Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Customers revolt as GoDaddy buys WordPress tools outfit

Kevin Murphy, September 7, 2016, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy has acquired ManageWP, a provider of software for managing large numbers of WordPress sites, leading to hundreds of complaints from customers.

The two companies announced yesterday that the deal will see GoDaddy integrate ManageWP into its existing suite of WordPress services.

ManageWP said pricing will be unaffected by the move, and that its service will continue to be available to customers using other hosting providers.

Despite these assurances, a few hundred ManageWP customers have over the last 24 hours expressed their dismay in comments on the company’s site.

“This is like my very best friend announcing they’re marrying the arsehole in the office,” wrote one commenter.

ManageWP customers are generally web developers who manage WordPress sites for multiple clients.

The service gives them the ability, for free, to manage these sites from a single console, rather than having to log in to each one individually.

For an extra couple of bucks per site per month, features such as daily backups and white-label client reports are available.

ManageWP said its product development roadmap will remain unchanged, and that GoDaddy may offer some currently premium features to its hosting customers for free.

About 8% of ManageWP sites run on GoDaddy, the company said in a blog post.

Despite the positive spin, a great many customers appear to be deeply unhappy that the six-year-old company is joining the Arizona behemoth.

At time of writing, there are already over 300 comments on the ManageWP post announcing the deal, almost all negative.

The bulk of the comments center on GoDaddy’s allegedly poor customer support and its reputation for constantly trying to up-sell products and services.

Here’s a small sample of comments:

I cancelled my account immediately upon reading this news.

I have never dealt with a worse company in my professional life than GoDaddy, and will never do so again. One of my requirements for taking on a new client is moving them off GoDaddy completely.

My main concern from a business perspective is that you are giving away premium features free to GoDaddy hosting customers. That is a direct conflict with the people that offer ManageWP as a service to their clients. The services we provide now seem like they are worth less to our clients who host at GoDaddy.

Bummed about this. The minute I see an up-sell notification slammed in my face trying to get me to join the GoDaddy hosting plan, I’m outta here.

Some of the comments appear to be rooted in experiences during the Bob Parsons era at GoDaddy, which came to an end over five years ago.

Commenters cited “sexist” advertising (largely a thing of the past under current CEO Blake Irving), support for the controversial SOPA legislation (spearheaded by a long-gone general counsel) and that time Parsons shot an elephant.

Many commenters said they will stick around post-acquisition, such is the goodwill ManageWP has earned.

Several ManageWP employees engaged directly with their customers comments. In one response, head of growth Nemanja Aleksic wrote:

the feedback here is something that GoDaddy will definitely need to consider. I’ve been asked by several people why I don’t lock the comments or moderate heavily. This is why. Every single bad and good comment is a ManageWP user whose livelihood could be affected by the acquisition. And every single one of the deserves to be heard.

Personally, as somebody who manages multiple WordPress sites on GoDaddy, but has never used ManageWP, I’m rather looking forward to seeing what the company comes up with.

First dot-brand gTLD to go generic after TLS deal

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2016, Domain Registries

The would-be dot-brand gTLD .observer will actually open as an unrestricted generic after the contract was bought out by Top Level Spectrum.

TLS, which has a small portfolio of gTLDs already, bought out the ICANN contract from UK newspaper publisher Guardian News and Media a couple of months ago, it emerged today.

The Observer is the title of the Guardian’s sister paper, published on Sundays.

But TLS CEO Jay Westerdal said it will be sold as a generic with pricing under $10 per name, as a thematic stable-mate for its gripe-oriented gTLD .feedback.

The price of the TLD has not been revealed, but Westerdal characterized it as a sub-$1 million deal.

It’s the first instance of a dot-brand, albeit one that that not yet gone live, being taken over by a portfolio gTLD player.

Westerdal said he’s looking for more, similar acquisition opportunities.

The gTLD is currently in pre-delegation testing, with no published go-live date.

The Guardian had signed a Registry Agreement containing Specification 9. That allows registries to disregard the Code of Conduct — which obliges them to treat registrars equally.

It seems likely this will have to be removed from the RA before .observer can go to the masses as a proper generic.

