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Chinese registrars on the decline

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2018, Domain Registrars

Having been on a growth trajectory for some years, the number of ICANN-accredited registrars based in China appears to be on the decline.

According to my records, so far this year 26 registrar contracts have been terminated, voluntarily or otherwise, 11 of which were Chinese. I’m excluding the mass drop of Pheenix accreditations from these numbers.

The country with the next-highest number of terminations was the USA, with three.

ICANN has terminated nine registrars for breaches of the RAA this year, six of which were Chinese.

All the Chinese notices included non-payment of ICANN fees as a reason for termination, though it appears that most of them had a negligible number of gTLD domains under management.

ICANN Compliance tells me there’s no particular focus of China at the moment, this is all a result of regular day-to-day enforcement.

ICANN has sent breach notices to 28 companies this year, seven of which were to Chinese registrars.

Meanwhile, 22.cn has moved 13 of its accredited shell registrars to Hong Kong. Another registrar moved its base from China to Australia.

Seven Chinese registrars have been newly accredited this year,

Net, this has all reduced the number of accredited registrars based in China to 91.

The country still has the second-most registrars ahead of the US, with its almost 2,000 registrars, and a clear 31 registrars ahead of third-place India.

MMX waving goodbye to .london? Boss puts focus on renewal profits, China

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2018, Domain Registries

MMX’s revenue from domain renewals could cover all of its expenses within the next 24 months, if everything goes to plan, according to CEO Toby Hall.

Hall was speaking to DI this evening after the company reported its first-half financial results, which saw revenue up 22% to $6.4 million and a net loss of $14.7 million, which compared to a loss of $526,000 a year earlier.

MMX’s huge loss for the period was largely — to the tune of $11.8 million — attributable to the restructuring of an “onerous” contract with one of its gTLD partners.

Hall refuses point blank to name that partner, but for reasons I discussed last year, I believe it is .london sponsor London & Partners, which is affiliated with the office of the Mayor of London.

When L&P selected MMX to be its registry partner for .london back in 2012, I understand a key reason was MMX’s promise to pay L&P a fixed annual fee and commit to a certain amount of marketing spend.

But two years ago, after it became clear that .london sales were coming in waaaay below previous management’s expectations, MMX renegotiated the deal.

Under the new deal, instead of committing to spend $10.8 million on marketing the TLD itself, MMX agreed to give half that amount to L&P for L&P to do its own marketing.

It appears that L&P has already spunked much of that cash ineffectively, or, as MMX put it:

a significant portion of that marketing budget has been spent by the partner with minimal impact on revenues in the current year and no expectation of any material uplift in future periods

MMX seems to have basically written off the .london deal as a bad call, and now that MMX is no longer in the registry back-end or registrar businesses, it seems unlikely that the .london partnership will be extended when it expires in three years.

Again, Hall would not confirm this bad contract was for .london — I’m making an informed guess — but the alternatives are limited. The only other TLDs MMX runs in partnership currently are .review and .country, and not even 2012 MMX management would have bet the farm on those turkeys.

Another $2.1 million of the company’s H1 net loss is for “bad debt provisions” relating the possibility that certain US-based registrar partners may not pay their dues, but this provision is apparently related to a new accounting standard rather than known deadbeats threatening to withhold payments.

If you throw aside all of this accountancy and look at the “operating EBITDA” line, profit was up 176% to $661,000 compared to H1 2017.

While the loss may have cast a cloud over the first half, Hall is upbeat about MMX’s prospects, and it’s all about the renewals.

“Renewal revenue will be more than all the costs of business within 24 months,” he said. To get there, it needs to cross the $12 million mark.

He told DI tonight that “an increasing percentage of our business is based on renewals… just on renewal revenue alone we’ll be over $10 million this year”.

Renewal revenue was $4.7 million in 2017 and $2.4 million in 2016, he said. In the first half, it was was up 40% to $3.4 million.

MMX’s acquisition of porn domain specialist ICM Registry, which has renewal fees of over $60 per year, will certainly help the company towards its 2018 goal in the second half. ICM only contributed two weeks of revenue — $250,000 — in H1.

Remarkably, and somewhat counter-intuitively, the company is also seeing renewal strength in China.

Its .vip gTLD, which sells almost exclusively in China, saw extremely respectable renewals of 76% in the first half, which runs against the conventional wisdom that China is a volatile market

Hall said that .vip renewals run in the $5 to $10 range, so apparently TLD volume is not being propped up by cheap wholesale renewal fees. The TLD accounts for about 30% of MMX’s renewal revenue, Hall said.

About 60% of .vip’s domains under management are with Chinese registrar Alibaba. The biggest non-Chinese registrar is GoDaddy, with about 3% of the namespace.

