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Web.com to be acquired for $2 billion

Web.com is to go private in a deal valued at roughly $2 billion.

The company, which owns pioneering registrars Network Solutions and Register.com as well as SnapNames and half of NameJet, will be bought by an affiliate of Siris Capital Group, a private equity firm.

The cash, $25-a-share deal has been approved by the Web.com board but is still open to higher bids from third parties until August 5.

The offer is a 30% premium over Web.com’s 90-day average price prior to the deal’s announcement.

While Nasdaq-listed Web.com has briefly topped $26 over the last year, you’d have to go back five years to find it consistently over the $25 mark.

New gTLDs steal $5 million from Web.com’s top line

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2014, Domain Registrars

Top registrar Web.com is seeing disappointing revenue from its domain business due to new gTLDs.

The “increased availability” of names has taken a chunk out of the company’s premium domain sales, CEO David Brown told analysts on the company’s third-quarter earnings call yesterday.

While we continue to expect the recently expanded top-level domain environment to increase our ability to sell domains over the medium to long term, the increased availability of names has had a near-term negative impact on domain-related revenue. This is primarily associated with non-core domain-related revenue such as sales of premium domain names and bulk domain sales.

As a result, the company has reduced its full-year 2014 revenue guidance from between $576 million and $579 million to between $566.7 million and $568.7 million

The company blamed about half of the reduction — about $5 million — on softness in its domain name business.

Brown explained that the new gTLD environment has seen domain investors exercise much more caution when it comes to buying premium names and buying names in bulk:

We’ve seen that market get soft…. The reason the softness is occurring is that this marketplace is looking at all of these new gTLDs coming into place, there are more options available for people and they’re kind of stepping back away, at least temporarily, to see how things settle out.

He said the company expects the market to come back after the uncertainty has passed.

Web.com yesterday reported third-quarter net income of $33.9 million, up from $29.3 million a year ago, on revenue that was up to $137.4 million from $125.2 million in 2013.

The company, which owns brands including Register.com and Network Solutions, announced a $100 million share repurchase at the same time, to prop up the inevitable hit its stock was to take.

Its shares are trading down 25% at time of publication.

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.

Here’s why registrars are boycotting .sexy

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2014, Domain Registries

Will .sexy and .tattoo trip on the starting blocks today due to registrars’ fears about competition and Whois privacy?

Uniregistry went into general availability at 1600 UTC today with the two new gTLDs — its first to market — but it did so without the support of some of the biggest registrars.

Go Daddy — alone responsible for almost half of all new domain registrations — Network Solutions, Register.com and 1&1 are among those that are refusing to carry the new TLDs.

The reason, according to multiple sources, is that Uniregistry’s Registry-Registrar Agreement contains two major provisions that would dilute registrars’ “ownership” of their customer base.

First, Uniregistry wants to know the real identities of all of the registrants in its TLDs, even those who register names using Whois privacy services.

That’s not completely unprecedented; ICM Registry asks the same of .xxx registrars in order to authenticate registrants’ identities.

Second, Uniregistry wants to be able to email or otherwise contact those registrants to tell them about registry services it plans to launch in future. The Uniregistry RRA says:

Uniregistry may from time to time contact the Registered Name Holder directly with information about the Registered Name and related or future registry services.

We gather that registrars are worried that Uniregistry — which will shortly launch its own in-house registrar under ICANN’s new liberal rules on vertical integration — may try to poach their customers.

The difference between ICM and Uniregistry is that ICM does not own its own registrar.

The Uniregistry RRA seems to take account of this worry, however, saying:

Except for circumstances related to a termination under Section 6.7 below, Uniregistry shall never use Personal Data of a Registered Name Holder, acquired under this Agreement, (a) to contact the Registered Name Holder with a communication intended or designed to induce the Registered Name Holder to change Registrars or (b) for the purpose of offering or selling non-registry services to the Registered Name Holder.

Some registrars evidently do not trust this promise, or are concerned that Uniregistry may figure out a way around it, and have voted with their storefronts by refusing to carry these first two gTLDs.

Ownership of the customer relationship is a pretty big deal for registrars, especially when domain names are often a low-margin entry product used to up-sell more lucrative services.

What if a future Uniregistry “registry service” competes with something these registrars already offer? You can see why they’re worried.

A lot of registrars have asserted that with the new influx of TLDs, registrars have more negotiating power over registries than they ever did in a world of 18 gTLDs.

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling is basically testing out this proposition on his own multi-million-dollar investment.

But will the absence of these registrars — Go Daddy in particular — hurt the launch numbers for .sexy and .tattoo?

I think there could be some impact, but it might be tempered by the fact that a large number of early registrations are likely to come from domainers, and domainers know that Go Daddy is not the only place to buy domains.

Schilling tweeted at about 1605 UTC today that .sexy was over 1,800 registrations.

Longer term, who knows? This is uncharted territory. Right now Uniregistry seems to be banking on the 40-odd registrars — some of them quite large — that have signed up, along with its own marketing efforts, to make up any shortfall an absence of Go Daddy may cause.

Tomorrow, I’d be surprised if NameCheap, which is the distant number two registrar in new gTLDs right now (judging by name server counts) is not the leader in .sexy and .tattoo names.

Register.com hit by breach notice over 62,232 domains

Kevin Murphy, September 12, 2013, Domain Registrars

Register.com, a Web.com business that is one of the top ten registrars by domains under management, has been hit by an ICANN compliance notice covering 62,232 domain names.

It’s a weird one.

ICANN says that the company has failed to provide records documenting the ownership trail of the domains in question, which all currently belong to Register.com itself.

The notice names 000123.net, 0011pp.com, 00h4.com, 010fang.net, 01rabota.com, 02071988.com and 020tong.com, but it seems that these are merely the first in a alphabetical list that is much, much longer.

Judging by DomainTools’ Whois history, these domains all appear to have been originally registered at various times by individuals in China and India, then allowed to expire, then registered by Register.com to itself.

The only common link appears to be that they were kept by Register.com after they expired, for whatever reasons registrars usually hoard their customers’ expired domains.

According to the compliance notice, ICANN wants the registrar to:

Provide a detailed explanation to ICANN how 62,232 domains in which Register.com itself is the registrant are used for the purposes of Registrar Services, as defined by Section 1.11 of the RAA;

The Registrar Accreditation Agreement says registrars have to keep registrant agreement records, except for a limited class of cases where the domain is owned by the registrar itself and used for registrar-related stuff.

Register.com, one of the original five oldest competitive registrars, has been given until October 2 to come up with the requested information for face losing its accreditation.

The registrar has almost three million gTLD domains under management. Combined with its Web.com sister registrars, which include Network Solutions, the number is closer to 10 million.