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Over the short time I’ve been in the domaining business, I’ve experimented with both reserve and no-reserve auctions. If I balance the pro’s and con’s I am strongly in favour of no-reserve auctions, especially for domains where it is likely multiple parties will be interested in the domain. The upside of a no-reserve auction here outbalances the risk for me (of the domain selling for less than I’d like). For example, just a few minutes ago we had two no-reserve auctions ending on Sedo. We ended selling 949.com for $13,560 and 313.com for $25,000. My original expectation was aroud $30k for both, so the upside (even less Sedo’s commission) worked out well for us. I think the fact that it was a no-reserve auction brought a lot of this upside. Few months ago, the no-reserve format worked out very well for us with the our auction of 64.com, which went all the way to $90k. So I continue to strongly support the no-reserve format because I also want to see more liquidity.
I was just looking through Bido at the recent sales page. Since Bido get’s so much PR and buzz, I was really surprised about the miniscule amount of volume in dollar terms. Looks like on a typical day maybe $1,000-$1,500 of sales go through. That’s $100-150 of margin for Bido a day. And a hell of a lot of effort is put into that from Sahar’s team with no doubt to even get that result. I don’t really want to show off or anything, but just to put that number in context, I make that kind of money in less than 10 minutes, 24 hours a day, just from parking.
What the example of Bido clearly shows us is how difficult it really is to create a new viable aftermarket platform and especially get the model right. I think Sahar&co will really have to fundamentally change Bido’s model and I sincerely wish them a lot of luck, because any efforts like this help increase liquidity, which is always positive for all of us.
Overall, if you look at the various aftermarket platform models, I think only some work very well, some moderately and some don’t at all.
Somebody who I think got the aftermarket model working really well is Namemedia with BuyDomains etc. Why it is so nicely profitable is that to a large degree, Namemedia is what I call in the business of proprietary domain trading. They own the inventory (or most of it) that they sell, hence their margins are really thick. Whereas others just rely on their 10% cut, Namemedia takes almost 100%. That’s why they can market their names proactively. Dark Blue Sea has been trying to do something similar to that with it’s Domain Distribution Network, but they are clearly not even close to as good as NameMedia is on this.
Another aftermarket model that I think makes a lot of sense is the dropcatching-to-auction model of Namejet, Snapnames and Pool. If you create liquidity in the marketplace, you can snap up domains for $7 and sell them for $79 or even thousands of dollars. Obviously most of the inventory comes from preferred registrar partnerships so the margins are not that high (as they have to give a big chunk to the registrars), but these dropcatching services definitely take a bigger cut than 10% that for example Bido or Sedo rely on.
Rick Latona gets it right as well through his whole aftermarket package (newsletter, auctions, active brokering). He also engages in what I call a lot of proprietary trading, a lot of the inventory he sells is his.
To a lesser degree I don’t think the whole marketplace model of Sedo (on a standalone basis) is that awesome and profitable. On a typical month, Sedo sells something like $6 million in inventory, with a 10% margin of $600k roughly. However Sedo has a HUGE overhead to keep this operation running, spends significant amounts on marketing etc. There’s probably very little left of the $600k a month after all the costs. However why this model seems to work is the marketplace’s impact on Sedo’s parking business. Because of the marketplace, Sedo gets a lot of parking business, where it can make thicker margins. Pretty much all the small guys making $50 a month on parking park with Sedo now, but they probably have thousands or maybe even tens of thousands of them so it adds up. The impact of the marketplace on the parking side of the business is exactly why Namedrive went into this business with its NDX Market. Overall clearly, on a standalone basis, the marketplace model is nothing very profitable.
So bottom line is that if you want the marketplace model to work, you really need some kind of upsell to make it work – to parking, a registrar or something like that.
The domain business is still about parking. That is still where the money is made and if you haven’t realized this yet, then you are getting something wrong. In many ways a large part of the aftermarket is held up by the parking business as parking earnings are reinvested etc.
In many ways, parking hasn’t really evolved over the last 5 years too much. It’s still quite similar. Parking companies are an entity that acquire an ad feed and are a mediator between domainers and the upstream ad providers such as Google and Yahoo. They ad a little twist with optimization etc but that’s it. Nothing fundamentally has changed over the last 5 years.
What is starting to happen and will continue is a margin squeeze for parking companies, it’s not really an envious spot to be in to be honest. A significant catalyst to that are services like Above.com (great service btw, really recommend it). Plain and simple, they send your traffic to wherever it pays best in an automated fashion. Hence parking is really becoming just a commodity because domainers are going to send their traffic simply where their traffic pays best. This should force parking companies to inovate more but also will force them to cut their margins. At least some good news to domainers!
This is really happening now and will grow even more so in the future (that is if evil Google doesn’t force the ban of redirects). DomainSponsor is now receiving more than 10% of it’s publisher traffic via Above. For namedrive I estimate it’s likely to be more like 20%. That’s a lot of revenue.
Parking companies should quickly realize that they have to start inovating more to be able to get more traffic from domainers. They should look into alternative forms of monetization like zero-click, lead generation, CPA. Or their margins will be squeezed further and eventually the middlemen could be cut out entirely.
As parking is more commoditized it looks obvious that the parking companies that built up/acquired their own portfolios have a decent hedge against this. Owning the traffic is vital. From this point of view the smart parking companies have been Oversee, HitFarm, Parked, NameMedia – they all have very sizeable portfolios of their own. Sedo has something as well of it’s own, not huge though. But for example Namedrive and Trafficz (not completely sure about Skenzo) have very limited portfolios and hence the margin squeeze could effect them much more than the others.
The second thing that will be vital in the future is owning the advertiser relationships if you don’t want to be squeezed. Parking companies should start going more direct to advertisers, it is a necessity for the future. Because in the end we are pretty much reliant on Google. Google can squeeze all of us.
It’s likely we’re going to see some industry consolidation this year, probably at least one “blockbuster deal” for the industry, maybe even two. So what are my thoughts on this and what I think should happen?
I think this “blockbuster deal” will somehow involve Namedrive. Namedrive is the fastest growing parking company, they are very aggressive, smart and flexible. They have a strong foothold in Europe. They have a lot of expertize in monetizing international traffic (international traffic is the next battleground me thinks), especially using the AFD feed. My personal thought on this is that Oversee.net should take over Namedrive, it would be a pretty good fit. Oversee has just opened a Frankfurt office and they are clearly signalling they are interested in Europe. I think Skenzo could be a buyer as well. Sedo probably not, the antipathy between Namedrive and Sedo is simply too big.
Also, I see Fabulous really getting marginalized over the last 2 years. I think it’s an option for them to sell the parking side of their business. Could be a nice scoop up for Sedo, which seems to specialize on these smaller bolt on deals (e.g Parking Panel, acquiring the parking biz of Dotster etc).
On the Yahoo! side of the fence I can see potential of something happening. I can see Skenzo being acquisitive, they have the institutional capital and can make a move. Parked.com would be a decent target I think, it’s relatively small, could be picked up well and would be a good fit. HitFarm/Reinvent won’t probably take part in these consolidation games.
And then there are the deals that look unthinkable at the moment, but could happen. Oversee.net is probably looking for an exit eventually. It could be bought by somebody, likely coming from outside the direct domain business. Why not Google for example? Sounds crazy, you can never rule it out though. Could be an ad network as well, would be a pretty decent fit. Why not Verisign. Sounds even crazier. But they clearly have the fire power to do it. Something similar could happen with Sedo as well.
I’m just really thinking out loud here what can happen….