More exposure to China, and specifically Alibaba, is expected to come soon due to MMX’s repurposing of the 2012-logic gTLD .luxe, which is being integrated into the Ethereum blockchain.

MMX said last week that some six million (mostly Chinese) users of the imToken Ethereum wallet will in November get the ability to register .luxe domains via imToken and easily integrate them with their Ethereum assets.

The announcement was made at the Alibaba Cloud Computing Conference in China last week, so you can probably guess imToken’s registrar of choice.

.CLUB sees spam double after China promotion

Kevin Murphy, September 11, 2018, Domain Registries

.CLUB Domains has seen the amount of spam in .club double a month after seeing a huge registration spike prompted by a deep discount deal.

The registry saw its domains under management go up by about 200,000 names over a few days in early August, largely as a result of a promotion at Chinese registrar AliBaba.

AliBaba sold .club domains for CNY 3 ($0.44) during the promotion, helping it overtake GoDaddy as the top .club registrar.

At that time, spam tracker SpamHaus was reporting that 17.9% of the .club domains it was seeing in the wild were being used in spam.

SpamHaus statToday, that number is 35.4%, almost double the August 7 level. SpamHaus does not publish the actual number of spammy domains for .club; that honor is only bestowed upon the top 10 “bad” TLDs.

Correlation does not equal causation, of course. There could be factors other than the AliBaba promotion that contributed to the increase, but I believe there’s probably a link here.

.CLUB chief marketing officer Jeff Sass told DI:

When registrars have domains “on sale”, there is always the chance that low-cost domains will be attractive to abusers. We monitor abuse proactively, and respond promptly to complaints, as well as monitor our registrar partners collectively and individually.

It’s almost certainly unfair of me to single out fluctuations in .club here, rather than take a comparative look at multiple TLDs. There are certainly many worse TLDs per SpamHaus’ statistics — .men leads among the gTLDs, with 87.2% spam.

But, given the industry truism that cheaper domains leads to more abuse, I think such a large increase correlating with such a successful promotion is a useful data point.

Afilias finally admits it’s American

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2018, Domain Registries

Afilias has changed its corporate structure and is now officially based in the United States.

A new holding company, Afilias Inc, has been created in Delaware. It now owns Afilias Plc, the Ireland-based company that has been until now the parent of the Afilias family.

Being “based” in Ireland and doing business primarily in the US was always partly a tax thing, and the company admitted in a press release yesterday that “recent favorable US tax changes” are one of the reasons it’s relocating to the States.

Trump’s tax changes last year reportedly saw corporation tax reduced from 35% to 21%, a steep cut but still a heck of a lot higher than Ireland’s aggressively business-friendly regime.

Other reasons for shift, CEO Hal Lubsen said in a press release, are: “More of the company’s shares are now owned by Americans, and our executive group is increasingly becoming American.”

The company also noted that its biggest partners — Public Interest Registry and GoDaddy — are American.

Afilias’s global HQ is now its office in Horsham, Pennsylvania. It also has offices in Canada, Australia, India and China.

The company told registrars that it does not expect the restructuring to have any impact on its operations.

.CLUB revenue not all that

Kevin Murphy, August 21, 2018, Domain Registries

.CLUB Domains may be one of the 5000 fastest-growing companies in the US, according to Inc magazine, but it’s returning the majority of its revenue back to its registrars.

CEO Colin Campbell revealed this week that the company returns almost 70% of its gross revenue in the form of rebates.

The revelation came in an interview with Domain Name Wire on its latest podcast.

Campbell told Andrew Allemann that in 2017 .CLUB had $9.3 million in what he called “cash flow” or “gross revenue”.

But “net cash” or “net revenue”, after rebates was just $2.8 million, meaning $6.5 million was returned to registrars via promotions.

The interview came a few days after Inc named the company 1164th in its 2018 list of fastest-growing US companies.

Inc had .CLUB’s revenue at $7.2 million, but that appears to have been calculated using the usual accounting standards of deferring revenue into future periods over the lifetime of the domain subscription.

.club has something like 1.4 million names under management.

Campbell said that the company is “adding about a million dollars of net revenue per year” and he predicted 2018 gross cash to come in at $10.5 million and net to come in at $3.7 million.

That’s a net revenue figure, remember, not a profit or net income line. Campbell said he’s more interested in growing the business rather than paying taxes on profits.

The aggressive rebating seems to have a focus in China, where it has regular deals with the likes of Alibaba (which was .club’s biggest registrar with 20% of the market at the last count) and West.cn.

While .CLUB is private, Campbell has been frank about its performance in the past.

The DNW interview follows DI’s interview with Campbell on more or less the same topic last September, and DNW’s in 2016.

It’s a good podcast, you should have a listen.