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.xxx boss says new gTLD registries need to “wake up”

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2015, Domain Registries

ICM Registry president Stuart Lawley may be just weeks away from launching his second and third gTLD registries, but that doesn’t mean he has a positive outlook on new gTLDs in general.

“I think people need to wake up,” he told DI in a recent interview. “If you do the math on some of these numbers and prospective numbers, it just doesn’t stack up for a profitable business.”

“The new ‘Well Done!’ number seems to be a lot less than it was six months ago or 12 months ago,” he said.

Lawley said he’s among the most “bearish” in the industry when it comes to new gTLD prospects. And that goes for ICM’s own .porn, .sex and .adult, which are due to launch between March and September this year.

While he’s sure they’ll be profitable, and very bullish on the search engine optimization benefits that he says registrants could be able to achieve, he’s cautious about what kind of registration volumes can be expected. He said:

If you add up everybody that has ever bought a .xxx name, including the Sunrise B defensives, we have got a target market of about 250,000 names. People to go back to and say, “Look, you still have a .xxx or you had a .xxx at some stage. Therefore, we think you may be interested in buying .porn, .sex or .adult for exactly the same reasons.”

So, our expectations to sell to a whole new market outside of those quarter of a million names is probably quite limited.

Lawley said that he believes that the relatively poor volume performance of most new gTLDs over the last year will cause many registrars to question whether it’s worth their time and money to offer them.

I can see why registrars can’t be bothered. How many of these am I going to sell? Am I going to sell two hundred of them? Am I going to make five dollars per name? That’s one thousand dollars. It’s not worth it to me to put in ten thousand dollars worth of labor and effort to make one thousand dollars in revenue. So, I think that’s a challenge that many of the small lone player TLDs may face.

Lawley said he’s skeptical about the ability of major portfolio players, such as Donuts, to effectively market their hundreds of gTLDs, many of which are targeted at niche vertical markets.

He said in an ideal world a gTLD would need to spend $20 million to $30 million a year for a few years in order to do a proper PR job on a single TLD — ICM spent about $8 million to $9 million, $5.5 million of which was on US TV spots — and that’s just not economically viable given how many names are being sold.

But he added that he thinks it’s a good thing that some new gTLDs are seeing a steady and fairly linear number of daily additions, saying it might point to better long-term stability.

A lot of the TLDs that seem to be doing okay — .club for argument’s sake and several others in that ilk — seem to be doing their three hundred domains per day ADD, or 32 or 12 or whatever the number is, in a relatively linear fashion six or seven months after launch, which I think is potentially positive if one extrapolates that out.

The full interview, which also addresses SEO, dot-brands, registrar pay-for-placement and smart search, can be read by DI PRO subscribers here.

Generics versus brands as two more gTLDs are sold

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2015, Domain Registries

Two more new gTLD contention sets have been settled by auction, one a case of a portfolio applicant prevailing over a closed generic applicant, the other a case of a brand owner paying off a portfolio applicant.

Donuts has won the right to .jewelry over $10 billion-a-year jewelry firm Richemont, owner of brands including Cartier.

Richemont applied for several TLDs, some of which were generic terms. It was awarded .watches uncontested, but apparently didn’t want to fork out as much as Donuts for the matching .jewelry.

Google, meanwhile, won the two-horse race for .moto against Rightside. This one’s interesting because it’s basically a case of Rightside forcing Google to pay up to own one of its own brands.

Google owns a trademark on “Moto” due to its acquisition of Motorola Mobility a few years ago, but Rightside applied for it in its generic sense as an abbreviation of “motorcycle” or “motorbike”.

Google had filed a legal rights objection against its rival for .moto, but lost. Now it’s been forced to cough up at auction instead.

Prices, as usual, have not been disclosed.

.reise to start at $400k in no-reserve auction

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2015, Domain Registries

Applicant Auction has revealed the starting price of the first live new gTLD to be auctioned off.

Dotreise’s .reise will have a minimum starting bid of $400,000 when it hits the block on February 27, the company revealed.

There will be no reserve.

It seems quite possible that the registry is barely covering its costs, assuming the TLD sells. The application fee was $185,000, and no doubt the company has racked up many more expenses over the last three or four years.

The TLD, which is German for “.travel” has been in general availability since August but has fewer than 1,300 registrations, selling at up to $180 a year.

It competes with Donuts’ $25-a-year .reisen, which pretty much means the same thing.

