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Domain universe grows almost 1% in 2017 despite new gTLD slump

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2018, Domain Registries

The total number of registered domain names in all TLDs was up 0.9% in 2017, despite a third-quarter dip, according to the latest data compiled by Verisign.

The latest Domain Name Industry Brief, published yesterday, shows that there were 332.4 million domains registered at the end of the year.

That’s up by 1.7 million names (0.5%) on the third quarter and up 3.1 million names (0.9%) on 2016.

Growth is growth, but when you consider that 2015-2016 growth was 6.8%, under 1% appears feeble.

The drag factors in 2017 were of course the 2012-round new gTLDs and Verisign’s own .net, offset by increases in .com and ccTLDs.

New gTLD domains were 20.6 million at the end of the year, down by about 500,000 compared to the third quarter and five million names compared to 2016.

As a percentage of overall registrations, new gTLDs dropped from 7.8% at the end of 2016 to 6.2%.

The top 10 new gTLDs now account for under 50% of new gTLD regs for the first time.

The numbers were primarily affected by big declines in high-volume spaces such as .xyz, which caused the domain universe to actually shrink in Q3.

Verisign’s own .com fared better, as usual, with .net suffering a decline.

The year ended with 131.9 million .com names, up by five million names on the year, exactly offsetting the shrinkage in new gTLDs.

But .net ended up with 14.5 million names, a 800,000 drop on 2016.

In the ccTLD world, total regs were up 1.4 million (1%) quarterly and 3.4 million (2.4%) annually.

Excluding wild-card ccTLD .tk, which never deletes domains and for which data for 2017 was not available to Verisign, the growth was a more modest 0.7 million (0.5%) quarterly and 2.3 million (1.8%) annually.

The DNIB report for Q4 2017 can be downloaded here (pdf).

CentralNic spends $3.3 million on .com portfolios

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2018, Domain Sales

CentralNic has splashed out £2.5 million ($3.3 million) to bolster its portfolio of domain names for the secondary market.

The company said in a brief statement today that it acquired an unspecified number of domains across “a number of portfolios”. The sellers were not disclosed.

The names were all in .com.

CEO Ben Crawford said the names were acquired “at an attractive discount to current market rates”.

The deals mean London-listed CentralNic might be able to continue to prop up its recurring revenue (registry/registrar) numbers through the sale of premium names, something it still needs to do if it wants to show investors a pleasing growth curve.

That’s assuming it can sell the names at a profit, of course.

Some call this the premium domain “hamster wheel”.

Namecheap to bring millions of domains in-house next week

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2018, Domain Registrars

Namecheap is finally bringing its customer base over to its own ICANN accreditation.

The registrar will next week accept transfer of an estimated 3.2 million .com and .net domains from Enom, following a court ruling forcing Enom owner Tucows to let go of the names.

The migration will happen from January 8 to January 12, Namecheap said in a blog post today.

Namecheap is one of the largest registrars in the industry, but historically it mostly acted as an Enom reseller. Every domain it sold showed up in official reports as an Enom sale.

While it’s been using its own ICANN accreditation to sell gTLD names since around 2015 — and has around four million names on its own credentials — it still had a substantial portion of its customer base on the Enom ticker.

After the two companies’ arrangement came to an end, and Enom was acquired by Tucows, Namecheap decided to also consolidate its .com/.net names under its own accreditation.

After Tucows balked at a bulk transfer, Namecheap sued, and a court ruled in December that Tucows must consent to the transfer.

Now, Namecheap says all .com and .net names registered before January 2017 or transferred in before November 2017 will be migrated.

There may be some downtime as the transition goes through, the company warned.

ICANN punts o.com auction to US watchdogs

Kevin Murphy, December 11, 2017, Domain Registries

Verisign’s proposed auction of the domain o.com might have a negative effect on competition and has been referred to US regulators.

That’s according to ICANN’s response to the .com registry’s request to release the domain, which is among the 23 single-letter domains currently reserved under the terms of its contract.

ICANN has determined that the release “might raise significant competition issues” and has therefore been referred to “to the appropriate governmental competition authority”.

