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Sex.xxx sells for $3m as PussyCash cites SEO value

Kevin Murphy, May 29, 2014, Domain Sales

ICM Registry has sold a package of 40 premium .xxx domain names with a total value of $5 million to Barron Innovations, operator of the PussyCash porn affiliate network.

The headline sale in the batch is sex.xxx, which carried a standalone $3 million price tag.

That’s the first .xxx name to sell for a seven-figure sum. The previous record for a single name was $500,000 for gay.xxx.

It’s also the highest-priced non-.com domain name ever sold, according to publicly available sale prices.

It beats shopping.de, which went for the euro equivalent of $2.85 million in 2008, making sex.xxx the 10th most-expensive domain we know about.

Sex.com is of course the highest priced domain ever sold, going for $13 million in 2010.

According to ICM, Barron bought cam.xxx, phone.xxx and black.xxx for undisclosed six-figure prices. The deal also included web.xxx, market.xxx, mate.xxx and education.xxx, the company said.

Barron is evidently affiliated with webcam-oriented porn sites ImLive.com and Webcamwiz.com, as well as the related lead-generation program PussyCash.com.

PussyCash was subject to this glowing review (NSFW) in the adult industry press recently and is apparently a bit of a big deal in that world.

ICM tells me Barron had been studying the search engine optimization performance of .xxx for some time before signing the deal. Shay Efron, spokesperson for the buyer, said in a press release:

We have studied the undeniably superior performance of .XXX domains in terms of SEO and conversion rates and decided to make a huge splash by acquiring the very best keyword generic names available. We evaluated SEX.xxx, the flagship domain, and decided it has the potential to became the leading brand in the entire adult industry, so it was an obvious part of a very large deal.

The company intends to develop the names, according to a press release.

This is pretty good news for ICM (because of the cash) but it’s also promising for new gTLDs as a whole.

I’m not privy to Barron’s research, but if it’s confident enough in the SEO benefits of .xxx to spend $3 million on one name, that might be a signal that other niche gTLDs could see the same benefits in future.

It might not happen overnight — ICM launched .xxx two and a half years ago — but premium names could appreciate in value, assuming new registries manage to get some actual users building sites.

Registrars screwing up new gTLD launches?

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2014, Domain Registrars

Some of the largest domain name registrars are failing to support new gTLDs properly, leading to would-be registrants being told unregistered names are unavailable.

The .menu gTLD went into general availability yesterday, gathering some 1,649 registrations in its first half day.

It’s not a great start for the new gTLD by any stretch, but how much of it has to do with the channel?

I tested out searches for available names at some of the biggest registrars and got widely different results, apparently because they don’t all properly support tiered pricing.

Market leader Go Daddy even refuses to sell available names.

The .menu gTLD is being operated by a What Box? subsidiary, the inappropriately named Wedding TLD2.

The company has selected at least three pricing tiers as far as I can tell — $25 is the baseline registry fee, but many unreserved “premium” names are priced by the registry at $50 and $65 a year.

For my test, I used noodleshop.menu, which seems to carry the $65 fee. Whois records show it as unregistered and it’s not showing up in today’s .menu zone file. It’s available.

This pricing seems to be accurately reflected at registrars including Name.com and 101domain.

Name.com, for example, says that the name is available and offers to sell it to me for $81.25.

Name.com

Likewise, 101domain reports its availability and a price of $97.49. There’s even a little medal icon next to the name to illustrate the fact that it’s at a premium price.

101domain

So far so good. However, other registrars fare less well.

Go Daddy and Register.com, which are both accredited .menu registrars, don’t seem to recognize the higher-tier names at all.

Go Daddy reports the name is unavailable.

Go Daddy

And so does Register.com.

Register.com

For every .menu name that carried a premium price at Name.com, Go Daddy was reporting it as unavailable.

With Go Daddy owning almost half of the new gTLD market, you can see why its failure to recognize a significant portion of a new gTLD’s available nice-looking names might impact day-one volumes.

The experience at 1&1, which has pumped millions into marketing new gTLD pre-registrations, was also weird.

At 1&1, I was offered noodleshop.menu at the sale price of $29.99 for the first year and $49.99 thereafter, which for some reason I was told was a $240 saving.

