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Windfalls still biggest money-spinner for M+M

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2016, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines is still pulling in most of its cash from one-time new gTLD auction defeats, according to its latest trading update.

The company yesterday reported billings for 2015 of $7.92 million, up from $5.03 million in 2013.

But the company brought in $9.15 million by pulling out of private new gTLD auctions, where the winning bid is shared among the losers. That’s down from $37.5 million in 2014.

“Billings” is the money make at the point of sale, rather than audited revenue which is recognized over the life of the registration. Revenue numbers will come in April.

For the fourth quarter, sales of both premium and standard-fee names were up.

Premium names were up 215% at $1.52 million, which standard name billings were up 184% at $2.66 million.

The company said its registry business ended the year with 278,523 names under management, a 158% increase on year-ago numbers.

M+M met or beat its “key performance indicator” targets in terms of average revenue per name (both standard and premium) and sales growth.

However, the Chinese market boom caused it to miss its market share KPI.

It blamed missing the low end of its 3% to 5% new gTLD market share target by half a percentage point on the rapid growth of China.

The money being pumped into domain names from China in the second half of last year tends to favor the budget end of the new gTLD market, where names can be picked up for cents, whereas M+M’s TLD mix is skewed a little higher.

M+M said last week that it plans to open an office in China soon.

Two new gTLD registries open offices in China

Kevin Murphy, January 27, 2016, Domain Registries

Portfolio gTLD registries Famous Four Media and Minds + Machines have both announced that they’re formally entering the Chinese market.

Both companies are establishing “wholly foreign-owned enterprises” (WFOEs), a form of company that does not require local investment, on the mainland.

The moves are aimed at getting the registries’ respective gTLDs accredited by the Chinese government, something that is required before local registrants are allowed to use them.

In a press release, FFM senior legal counsel Oliver Smith said:

It was clear to us soon after launching our first domain registry that domain registrations from China comprised a strong proportion of the total. It was a natural progression of our strategy to build a physical presence in China. The accreditation process is complicated but well-structured and, thanks to the help of advice from the Chinese government, should be completed relatively quickly.

In some of Famous Four’s gTLDs, Chinese registrars are the overwhelming majority of the sales channel.

In .win, the registry’s biggest-seller, China was responsible for about 85% of registrations at the last count, for example.

Meanwhile, M+M is taking a slightly different route into the country.

It said today that while it also shortly plans to open a WFOE, it has also partnered with ZDNS, a local provider of proxy services for registries.

ZDNS was the company XYZ.com partnered with for its controversial launch into China. According to M+M, it’s also working with .CLUB Domains and some Chinese gTLD registries.

M+M is also using the specialist consultancy Allegravita for its marketing there.

Its local entity will be called Beijing Ming Zhi Mo Si Technology Company Limited (which may or may not translate to something like “Wise Mediation”).

M+M’s first Chinese launches will be .beer, .fashion, .fit, .law, .wedding, .work and .yoga, with .vip and .购物 (“.shopping”) coming later in the year.

M+M acquires .boston from Boston Globe

Kevin Murphy, January 12, 2016, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines has added .boston to its stable of geo-gTLDs, buying the contract from the publisher of the Boston Globe newspaper.

The company said today that it has acquired 99% of Boston TLD Management, a new company into which the Globe plans to sign over its .boston ICANN contract.

The deal is contingent on ICANN approving the contract reassignment.

The ink is still moist on the .boston Registry Agreement, which was signed December 10.

The gTLD is officially in pre-delegation testing right now.

But the acquisition also means M+M will take over back-end duties for .boston. Originally, the Globe had intended to use OpenRegistry.

The gTLD was officially a “geographic” string under ICANN rules, and needed support from the local government in Boston.

.boston would become M+M’s fifth geographic gTLD — sixth if you include .london.

The company said it plans to launch the TLD later this year.

Now Uniregistry shifts to Early Access launch model

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2015, Domain Registries

Uniregistry has become the latest registry to adopt the Early Access Period model for some new gTLD launches.

.cars, .car and .auto will all use the EAP, in place of the more typical landrush period, when they launch in January.

Technically, while Uniregistry is running the back-end, the three gTLDS are all being offered by Cars Registry, a partnership between Uniregistry and .xyz registry XYZ.com.

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling said it was felt that EAP was needed due to the “stupendous cost” of acquiring the strings.

EAP is a period lasting usually about a week in which the price of registering any domain descends daily from a very high fee on day one — usually above $10,000 at the storefront — to maybe a hundred bucks when the period closes.

The model was pioneered by portfolio registries Donuts and Rightside, but has since been adopted by the likes of Minds + Machines, Radix and XYZ.com.

It’s rapidly becoming the de facto industry standard for new gTLD launches, replacing the auction-based approach to landrush most registries have used in the past.

The driving factor for the industry switch is surely revenue.

Donuts told us late last month that it had sold 48,381 EAP domains across all of its launches to date, where registry prices are believed to start at around the $10,000 mark.

M+M said yesterday that it sold $1.18 million after it chose to use EAP with its recently launched .law gTLD, where registration restrictions suggest many of the sales will have been to legit end users.

Registrars also get a bigger slice of the pie. In an auction model they might wind up with just the regular registration fee, but with EAP they can mark up day one domains by thousands of dollars.

Cars Registry says its EAP is targeted at “OEMs, dealerships, vendors”, but it will almost certainly get a healthy chunk of domainer interest too.

M+M lays off dozens in focus on S&M, promises profit next year

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2015, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines has outlined its plan to refocus its business on sales and marketing, which has already resulted in a couple dozen job losses, as the latest stage of its profit runway.

The new gTLD company also outlined plans to return about half of its cash reserves — mostly obtained by losing new gTLD auctions — to its shareholders.

For the first half of the year, the London-listed company reported an EBITDA loss of $1.2 million, compared to income of $5.7 million a year earlier, on revenue that was up to $3.6 million from $113,000 in the comparable 2014 period.

The company said it is “committed to achieving its stated goal of crossing over into profitability in 2016” and blamed high operating costs for the loss, but said it has been restructuring to help it return to profit.

M+M said its headcount has been reduced from 58 to 44, but that it has added ten jobs in sales and marketing, which seems to indicate at least 24 people recently lost their jobs.

The bottom line was also affected by the fact that most of the company’s cashflow to date has been generated by auction losses, and there were more of those last year than this.

The company hit three of its six “key performance indicator” targets — domains under management market share, premium sales growth and standard sales growth — but fell short of the other three.

Average revenue per name for premiums was $184 versus a $200-$225 target, and average revenue per standard name was down from $28 to $10, largely due to a deep discount promotion for .work domains. Higher prices for soon-to-launch .law could increase the average, M+M said.

The company also announced that it will spent £15 million ($23.1 million) of its cash reserves on a share buyback.

That’s almost half of the $48.3 million is has in the bank. This time last year, M+M’s share price peaked at 12p; it’s currently at 8.55p.

The price saw a spike in May, shortly before then-chairman Fred Krueger was asked to resign by the board. Krueger has since sold off the majority of his substantial shareholding, despite explicitly saying that he would not.