NamesCon confirms three more shows after being acquired

Kevin Murphy, August 19, 2016, Domain Services

NamesCon says it has booked the venue for three more years of domain name conferences, following its acquisition this week.

The conference organizers said today that it has been acquired by 13-year-old German events outfit WorldHostingDays, which usually focuses on the hosting market, for an undisclosed sum.

NamesCon said in a press release that all existing commitments — such as tickets and sponsorship deals — will be honored, and that the same folk will still run the 2017 conference.

It said that it has booked the Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas, venue for the first three events, for the next three years.

The next three events will be held January 22 – 25, 2017, January 28 – 31, 2018 and January 27 – 30, 2019, the company said.

NamesCon focuses on the business of domain names, providing sessions on the buy and sell sides of the business.

Afilias buys three gTLDs from Starting Dot

Kevin Murphy, August 9, 2016, Domain Registries

Registry upstart StartingDot has sold its small portfolio of new gTLDs to Afilias.

.archi, .bio and .ski are the three components of the package.

While the size of the deal was not disclosed, retail prices and zone file volumes suggest the portfolio probably brings in about $2 million a year in revenue.

The biggest seller of the three is .bio, which was originally intended for farmers but its basically unrestricted and has a variety of use cases.

Given the high ticket price — around $90 a year retail — .bio has a surprisingly impressive 14,000 names under management.

.archi and .ski have fared less well, with 3,500 and 6,200 names in their respective zones. Both have premium fees — retailing at about $100 and $60 a year respectively.

Due to the high prices, Afilias gets to call these TLDs “premium”.

.archi is the only one of the three to have registration restrictions — you need to be an architect to get one.

Both .archi and .bio have been available to buy for a couple of years, while .ski’s first renewal cycle is about a month away.

All three sell predominantly through European registrars. Starting Dot is itself based in Paris and Dublin.

The deal seem to have been struck due to Afilias’ we-buy-any-TLD offer, which executives discussed with us a year ago.

Afilias said that StartingDot execs Godefroy Jordan and Stephane Van Gelder will continue to be employed for a transition period.

MarkMonitor to change hands in $3.55 billion deal

MarkMonitor owner Thomson Reuters is to sell of its IP division, which includes the brand-protection registrar, to private equity in a $3.55 billion all-cash deal.

The company said it will sell its Intellectual Property & Science business Onex Corporation and Baring Private Equity Asia.

MarkMonitor is of course a small part of that division. It also includes its Web of Science, Thomson CompuMark, Thomson Innovation, MarkMonitor, Thomson Reuters Cortellis and Thomson IP Manager services.

The unit reportedly has 4,000 employees and $1 billion in annual revenue.

Thomson Reuters said it will use $1 billion of the sale price to buy back shares and the rest to pay off debts.

The company revealed plans to get rid of the unit last November. Analysts said it was not core to its growth strategy.

Thomson Reuters acquired then privately held MarkMonitor for an undisclosed sum in 2012.

Donuts quietly buys .shopping from Uniregistry (and .jetzt)

Just a few months after Uniregistry bought out Donuts to win .shopping, Donuts has bought the pre-launch gTLD back.

Donuts has also bought live gTLD .jetzt from a Swedish company.

The .shopping deal is a weird one.

Uniregistry and Donuts were the only two applicants for .shopping, until Uniregistry paid Donuts to withdraw its application back in January.

Uniregistry went on to sign its ICANN Registry Agreement in March, but less than a month later, April 27, transferred the contract to Donuts.

.shopping had been entangled in the .shop contention set, which was eventually resolved when GMO Registry paid $41.5 million at ICANN auction.

Despite the unusual circumstances, Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling said today it was just the simple sale of a string. Donuts declined to comment. Neither revealed a price.

The second Donuts acquisition, closed April 26, was of .jetzt, which was applied for, delegated to and managed by New TLD Company AB of Sweden.

That gTLD, which is German for “.now”, has been in general availability for almost two years but has only 5,600 names in its zone file.

Donuts declined to comment, but it seems to me we’re looking at a failing gTLD looking for a white knight in this instance.

Rightside rejects Negari’s $5m new gTLD offer

Rightside has turned down Daniel Negari’s $5 million offer to acquire four of its new gTLDs, according to Negari.

