As I reported a couple of days ago, a Czech company called The dotFree Group wants to apply to ICANN for a .free top-level domain, and will offer domain names for free.
Now for the small print – not all .free domain names will be free, and there will be strict limitations on how many free domains any given individual is able to register.
Here is an email interview I conducted with dotFree chief executive Dominique Piatti, which I think covers the basics of the business model and contains a few surprises.
I’ve corrected a few typos, but other than that it’s unedited.
DI: Applying for a new TLD will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and running it over the longer term will cost more. How does dotFree plan to cover the cost of running a free TLD?
Piatti: We are working with Venture Capital companies together from Eastern Europe and have an estimated turnover of EUR 1.25 million for 2011. In addition to this we are generating substantial revenue with our current projects www.cz.cc (which is a free second-level domain name registry) and with the Domain Registrar Script which is currently in version 1.3.5 (www.registrar-script.cz.cc).
DI: .free could be a desirable TLD for domain investors. Will there be any limitations on how many .free domains an individual is allowed to register? What would prevent a single person registering hundreds of thousands of .free domains?
Piatti: Yes, currently we plan that each individual is allow to have 1 .free domain at no costs within their account. If a user plans to have more domain names he can upgrade to VIP status (eg. $5/year and you can hold up to 20 domains in your account) similar like we have it successfully tested with www.cz.cc over the past 12 months. We have an advanced fraud detection tool developed which identifies double accounts owned by the same person.
DI: Do you anticipate a .free aftermarket? Would somebody be able to register, for example, “poker.free” for free and then sell it to somebody else for hundreds of thousands of dollars?
Piatti: Yes, we launch .free the same way as any other TLD in the market with the difference that every individual can have a .free domain at no costs. We will launch similar to the most recent TLD’s like .co and .me with premium domains, auctions etc. Also, aftermarket sales are possible therefore.
DI: Would “premium” domains also be free, or would you charge for them like you do with premium .cz.cc names?
Piatti: All our premium domains will cost around $5/year and will not be free. There are around 200,000 premium domains planned.
DI: Do you anticipate selling .free domains via registrars like Go Daddy and eNom, or would you expect to sell direct to the end user?
Piatti: Both. In our business plan we have the ICANN accredited registrars as distribution channels listed but we will also distribute those .free domain names directly over our own website.
DI: Would there be a “landrush” period? Would you auction premium names or would it be first-come-first-served?
Piatti: The launch will be very similar to .co and .me with everything it takes to make .free a highly successful gTLD.