Anyone will be able to bid for a piece of the internet’s domain-name landscape this April – and for just $1 you could bag one of the more unpopular parts.
If you can spare just a few more dollars, you could snap up .audio, .game, .photo, .tattoo or 19 other common words, and go into business selling domains ending in those dot-words. We're talking $400,000 for .audio and $2.8m for .game, for instance, though.
At the lower end, there is no minimum price for the .hiv and .juegos registries: bid a buck, and with no better offers, they would be yours. There are 23 registries up for auction, with starting prices of, to pick a few, $100,000 for .hiphop, $125,000 for .christmas, $500,000 for .property, and $2m for .link. Some of them have a minimum price around about or not much more than application fees to secure them.
These generic top-level domains (gTLDs) are right now owned by registry operator Uniregistry, and its fire-sale is just the latest step in a restructure and asset sale of the company. It sold several of its other registries to a rival last year and then its domain-selling business to GoDaddy. After the auction, to be held on April 28, the company will focus on back-end services and hopes that at least some of the gTLDs it auctions off will choose Uniregistry for support.
It’s hard not to see the sale as a sign that the dream of a vast new market in new internet addresses is officially dead. Despite being around for nearly a decade now, uptake of the new TLDs – of which over 1,000 were approved in short order by DNS overseer ICANN – has been far below expectations.
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The registry .hiv, for example, has just 315 names, compared to 10 million .org domains and hundreds of millions of dot-coms. Of those 315, more than a third are held by companies simply protecting their brand names, and another fifth is held by the registry as reserved names.
The most valuable registry being offered is .game, for which Uniregistry has set the minimum bid of just shy of $3m. You would imagine given that the video game industry brings in north of $100bn in annual revenues that controlling any internet address ending in .game would be worth far more than that, though there are currently only 2,270 .game domain names.
The same pattern is true for the other names on offer: .audio with a start bid of $400,000 and 4,730 names; .diet: start bid $175,000, 1,478 names; .lol: start bid $450,000, 11,781 names; and so on.
And don't forget: if you acquire one of these gTLDs, you have to pay ICANN any applicable annual fees – $6,250 a quarter and potentially transaction costs, typically – as well as other costs to actually run the dot-word's registry.
There are a multitude of reasons why the expected boom in new internet addresses endings never happened, not least of which is the fact that awareness of the program never got much further than the domain name industry. This resulted in several companies buying up dot-word domains largely in the hope of later selling them with a massive mark-up once everyone else woke up to the rush.
But with so many domains flooding an uncertain market all at once, and with most of those names held by companies who were more interested in finding future buyers than building up a business, the whole enterprise fell flat. Eight years on, .com remains king.
Organizations also purchased their own corporate names as gTLDs in large part to protect their name. These “brand TLDs” were, it was hoped, going to allow the internet to develop in a radically new direction. It never happened, though, and many of those companies are actually abandoning their namesake registries altogether, handing them back to ICANN rather than pay annual maintenance fees.
Just this month, Nationwide Mutual Insurance – a $50bn business – informed ICANN it wanted to cancel the two gTLDs it had applied for. The first was its name - .nationwide. The second is indicative of the high hopes that many had for the expansion of the internet’s namespace, the company’s slogan in TLD form: .onyourside.
Together they are the 87th and 88th dot-brand cancellations, according to industry publication DomainIncite.
That’s not to say the gTLD revolution is dead; it may simply have been mismanaged. It’s not hard to imagine how, in the era podcasts and streaming music, that the .audio internet registry could not be turn into a hugely profitable business given the right focus, effort and marketing. Likewise, .mom or .pics or .flowers.
Master of your domain
The usefulness of domain names has slumped as huge tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon have pulled the majority of the billions of internet users into their specific corners of the internet that each have a single encompassing domain: facebook.com, netflix.com, google.com, amazon.com, and so on. And operating systems like Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS have used apps to keep people within their walled gardens rather than let them run wild on the broader internet whose addressing system is still alive and well if under-utilized.
With increasingly antipathy toward those tech giants and antitrust actions expected to focus on installing greater competition into the online world, in a few years it’s possible to see the domain name system regaining some of its earlier popularity, at which point the lackluster gTLD market could take off again.
No one is holding their breath. The domain name industry became aware of Unregistry’s gTLD fire sale a week ago and the reaction has been tepid at best. That's reflected in the fact that Uniregistry has actually reduced the minimum start bid for every one of its gTLDs this week; it initially wanted $3.5m for .game, now it’s $2.8m. The price for another, .hosting, has been slashed in half: $1m to $500,000.
And yet, it still seems cheap for a fundamental piece of the internet’s landscape. Optimists with deep pockets need only apply. ®