The XYZ.com CEO told DI via email tonight:

I was looking forward to operating .Army, .Dance, .Dentist, and .Vet under the XYZ umbrella. I’m disappointed that Rightside didn’t entertain my offer, especially since I believe $5MM was more than fair. I believe these and other new TLDs are worth more to me than any other registry operator due to my growing enterprise. However, it’s understandable for Rightside to want to monetize on these assets.

Rightside has told him it had reviewed the offer and was not interested, he said.

The offer was made in a March 30 open letter to the company and Securities and Exchange Commission filing and expired last night, April 7.

There was some speculation about whether it was a genuine offer, just an attempt to boost Rightside’s share price, or both.

Negari and his COO, Mike Ambrose, own about 5% of Rightside between them, following an $8.5 million investment.

Rightside’s ability to grow revenue from its new gTLD portfolio has become the focus of attention due to the intervention of activist investor J Carlo Cannell of Cannell Capital, who reckons the company is paying too much attention to rubbish TLDs at the expense of its profitable registrar businesses.

Negari thinks he would be able to grow .army, .dance, .dentist, and .vet.

The largest of those gTLDs is .vet, with about 5,200 names in its zone file. It grew by 794 names in the last 90 days.

The other three are below 3,000 names, and are either shrinking or adding fewer than 10 names per day.

XYZ.com’s second-tier portfolio strings, such as .college, .rent and .theatre, are faring a little better, at least in terms of growth. But they are a little younger, and none are over 10,000 names.

Tucows pays $6.5 million for Melbourne IT’s channel

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2016, Domain Registrars

Canadian registrar Tucows has acquired the reseller network of Australian rival Melbourne IT for up to $6.5 million.

The company said the deal will “add hundreds of resellers and approximately 1.6 million domains under management to Tucows’ OpenSRS wholesale domain business.”

Melbourne IT said that the low-margin business was a “drag” on the performance of its core business as a retail registrar focused on small and medium sized businesses.

The price, the Aussie company said, will be between AUD 8.1 million and AUD 8.5 million, depending on exchange rates. That’s as much as $6.5 million.

Tucows did not disclose the price, saying it was “immaterial”.

.boston was a “distraction”, says gTLD seller

Kevin Murphy, January 20, 2016, Domain Registries

The Boston Globe newspaper decided to offload the gTLD after its new owners decided it was a “distraction”.

That’s according to a report yesterday in the newspaper itself.

Last week, it was announced that Minds + Machines, which already runs a handful of geo-gTLDs, is acquiring the .boston contract for an undisclosed sum.

Today, the Globe reports that its owners thought .boston would be “a distraction from the Globe’s central business of providing information through its print and online outlets”.

“The .boston domain business was inherited by the current management team and is not perceived as core to the mission of supporting the highest quality journalism in the region,” it quotes the Globe’s VP of marketing as saying.

The newspaper was acquired by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry in 2013, a year after the .boston application was filed, according to the report.

The acquisition, which sees M+M buy 99% the Globe subsidiary in control of the gTLD registry agreement, is subject to ICANN approving the contract reassignment.

CentralNic to swell with $24m Instra buy

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2015, Domain Registrars

CentralNic is set to grow revenue by almost three quarters by acquiring Australian registrar Instra for $23.7 million.

The acquisition is for AUD 33 million, AUD 30 million of which will be in cash.

CentralNic plans to raise £10 million ($15 million) with a share placement to help fund the deal.

“This acquisition will grow our current revenues by 70% and extend our retail capabilities to serve customers in the fast growing emerging markets, globally,” CEO Ben Crawford said in a statement to the markets.

Instra had revenue of AUD 14.8 million ($10.7 million) in its fiscal 2015, and was profitable.

CentralNic’s revenue for the first half of this year was £4.4 million ($6.8 million).

The deal makes CentralNic, which started life as a registry, a much larger player in the registrar market.

It acquired Internet.bs for $7.5 million a couple of years ago, which brought in $2.8 million of revenue in the first half of this year.

Instra offers 150 ccTLDs and all the gTLDs, according to CentralNic.