The wholesale price of a .net domain is likely to top $15 by 2023, under a proposed renewal of its ICANN contract revealed today.
ICANN-imposed price caps are staying in the new Registry Agreement, but Verisign retains the right to increase its fees by 10% in each of the six years of the deal’s lifespan.
But domain investors do have at least one reason to be cheerful — while the contract adds many features of the standard new gTLD registry agreement, it does not include a commitment to implement the Uniform Rapid Suspension anti-cybersquatting procedure.
The current .net annual fee charged to registrars is $8.95 — $8.20 for Verisign, $0.75 for ICANN — but Verisign will continue to be allowed to increase its portion by up to 10% a year.
That means the cost of a .net could hit $15.27 wholesale (including the $0.75 ICANN fee) by the time the proposed contract expires in 2023.
Verisign has form when it comes to utilizing its price-raising powers. It exercised all six options under its current contract, raising its share of the fee from $4.65 in 2011.
On the bright side for volume .net holders, the prices increases continue to be predictable. ICANN has not removed the price caps.
Also likely to cheer up domainers is the fact that there are no new intellectual property protection mechanisms in the proposed contract.
Several post-2000 legacy gTLDs have agreed to incorporate the URS into their new contracts, leading to outrage from domainer organization the Internet Commerce Association.
ICA is worried that URS will one day wind up in .com without a proper ICANN community consensus, opening its members up to more risk of losing valuable domains.
The fact that URS is not being slipped into the .net contract makes it much less likely to be forced on .com too.
But Verisign has agreed to several mostly technical provisions that bring it more into line with the standard 2012-round new gTLD RA.
For example, it appears that daily .net zone files will become accessible via ICANN’s Centralized Zone Data Service before the end of the year.
Verisign has also agreed to standardize the format of its data escrow, Whois and monthly transaction reports.
The company has also agreed to start discussions about handing .net over to an emergency back-end operator in the event it files for bankruptcy.
The current contract is due to expire at the end of June and the proposed new deal would kick in July 1.
It’s now open for public comment until June 13.
Uniregistry has backtracked on its plan to hike renewal fees on thousands of domain name registrations.
CEO Frank Schilling described the U-turn, which followed a ferocious backlash from domain investors, as “the right thing to do”.
The company had announced price increases across 16 of its 27 gTLDs that in one case exceeded 3,000% but in many more cases represented increases in the hundreds of percent.
The increases were to apply to new and renewing registrations, and Schilling had said that they were necessary to keep the affected TLDs afloat.
But domainers were furious, taking to blogs and message boards to announce and decry the death of all new gTLDs.
Leading registrar Go Daddy soon said that it would no longer sell Uniregistry TLDs, at least temporarily.
But yesterday Uniregistry announced a change of heart, providing an unusually detailed account of the thought process leading to the price increases that’s worth quoting at length.
“The registration providers we consulted reported that differentiating prices based on the time of the registration was technically difficult and confusing for customers,” said Bret Fausett, head of the Registry Services Team. “Based on that feedback, and considering the small number of registrants affected, we made the difficult decision to raise prices for all registrants.”
“After the announcement, however, we, and our registration partners, have heard clearly from our end users that the ability to register ten-years at the existing price does not ameliorate the pain of subsequent price increases for registrants facing substantial price increases,” said Mr. Fausett. “So, for the names in our highest-priced tiers, the price changes will affect only new registrations. We are asking our registration partners to do whatever is necessary to enable this approach.”
“Creating a legacy tier of prices for inaugural registrants in our niche, premium top-level domains is technically more difficult,” said Frank Schilling, Managing Director of Uniregistry, “but it’s the right thing to do for those pioneering individuals and companies who have staked their claims in the new Internet real estate.”
In other words, if you register a name in the affected gTLDs before September 8, your renewal fee will be at the current lower level.
Whether this will be enough to mitigate Uniregistry’s reputational damage in the domainer community remains to be seen.
But the company also said it plans to overhaul its premium names pricing by the end of the second quarter, scrapping the multi-tier pricing approach in favor of a one-size-fits-all menu.
Schilling said that price reductions will affect “millions” of reserved names and mean “hundreds of millions” of dollars of hypothetical value have been wiped from the portfolio.
Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling has expressed his “surprise” that GoDaddy has decided to stop selling his company’s gTLDs, but said he expects the registrar to return in future.
GoDaddy’s decision to stop new registrations and inbound transfers for Uniregistry’s portfolio of gTLDs came after the registry revealed price increases for 16 strings that ranged from nominal to over 3,000%.
The registrar told Domain Name Wire yesterday that Uniregistry’s move presented “an extremely poor customer experience” and “does not reflect well on the domain name industry”.
Registrars are of course the customer-facing end of the domain name industry, and the burden of explaining renewal price increases of 5x falls on their shoulders.
But Schilling seems to expect the ban to be temporary.
“We are extremely surprised by GoDaddy’s reaction but are pleased that our extensions are available at many other registrars who support our approach. We remain ready to support GoDaddy when they decide on a path which works for their customers,” he told DI today.
