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Another auDA director quit in secret

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2017, Domain Registries

Australian ccTLD registry auDA, in the midst of a transparency controversy, reportedly lost another of its directors last month.

According to a report in Australia’s Financial Review newspaper, Leonie Walsh stepped down August 14.

The paper cited Australian Securities and Investments Commission documents as its source.

Embattled auDA did not disclose her departure at the time, despite the fact that it did disclose that fellow director Michaella Richards had also quit the same week.

Richards had been accused by some auDA members, noting her previous professional relationship with CEO Cameron Boardman, of lacking experience in the domain industry.

No reason for Walsh’s departure has been given.

The two directors left just a couple of weeks after chairman Stuart Benjamin, who was facing a member vote of no-confidence he did not think he could win, quit.

auDA has come under criticism from members, such as those organized at Grumpy.com.au, for several policy shifts that seemed to make the organization more secretive and less responsive to members’ interests.

The organization has since done U-turns on most of controversial policies.

.CLUB nears profitability, talks renewals and “trial” domains

Kevin Murphy, September 4, 2017, Domain Registries

.CLUB Domains is nearing profitability and poised to become a “growth engine”, despite the view that most of its current domains are not expected to renew, according to its CEO.

Colin Campbell told DI today that the company made $6.7 million in revenue last year, and is “very close” to breaking even.

The company reached one million domains under management milestone in June, but Campbell freely admits that the majority of its current domains are unlikely to renew.

Almost 700,000 of these domains are what .CLUB considers “trial accounts”, he said. These are domains that typically sold for under a dollar — .club has been seen for sale as low as $0.88 — to speculators.

The registry usually sees a 10% to 15% renewal rate on these domains, he said.

Of the remaining 300,000 “solid, regular registrations”, Campbell said he sees first-year renewals in the 68% to 70% range and subsequent years at 80% to 90%.

The company typically only discounts on its first-year registrations, so renewal rates are a much better indicator of performance.

He said .club has around 120,000 web sites (not including parked domains), some of which are showcased on its web site.

With this in mind, renewals are at the forefront of Campbell’s mind. He said a key performance indicator .CLUB uses is “average cost of acquisition per renewed domain”, which the company tracks on a per-registrar basis.

The company invested $3.3 million in marketing in 2016, he said. That does not include rebates to registrars participating in volume programs, but it does take into account acquiring prominent shelf space on key registrars, he said.

“We’re very close to break-even and we’re still going to be able to invest multi-million dollars in ad campaigns and marketing,” he said.

“We’re going to have a company that’s breaking even and is still going to be a growth engine,” he said. “We’re going to be able to sustain a path of growth. I don’t know too many TLDs who could say that. Of course, if you reduce your expenses down to nothing you can make a profit, but can you also be a growth engine?”

“That’s where I feel like a TLD needs to get to, to be a sustainable long-term presence in the market, like a .org or .net or .co,” he said.

Despite the narrowing losses and starkly higher volumes, the $6.7 million in 2016 revenue is a lower than the $7 million in 2015 revenue Campbell told Domain Name Wire about a year ago.

Campbell said today that the reason for the dip is that late 2015 saw many gTLDs (old and new, even including .com) benefit from a bump from the Chinese market. .CLUB’s top line was particularly exposed by some premium sales it made to Chinese investors during that growth spike.

Premium sales have also been performing well in 2017, Campbell said, driven by the financing options and broker program introduced in January.

.CLUB announced first-quarter premium sales totaling $505,000 and $2.5 million in Q2.

Afnic appoints Pierre Bonis new CEO

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2017, Domain Registries

French ccTLD registry Afnic has named Pierre Bonis its new CEO.

Bonis officially started his new job today, but he’s been in the role on an interim basis since May 1, when he replaced Mathieu Weill.

Weill had abruptly quit after 12 years at Afnic in order to join the Digital Economy Department of the French government’s Directorate-General for Enterprise.

Bonis was Weill’s deputy for five years, so being kicked up the ladder by the Afnic board of trustees was perhaps not unexpected.

No $17 million rebate for struggling new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2017, Domain Registries

ICANN has turned down a request for about $17 million to be refunded to under-performing new gTLD registries.

The organization cannot spare the cash from its $96 million new gTLD program war chest because it does not yet know how much it will need to spend in future, Global Domains Division president Akram Atallah told registries this week.

The Registries Stakeholder Group made the request for fee relief back in March, arguing that the $25,000 per-TLD fixed annual fee each registry must pay amounts to an unfair “burden” that has “hampered their success and put them at a competitive disadvantage”.

The RySG proposed that this $6,250 per quarter fee should be reduced by $4,687.50 per quarter for a year, a 75% reduction, at a cost to ICANN of $16.87 million.

The money, they said, should be drawn from the $96.1 million in new gTLD application fees that were still unspent at the time.

The new gTLD program charged each applicant $185,000 per application. About third of the fee was to cover unforeseen events, and is often sniggeringly referred to as its legal defense fund.

Because the program was meant to work only on a cost-recovery basis, there are question marks hanging over what ICANN should ultimately do with whatever cash is left over.

(It should be noted that this cash is separate from and does not include the quarter-billion dollars ICANN has squirreled away from its new gTLD last-resort auctions).

Now that the vast majority of the 2012 round’s 1,930 applications have been fully processed, it must have seemed like a good time for the RySG to ask for some cashback, but ICANN has declined.

Atallah said in a August 29 letter (pdf) to the group that ICANN has had to spent lots of its program reserve on unanticipated projects such as name collisions, universal acceptance, the EBERO program and the Trademark Clearinghouse. He wrote:

We do not yet know how much of the New gTLD Program remaining funds will be required to address future unanticipated expenses, and by when. As such, at this time, ICANN is not in a position to commit to the dispensation of any potential remaining funds from the New gTLD Program applications fees.

It seems for now the hundreds of new gTLDs with far fewer than 10,000 registrations in their zones are going to keep having to fork over $25,000 a year for the privilege.

MMX: three gTLDs approved for sale in Beijing

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2017, Domain Registries

Three foreign new gTLDs have been approved for sale and resolution in Chinese capital Beijing, according to MMX.

The portfolio registry said today that its .vip is among the first to receive approval from the Beijing Communications Administration, one of China’s many regional authorities.

According to MMX, while many gTLDs have managed to pass through the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s stringent vetting process, the Beijing local authority has so far been slow to follow the national regulator’s lead.

But BCA approved .vip, along with GMO’s .shop and Donuts’ .ltd on August 16, the registry said in a market update.

This gives .vip national coverage in China, adding Beijing’s 22 million inhabitants.

MMX added that 188,764 different .vip sites, of the over 600,000 in its zone file, are currently indexed by Chinese search engine Baidu.

It also said that it plans to start selling Chinese-script internationalized domain names in .vip (in IDN.ascii format) in November.