1&1

Both the sale price and the regular price appear to be below the wholesale cost. Either 1&1 is committed to take a $15 loss on each top-tier .menu name forever, or it’s pricing its names incorrectly.

A reader informed me this morning that when he tried to buy a .menu premium at 1&1 today he was presented with a message saying he would be contacted within 24 hours about the name.

He said his credit card was billed for the $29.99, but the name (Whois records seem to confirm) remains unregistered.

I’d test this out myself but frankly I don’t want to risk my money. When I tried to register the same name as the reader on 1&1 today I was told it was still available.

If I were a new gTLD registry I’d be very worried about this state of affairs. Without registrars, there’s no sales, but some registrars appear to be unprepared, at least in the case of .menu.

Go Daddy risking Oscars wrath with .buzz premium domains?

The new gTLD registry Dot Strategy included many famous brands on its list of premium .buzz names, including two that could get its partner, Go Daddy-owned Afternic, in hot water.

Until a couple of hours ago, nic.buzz carried what appeared to be thousands of premium listings, organized by category and carrying prices of $1,000 and up, some of which seemed to target brands.

The names of several sports teams, such as 49ers.buzz and blackhawks.buzz, were listed for sale in the sports category (hat tip: Valideus‘ Brian Beckham).

I also spotted listings for domains such as photoshop.buzz (an Adobe software brand) in the technology category and hobbit.buzz (believe it or not, “Hobbit” is a trademark) in an entertainment category.

But the ones that really caught my attention were academyaward.buzz and academyawards.buzz, which carried prices of $1,900 each.

null

That’s surprising because if you try to buy these domains you’ll be instructed to contact Afternic, which is handling the premium process. And as of September, Go Daddy owns Afternic.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars and owns “Academy Award” and “Academy Awards” trademarks, has been locked in litigation with Go Daddy for the last four years.

The Academy claims that Go Daddy is cybersquatting due to its practice of making money parking its customers’ domains, including domains containing Academy trademarks such as academyawardz.com.

Most recently, Go Daddy tried to get the appointed judge in the case kicked out, alleging that she’s in the Academy’s pocket.

While the lawsuit is certainly controversial, attempting to sell $3,800 worth of domain names matching the Academy’s marks probably wouldn’t help Go Daddy look less cybersquatty to its opponent.

It could be argued that many of the premium names that match brands are also generic — Black Hawks could be helicopters and I’m sure there are plenty of academies in the world that hand out awards.

A legitimate registrant could buy many of these trademark-matching listed names and fight off a UDRP, I reckon.

But when somebody lists the name for sale in a category appropriate to the class of trademark, I’d say that makes the name look a lot less generic.

Bieber is a surname presumably shared by many people, but when you list bieber.buzz for sale in a category related to entertainment it can only really refer to one person.

Somebody yanked the premium listings section from the nic.buzz web site after I requested comments from Dot Strategy and Go Daddy a few hours ago. This post will be updated should I receive said comments.

.buzz is currently in its sunrise period and is due to go to general availability in mid-April. As I’ve said before, it’s one of my favorite new gTLD strings and I wouldn’t be surprised if sells quite well.

UPDATE: Go Daddy said: “Afternic is working with dotStrategy, Co. (the .BUZZ registry) to review the list and revise as appropriate.”

Right Of The Dot partners with Heritage for hybrid auctions

Kevin Murphy, January 15, 2014, Domain Services

Domain sales consultancy Right Of The Dot and collectibles auctioneer Heritage Auctions have made a deal to bring hybrid live/online auctions to the new gTLD space.

According to a ROTD press release, such services will be made available for new gTLD contention set resolution and premium second-level domain sales.

Heritage is pretty new to the domain name space, but its IP division is headed by Aron Meystedt, current owner of symbolics.com, the world’s oldest .com domain.

TLDH opens up list of 70,000 premium names for all new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2014, Domain Services

Top Level Domain Holdings has ramped up its new gTLD pre-registration effort with a new database service that enables registries to automatically collate and price their premium names.

The new OpenDB.co service builds on the Online Priority Enhanced Names system we reported on during the ICANN meeting in Buenos Aires a couple months ago.

TLDH chairman Fred Krueger told DI today that new gTLD registry operators will be able to automatically generate a list of up to 70,000 premium names — with associated prices — for their TLD(s).