It’s forwarded Verisign’s request to the US Department of Justice.

Verisign late last month asked ICANN if it could release o.com to auction as a test that could presumably lead to other single-character .com names being released in future.

The plan is for a charity auction, in which almost all the proceeds are donated to internet-related good causes.

Only the company running the auction would make any significant money; Verisign would just take its standard $7.85 annual fee.

ICANN told the company that it could find no technical reason that the release could not go ahead.

The only barrier is the fact that Verisign arguably has government-approved, cash-printing, market dominance and is therefore in a sensitive political position.

Whether its profitless plan will be enough to see the auction given the nod remains to be seen.

A certain bidder in the proposed auction would be Overstock.com, the online retailer, which has been pressuring ICANN and Verisign for the release of O.com for well over a decade and even owns trademarks covering the domain.

Disclosure: several years ago I briefly provided some consulting/writing services to a third party in support of the Verisign and Overstock positions on the release of single-character domain names, but I have no current financial interest in the matter.

Verisign wants to auction off O.com for charity

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2017, Domain Registries

The internet could soon gets just its fourth active single-character .com domain name, after Verisign revealed plans to auction off o.com for charity.

The company has asked ICANN to allow it to release just one of the 23 remaining one-letter .com domains, which are currently reserved under the terms of the .com registry agreement.

It’s basically a proof of concept that would lead to this contractual restriction being lifted entirely.

O.com has been picked as the guinea pig, because of “long-standing interest” in the domain, according to Verisign.

Overstock.com, the $1.8 billion-a-year US retailer, is known to have huge interest in the name.

The company acquired o.co from .CO Internet for $350,000 during the ccTLD’s 2010 relaunch, then embarked upon a disastrous rebranding campaign that ended when the company estimated it was losing 61% of its type-in traffic to o.com.

Overstock has obsessed over its unobtainable prize for over a decade and would almost certainly be involved in any auction for the domain.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Overstock pressured Verisign into requesting the release of o.com.

Despite the seven or eight figures that a single-letter .com domain could fetch, Verisign’s cut of the auction proceeds would be just $7.85, its base registry fee.

Regardless, it has a payment schedule in mind that would see the winning bidder continue to pay premium renewal fees for 25 years, eventually doubling the sale price.

The winner would pay their winning bid immediately and get a five-year registration, but then would have to pay 5% of that bid to renew the domain for years six through 25.

In other words, if the winning bid was $1 million, the annual renewal fee after the first five years would be $50,000 and the total amount paid would eventually be $2 million.

All of this money, apart from the auction provider’s cut, would go to a trust that would distribute the funds to internet-focused non-profit organizations, such as those promoting security or open protocols.

There’s also a clause that would seem to discourage domain investors from bidding. The only way to transfer the domain would be if the buyer was acquired entirely, though this could be presumably circumvented with the use of a shell company.

It’s an elaborate auction plan, befitting of the fact that one-character .com domains are super rare.

Only x.com, q.com and z.com are currently registered and it’s Verisign policy to reserve them in the unlikely event they should ever expire.

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk this July reacquired x.com, the domain he used to launch PayPal in the 1990s, back from PayPal for an undisclosed sum.

Z.com was acquired by GMO Internet for $6.8 million in 2014.

Single-character domains are typically not reserved in the ICANN contracts of other gTLDs, whether pre- or post-2012, though it’s standard practice for the registry to reserve them for auction anyway.

Verisign’s reservations in .com and .net are a legacy of IANA policy, pre-ICANN and have been generally considered technically unnecessary for some years.

Still, there’s been a reluctance to simply hand Verisign, already a money-printing machine through accident of history, another windfall of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars by allowing it to sell off the names for profit. Hence the elaborate plan with the O.com trust fund.

The proposal to release O.com requires a contractual amendment, so Verisign has filed a Registry Services Evaluation Process request (pdf) with ICANN that is now open for public comment.

As a matter of disclosure: several years ago I briefly provided some consulting/writing services to a third party in support of the Verisign and Overstock positions on the release of single-character domain names, but I have no current financial interest in the matter.