As the Internet continues to sprawl, virtual
locations once available for a $70 registration fee now command
thousands, even millions of dollars.
Expect to pay dearly for Web addresses that are easy to
remember, choice real estate akin to New York's Madison Avenue or
Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive. Otherwise, go to the suburbs or
Business.com went for a record $7.5 million in November. The
asking price for America.com? $10 million.
Simply put, the best words are gone. There is a cottage industry
buying and selling the domain names that precede ".com,"
".net," and ".org" in Web addresses, and Internet regulators
are already considering adding new categories, such as ".info" or
"It's estimated that 97 percent of names in Webster's has been
registered," said Tim Pluma, director of sales and marketing at
name broker GreatDomains.com. "The opportunity for a company to
own their preferred or desired domain name is extremely limited."
While some companies paid premiums to reclaim trademarks in the
past, Pluma said the market for generic names has exploded in the
last year or so.
WallStreet.com sold for $1 million in April. Autos.com went for
$2.2 million last month. Scores of other names, including
internet.com and tv.com, got five or six figures.
Speculators grabbed many of the names in years past. In other
cases, owners setting up a real business found the name worth more
than their venture. Kelly Britt, previous owner of Autos.com, said
his auto referral service generated only $8,000 each month.
Steeped in ideals of equality and democracy, the Internet is
viewed as a place where computer users can share knowledge without
regard for status or location. Yet many of the traditional
principles of competition reappear as virtual world meets real
"It was the land of opportunity, and then the opportunists came
and seized on that opportunity," Britt said. "A gold rush cannot
Don Heath, president of the Internet Society, does not believe
trading names is appropriate but acknowledges little can be done.
His Virginia-based group is devoted to protecting the Internet's
"Free market forces are driving the Internet in its phenomenal
growth," he said, "and this trading in domain names is a
byproduct of that environment."
Some 100 Web sites now offer name brokering services, holding
auctions or soliciting private bids for thousands of names.
Jake Winebaum, acting chief executive of business.com, was
willing to pay $7.5 million for the right name now, figuring he
could save on promotion and marketing costs later. He envisions
business.com as a comprehensive site for business services and
Such prices are for addresses only, with the underlying
businesses costing extra. It's like buying the land without the
Still, businesses can succeed without simple names that directly
identify their products. Take Yahoo!, a leading Web site despite
its ambiguous name. Or Amazon.com, a name with no hint of books,
music or movies.
Computer users can still register new names, but they generally
must combine two or more words, settle for an acronym or make up a
word from scratch.
Network Solutions Inc., the leading name registration company,
counted about 3.4 million names registered in the first nine months
of last year equal to all past years combined. Network Solutions
charges $70 per name for the first two years and $35 a year after
A simple name does not guarantee a windfall. Owners of
Year2000.com, a Y2K Web site, are still seeking bids after $10
million offers turned out to be hoaxes. Journalist.org and its
plural companion received no bid during a recent eBay auction
despite a modest starting price of $4,000.
And a good name does not automatically mean good products,
though the right domain name can help.
Want to buy a car? Many Web users will first try Autos.com, just
to see if it works. So CarsDirect.com bought that name last month.
Autos.com now brings visitors to CarsDirect.
Before owners of WallStreet.com sold the name, the empty site
received up to 17,000 visits a day from people just typing "wall
street" into a browser.