It works using a proprietary taxonomy of strings in 500 categories, put together by about 30 people working for TLDH, and baseline .com pricing estimates calculated by various online tools such as Estibot.

If you’re the registry for .web, for example, you might decide that all premium .web domains are worth 50% of the .com price, and you could create your premium names list accordingly with just a few clicks.

But if you’re the registry for a narrower, niche gTLD, you might want to assign values by category, subcategory or individual name.

If you’re .poker, you might decide that names in the OpenDB “gambling” category are worth 300% of .com, due to the affinity between the TLD and the second level, and that “sports” names are worth 50%, but everything else is worth just 1% of the corresponding .com name.

A possible drawback of the system might be that the algorithmic .com price estimates underlying it are just that — estimates, based on factors such as Google search volume and Adwords cost-per-click.

Online tools that do this kind of price estimation are quite often criticized or mocked for under- or over-pricing names in existing TLDs.

Another drawback might be that while 70,000 is certainly a lot of strings, it might not dive deeply enough into the potential premium pool for very niche gTLDs.

If the service catches on, I expect it will wind up competing with consultancies that offer expertise-based pricing, such as Right Of The Dot, and brokerage platforms such as Sedo.

So far only PeopleBrowsr (.ceo, .best) has openly committed to use the system.

TLDH says that it will start offering any names in OpenDB via its affiliated Minds + Machines registrar, with a 20% markup.

There’s also an OpenDB API that registrars can use to add these premium names to their own storefronts, Krueger said.

DotKiwi puts $7 million of premium names on sale

Kevin Murphy, December 4, 2013, Domain Registries

DotKiwi has put NZD 8.5 milion ($7 million) of “premium” domain names on the market in advance of the delegation of .kiwi, which it expects to happen this week.

There are 4,668 names on sale right now, ranging in price from NZD 501.50 ($410) to NZD 124,626.71 ($102,000).

The highest price belongs to hotels.kiwi.

The average asking price is NZD 1,832.39 ($1,500).

The registry said:

All premium names have been valued in collaboration with third parties that specialise in valuing domain names around the globe. The value of a .kiwi premium name is determined using historical sales data, search engine popularity and traffic.

There are 32 domains priced at over $10,000. These are the top 10 highest-priced names:

hotels.kiwi124,626.71 NZD
cruises.kiwi83,193.27 NZD
clothes.kiwi47,248.89 NZD
games.kiwi46,212.14 NZD
auto.kiwi41,579.89 NZD
travel.kiwi39,947.41 NZD
dentist.kiwi30,000.00 NZD
love.kiwi28,728.59 NZD
teaching.kiwi26,933.29 NZD
blackjack.kiwi26,932.42 NZD

Unlike other new gTLD registries that have introduced tiered renewal pricing for premium names, DotKiwi plans to charge a standard NZD 40 ($33) annual fee for premiums.

DotKiwi tells us that the names have all been reserved, so they’re ineligible for the mandatory Sunrise period (expected to start later this month).

But the names won’t actually be activated until after Sunrise is over. Then, they’ll still be subject to the Trademark Claims service, which alerts trademark owners when their mark has been registered.

RightOfTheDot to manage .club’s premium strategy

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2013, Domain Services

.CLUB Domains has selected RightOfTheDot to manage its premium and founders program domains strategy.

The company named “a.club, 888.club, chess.club, poker.club, insurance.club, golf.club country.club, car.club” as examples of “category killer” names that RightOfTheDot will try to find homes for.

.CLUB signed its Registry Agreement with ICANN late last week and plans to go to Sunrise in January.

It’s among the top 30 most popular new gTLDs being pre-registered at 1&1 right now, and recently said it’s hoping to have five million domains under management within five years, an ambitious target.

RightOfTheDot is the new gTLD consultancy founded by domainers Mike Berkens and Monte Cahn.

NameJet to auction new gTLD domains before they launch

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2013, Domain Sales

Many registrars are already offering new gTLD pre-registrations, now NameJet has taken the idea one step further: it’s going to auction premium names months before the gTLDs even go live.

It’s just announced a deal with XYZ.com, which is on track to run the .xyz and .college registries, to sell 40 “premium” domain names this month. In fact, according to its press relase, the first auction started on Wednesday.