New gTLD registries talk up marketing plans at NamesCon

Kevin Murphy, January 15, 2015, Domain Registries

This week’s NamesCon conference here in Las Vegas, which ended yesterday, offered several new domain registries the chance to talk about their efforts past and future to market new gTLDs.

One theme to emerge was how registries need to work with each other and with their registrar channel partners to raise awareness of alternatives to .com.

Donuts VP Dan Schindler said during a Tuesday keynote that the company plans to ramp up its marketing in 2015.

“There’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done by all the beneficiaries in this process,” he said, saying that Donuts intends to carry out a “broad education and awareness program over course of 2015 and beyond”.

He said the company is pursuing co-marketing efforts with some of its registrar partners at trade shows and such and “possibly including television”.

Schindler also spoke out against paid placement — where registries pay popular registrars for prominent shelf space — “not because we’re cheap”, but because Donuts doesn’t believe it offers registrants the best choice of relevant TLDs.

Here’s a photo of Schindler talking, offered for no other reason than it just cost me £6 to upload from my phone. Note the juxtaposition of a) the extensive Verisign .com/.net sponsorship, b) the Donuts “Not Com Revolution” messaging, and c) my thumb.

Dan Schindler

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling said in his keynote an hour later that he expected “more marketplace collaboration… where it is in our best interest to collaborate” on new gTLD promotion.

But he offered a somewhat dissenting tone with regards what he called the “dog and pony shows” of marketing new gTLDs.

Saying the company is “bootstrapping” some of its strings, he said big marketing spends now would lead to Uniregistry needing to raise its prices in two to three years to cover today’s costs.

Instead, he pointed to efforts such as its decision to release most of .click’s available names for a flat, cheap registration fee at launch, which he said should get names into the hands of users more quickly.

Contrarily, .CLUB Domains CEO Colin Campbell boasted during a brief pre-auction address on Tuesday of his company’s $2.2 million marketing spend for 2014, which he said would increase to $3.5 million in 2015.

Another recurring theme emerging from the conference (and from every other new gTLD event I’ve ever been to) was, as Schindler put it, that “use begets use”. The more high-profile sites a gTLD gets, the more likely it is to gain mindshare and sell more domains.

DotStrategy, the .buzz registry, is to be the beneficiary of such customer marketing.

Howard Lefkowitz, CEO of travel site operator One Degree World (which revealed it paid $100,000 for vegas.club earlier this week) revealed during NamesCon that some of his company’s city-related .buzz domains, such as sydney.buzz, are to feature for two weeks on the US TV game show Wheel Of Fortune as prize sponsors.

Will we see a bump in .buzz sales as a result? The gTLD currently has fewer than 8,500 names in its zone file, so if the TV time bears fruit it should be fairly easy to spot.

Last resort gTLD auction loser wants share of $5m winning bid

Kevin Murphy, December 10, 2014, Domain Registries

An unsuccessful new gTLD applicant wants ICANN to share the proceeds of its “last resort” auction with itself and the other losing applicants.

Aesthetics Practitioners Advisory Network had applied for .salon, but found itself in a contention set with three other applicants and was ultimately beaten at auction by a winning bid of over $5 million from Donuts.

Now, the company has written to ICANN to ask for the money from the ICANN-run auction to be shared out among the losing bidders in much the same way as it is when a contention set goes to private auction.

APAN CEO Tina Viney wrote (pdf):

On the basis that ICANN received such a large amount ($5.175million) for the bidding of this auction it would be fair and equitable for the losing parties to be considered in the distribution of the winning financial bid. We believe that ICANN should review this consideration for losing parties who have had to incur numerous costs, not just the application fee, but also toward the preparation of documents so that we could meet with ICANN’s requirements. These include, but are not limited to registry fees, solicitor’s fees, financial services, not to mention the enormous amount of time that is required of an applicant in preparing for their application.

As a result, we respectfully request ICANN as part of their funds distribution policy to consider the applicants who did not win at the auction, BUT WERE SUCCESSFUL IN PASSING THE EVALUATION PROCESS.

She said that private auctions, which allow losing applicants to recoup some or all of their costs, should be mandatory when a majority of the applicants in a contention set want one.

In .salon’s case, one of the four applicants didn’t agree to a private auction, according to Viney. As Donuts is the enthusiastic pioneer of the private auction concept, that means the holdout was either DaySmart Software or L’Oreal.