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.”
Justin Bieber used his extensive social media channels to plug a .tattoo domain name to his bazillions of “beliebers” last week, but so far the plug has had no impact on sales of the gTLD.
The pop singer, beloved of 11-year-old girls worldwide, tweeted and Facebooked about the domain joker.tattoo, which leads visitors to his Tumblr blog.
A Facebook update reading simply “My Tumblr is http://joker.tattoo” has been “liked” over 230,000 times and shared almost 2,500 times by the over 70 million people following him on the platform.
On Twitter, where Bieber has 52.6 million followers, his identical tweet was retweeted over 50,000 times and favorited close to 60,000 times.
My Tumblr is http://t.co/PBP0ceJXeF ♛
— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) June 27, 2014
The “news” was even picked up by MTV, which gently ribbed the musician for apparently (don’t ask me, I’m 37) not understanding that Tumblr isn’t just for “selfies”.
But the widespread publicity for a .tattoo name had no impact whatsoever on .tattoo sales, judging by zone files.
The Uniregistry TLD hasn’t grown by more than one name per day since Bieber’s tweet.
One June 27 the .tattoo zone file had 6,312 names in it, today it has 6,316.
The joker.tattoo domain — apparently chosen because Bieber has a tattoo of a joker — is registered to one of the founders of RockLive, a San Francisco selfie-oriented app start-up funded in part by Bieber.
The domain redirects to a Tumblr third-level subdomain, so there’s no visibility for the new gTLD in browser address bars.
There’s also the issue that most of Bieber’s fans are probably too young to own a credit card, which is a prerequisite for buying a domain name.
.sexy not so sexy after all?
Uniregistry’s first new gTLDs to launch, .sexy and .tattoo, have showed a poor first-day performance after the company failed to secure Go Daddy as a registrar partner.
During the 60-day sunrise period and the first 30 hours of general availability, .sexy sold just shy of 2,700 domains, judging by zone files, while .tattoo racked up a pitiful 700 registrations.
This makes .sexy the 19th most popular new gTLD. On the DI PRO league table it’s sandwiched between .holdings and .camera, and .tattoo the 28th, between .voyage and .careers.
It’s not a completely terrible performance for .sexy — .camera and .holdings have been on the market for three and four weeks respectively — but one might have expected better sales for a string that isn’t tied to a particular vertical niche and is, arguably, just intrinsically attractive.
.sexy’s first-day performance is in the same ball park as Donuts’ .gallery and .estate, hardly strings to get excited about.
For .tattoo, the story is less gray — under 1,000 domains sold is not a success in anyone’s book.
I think there are a couple reasons for the poor showing.
First, the strings themselves. While I can see .sexy proving popular with regular buyers, it doesn’t easily lend itself to domain names that are instinctively attractive to domainers.
You can put pretty much any profession or product name in front of a .guru and it is meaningful as a brand or a rather grandiose self-appointed title. Not so with .sexy.
Ironically, this appears to be Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling’s “Toilet Paper Test” in action.
Schilling argues that the test of how generic, and by extension popular, a gTLD is should be whether toiletpaper.[tld] works. I think toiletpaper.guru works, but toiletpaper.sexy does not.
Second, Uniregistry lacked distribution.
While it had big registrars such as eNom and NameCheap (almost 50 in total) on its books, it lacked Go Daddy and 1&1 — the two companies that have been pushing pre-registrations more heavily than any other.
The reason Donuts’ gTLDs performed better in their first hours is that these companies, mainly Go Daddy, had been collecting pre-regs for weeks and spammed the registry with registration requests at the first second they were able. Day one registrations actually represent weeks of marketing and leads.
Uniregistry took an awfully big risk by demanding registrars hand over part of the customer relationship to the registry, and it seems to have impacted its sales.
The company plans to shortly launch its own registrar, and is betting hard of this being a successful sales channel.
I’m somewhat skeptical about this strategy, at least in the short term.
Go Daddy has spent tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars on marketing over the last decade or so. It has a lot of eyeballs already and it’s going to be nigh-on impossible to replicate that degree of success.
Uniregistry is not the only new gTLD portfolio registry enthusiastically embracing vertical integration.
The trail was blazed by Minds + Machines, which launched its own registrar last November. Today, it’s difficult to tell on the company’s web site where the registrar ends and the registry begins.
What’s M+M’s launch channel going to look like? We’re not going to know for sure until its first TLDs hit the market.
Are the big registrars going to make the vertically integrated business model difficult to carry off successfully? While registries are obliged to give access to any registrar that wants to sell their names, registrars have no obligations to carry any TLD they don’t want to.
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.