These two new gTLDs are uncontested but do not yet have Registry Agreements with ICANN, and have not passed pre-delegation testing or any of the other pre-launch prerequisites.

The companies said they due to go live next year.

Some of the domains to be auctioned include: loans.college, scholarships.college, vacations.xyz, insurancequotes.xyz, students.college, jobs.college, auctions.xyz and health.xyz.

NameJet said it expects the auctions to be wrapped up by the end of February.

Unrest remains despite new new gTLD contract

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN has proposed big changes to how it will handle premium domain names, dot-brands, mergers and acquisitions and mandatory fees in new gTLDs.

It published a new version of the proposed Registry Agreement for new gTLD operators this morning, saying that it is the product of months of “negotiations” with applicants and registries.

But some applicants and back-end providers disagree with this characterization, saying that while some registries helped ICANN with the text they have no authority to speak for all applicants.

The agreement was posted for 42 days of public comment this morning. Before it is approved by the ICANN board of directors, no new gTLD applicants will be able to sign contracts and begin to go live.

There are several major changes compared to the version in the Applicant Guidebook.

Premium domains not dead after all

In what could prove to be the most significant and controversial changes, ICANN has given registries the ability to run Founders Programs and premium name schemes without interference from trademark owners.

New text in the contract will let them self-register up to 100 names “necessary for the operation or the promotion of the TLD” and release those names to third parties if they want.

This appears to be a way around the fear that mandatory Sunrise periods could thwart registries’ plans to sign up anchor tenants to the gTLDs, a crucial launch marketing tactic for many.

The new RA also appears to give broad powers to the registry to allocate premium domain names at will.

Registry Operator may withhold from registration or allocate to Registry Operator names (including their IDN variants, where applicable) at All Levels in accordance with Section 2.6 of the Agreement. Such names may not be activated in the DNS, but may be released for registration to another person or entity at Registry Operator’s discretion.

There does not appear to be a numerical limit on how many domains can be reserved in this way.

Hypothetically, this might allow a registry to reserve the entire dictionary (or dictionaries) at launch, preventing holders of trademarks on generic terms grabbing the matching names during Sunrise.

The still-draft Trademark Clearinghouse rules will also play a part here, but from the RA it looks like registries have just been handed a massively flexible reservation tool.

If my initial interpretation is correct, I expect the trademark lobby will have strong view here.

Concessions for dot-brands

New text in the agreement makes it clearer that ICANN has no plans to redelegate dot-brand gTLDs to third parties after the Registry Agreement expires or is terminated.

This means, for example, that if L’Oreal decides to stop using .loreal at some point in future, ICANN very probably won’t give .loreal to a competitor. The new text is:

(i) ICANN will take into consideration any intellectual property rights of Registry Operator (as communicated to ICANN by Registry Operator) in determining whether to transition operation of the TLD to a successor registry operator

It’s probably not rigid enough language to satisfy some lawyers’ wishes, but I think it does enough to convey the spirit of ICANN’s intentions.

ICANN is of course mainly concerned that dead gTLDs don’t leave registrants with dead domain names, but if there are no registrants I can’t imagine why it would want to redelegate.

Lower fees for registries

Newly added text in the RA specifies that registries must pay ICANN a $5,000 one-off fee (per TLD) to use the new Trademark Clearinghouse, plus with $0.25 per domain that uses its services.

Domains registered under Sunrise periods or which trigger Trademark Claims alerts would incur this one-time fee, which appears to have been reduced from the $0.30 previously discussed.

These fees will actually be passed on to the Trademark Clearinghouse operators (Deloitte and IBM), for which ICANN has agreed to manage billing in order to keep costs down.

In addition, the RA now clarifies that the registry operator’s regular fixed fees to ICANN of $6,250 a quarter only kick in from the date that the gTLD hits the DNS root, not the date of contract signing. That could save registries up to a year’s worth of fees, if they’re late to delegation.

M&A approvals

There are also changes to the way ICANN plans to approve of mergers and acquisitions among registries.

First, it will be much easier for the contract to be passed around within a corporate holding group. The RA now states:

Registry Operator may assign this Agreement without the consent of ICANN directly to a wholly-owned subsidiary of Registry Operator, or, if Registry Operator is a wholly-owned subsidiary, to its direct parent or to another wholly-owned subsidiary of its direct parent, upon such subsidiary’s or parent’s, as applicable, express assumption of the terms and conditions of this Agreement

This change would seem to enable portfolio applicants that have applied for many gTLDs each under separate shell company names (Donuts, for example) to consolidate their contracts under a single parent.

