s reliance on non-standard “Adjusted OIBDA” numbers in its S-1 to make the company appear profitable.

Meanwhile, Mike Berkens at TheDomains is incredulous looking at the amount of money Demand has lost since its inception: some $52 million.

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Comments (2)

  1. Michele says:

    “should” be seen as “front running” or “could” be seen as “front running” ??

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