“We expect them to return,” he added.
It’s a plausible prediction. GoDaddy’s statement to DNW said Uniregistry had been cut off “until we can assess the impact on our current and potential customers”, which suggests it’s not necessarily permanent.
GoDaddy is Uniregistry’s first or second-largest registrar in most of the affected gTLDs.
But because the gTLDs in question have so few domains in them, the number of GoDaddy-sponsored domains is typically under 1,000 per gTLD.
Even in the much larger zones of .click and .link (which are receiving small price increases and will still wholesale for under $10), GoDaddy’s exposure is just a few thousand domains and it’s nowhere near the market leader.
I wonder how much of GoDaddy’s decision to drop Uniregistry has to do with the reaction from domain investors.
Ever since DI broke the news of the price increases a week ago, there’s been a stream of angry domainer blog and forum posts, condemning Schilling and Uniregistry for the decision and using the move as a stick to batter the whole new gTLD program.
For registrars, it doesn’t necessarily strike me a terrible deal.
While they will have to deal with customer fallout, over the longer term higher wholesale prices means bigger margins.
Registrars are already adding about a hundred bucks to the $300 cost of a .game domain, and the price increase from $10 to $300 of the Spanish equivalent, .juegos, likely means similar margins there too.
Uniregistry is to massively increase the price of some of its under-performing new gTLDs in an effort to keep them afloat.
Sixteen TLDs from the company’s portfolio of 27 will see price increases of up to 3,000% starting September 8, CEO Frank Schilling confirmed to DI today.
“We need more revenue from these strings, especially the low volume ones, without question,” he said. “We can’t push on a string and stoke demand overnight. So in order for that string to survive as a standalone it has to be profitable.”
While domainers have taken to new gTLDs in greater numbers than Schilling anticipated, demand among worldwide consumers has been slower than expected, Schilling said.
“If you have a space with only 5,000 registrations, you need to have a higher price point to justify its existence, just because running a TLD isn’t free,” he said.
The alternative to repricing would be to sell the TLD in question to a competitor, which in turn would then be forced to reprice anyway, he said.
The TLDs seeing the biggest price hikes are .hosting and .juegos (Spanish for “games”) which are going up from about $20 retail and about $10 retail respectively to about $300 apiece.
Schilling said he believed that true web hosts could afford the new pricing. The .juegos increase is modeled on what Uniregistry has been doing with .game, which currently retails for closer to $400.
At the budget, sub-$10 end of the portfolio, .click and .link are to see fees rise by a buck or two per year.
Names in .audio, .blackfriday, .diet, .flowers, hiphop .guitars and .property, currently priced in the $10 to $25 range, will all start retailing for about $100 per year.
The other affected TLDs are .christmas, .help, .sexy and .tattoo, which will all see big increases but stay in the sub-$100 range.
The TLDs seeing the biggest price increases are among the ones with the fewest registrations — .juegos has about 1,000 names in its zone, while .hosting has fewer than 6,000. Most of the 16 TLDs have fewer than 10,000 names in their zones.
Uniregistry is no stranger to highly-priced domains. It runs .cars, .car and .auto, where it sells every domain at $2,888 a year retail (with no reserved premiums) but has fewer than 500 names in each zone.
Schilling said that in some ways he prefers this model to the more standard model of low-price base fees with high-price premiums.
The higher prices will likely lead in the short term to lower registration numbers (as speculators flee) but will give Uniregistry more cash to invest in marketing.
“That metering effect of high prices, we like that, in terms of trying to grow the namespace, and it gives us money we can use to try to market the strings to prosperity,” Schilling said.
“At a higher price point, the marketing can scale, but we just can’t do it on base registrations of ten bucks or twenty bucks,” he said.
He added that the higher base fee gives Uniregistry more flexibility to provide periodic discounts.
ICANN rules make it much easier to have a high base fee and keep it regularly discounted than to periodically increase fees, which requires six months notice.
“Between renewals promotions and pricing promotions, a lot of the effects of the price increases will be moot,” Schilling said.
Because the new prices don’t kick in until September, registrants are able to lock in pricing at current levels by renewing for up to 10 years.
While the price increases and Schilling’s relatively gloomy commentary will certainly fuel opponents of new gTLDs, whom are legion, Schilling is still bullish on the market, which he continues to characterize as a marathon rather than a sprint.
“Within ten years, will it be bigger? Absolutely. It’ll be quintuple what it is today,” he said. “But we need to get to 10 years, and to keep the lights on between here and there we need higher prices, without question.”
Verisign has just announced that prices for .net domains are going up again this coming February.
Announcing its second-quarter earnings, the company revealed plans to raise its registry fee from $7.46 to $8.20, effective February 1, 2017.
That’s the maximum 10% price hike it’s allowed to claim under its .net Registry Agreement with ICANN.
Raising .net prices has become a bit of an annual tradition with Verisign, one of the few gTLD registries to still have its prices regulated by ICANN.
The company had about 16.2 million .net domains under management at the last formal, published count in March. Its daily “domain base” has .net at 15.7 million names today.