What I don’t think it does is allow for contention set resolution based on joint ventures (which are obviously not “wholly owned”), such as what Uniregistry and Top Level Domain Holdings announced they had agreed to yesterday.

The new RA also states that ICANN must approve subcontracting deals the registry inks for any of the five “critical functions” (EPP, DNS, DNSSEC, Whois and escrow).

Unilateral amendments are gone

The controversial “unilateral right to amend” that ICANN wanted to grant itself — essentially an emergency power to change the contract almost at whim and over the objections of registries — is gone.

It’s been replaced with a convoluted series of procures almost identical to those found in the proposed final version of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement currently open for comment.

Registries would get the ability to punt the changes to a GNSO Policy Development Process, submit alternative amendments, take ICANN to arbitration or request exemptions, under the new rules.

While the new provisions still give ICANN the ability to force through unpopular changes under certain circumstances, a lot more engagement by registries is envisaged so “unilateral” is probably not a good word to use any more.

So is the deal final or not?

ICANN said in a blog post: “The proposed agreement is the result of several months of negotiations, formal community feedback, and meetings with various stakeholders and communities.”

It added:

We have come a long way since February 2013 when we posted a proposed Revised New gTLD Registry Agreement for public comment. A new and highly spirited sense of mutual trust has catapulted us into a fresh atmosphere of collaboration, which in turn has led to a consistently more productive environment. The spirit of teamwork, productive dialogue and partnership that has underpinned this negotiation process is tremendously heartwarming, as it has allowed us to bring to fruition a robust contractual framework for the New gTLD Program.

But some are worried that ICANN seems to be portraying the RA as equivalent to the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, which was subject to 18 months of talks with a negotiating team representing registrars.

The registries’ Registry Agreement Negotiating Team (RA-NT), on the other hand, was formed less than three weeks ago during ICANN’s meeting in Beijing, and did not have the authority to speak for all applicants.

The RA-NT said in a statement published by ICANN:

The RA-NT agreed to review the new gTLD Registry Agreement with ICANN staff in an effort to minimize some of the more controversial aspects of the Agreement for applicants as a whole. While participants reflected a variety of perspectives, the team did not “represent” or have any authority to “speak for” new gTLD applicants generally, or any group of applicants.

ARI Registry Services CEO Adrian Kinderis told DI:

My fears (and frustrations) come from the fact that ICANN staff have made it sound like they have reached the same point in the process. “It is done”. It most certainly isn’t “done”. They need to understand that the negotiation is actually still very much active and all of the community should feel like their opinions and feedback will be considered in the development of the “final draft”.

The draft RA is now open for public comment until June 11.

That would give ICANN about a month to synthesize all the comments, make any changes, and put the deal to its board of directors for approval during the meeting in Durban, South Africa, this July.

ICM has already sold $200k of premium .xxx names

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2012, Domain Sales

Contrary to some reports, ICM Registry has in fact already seen several sales of premium names from its recently published buy-it-now price list.

Judging by the changes to the list since it was revealed three weeks ago, at least eight domains have been sold for a total of $55,755.

Two new domains — trannyporn.xxx and trannys.xxx — have been added to the list, and a handful of others have had their prices increased, by a total value of $73,820.

These are the domains we’ve managed to establish were sold, along with their original list prices:

888.xxx ($1,320)
bet.xxx ($3,465)
celebrities.xxx ($15,015)
ddd.xxx ($330)
freeliveporn.xxx ($330)
massage.xxx ($18,810)
moms.xxx ($15,000)
own.xxx ($1,485)

Some domains appear to have been repriced, adding almost $74,000 to the total value of the $7.7 million pot. For example, highdefinition.xxx is now listed at $19,000, up from $2,500.

According to ICM, not all of the sold domains have been removed from the published list yet. President Stuart Lawley said a total of over $200,000 has been taken so far.

ICM came in for a bit of criticism from one early .xxx adopter last month, when six-figure investor Mike Berkens accused the company of damaging the TLD by capping prices too early.

There are still over 1,000 available names on the list.