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DNS Deregulation (Part 1 of 3)

Alexa Raad
 (August 12, 2015)

The domain name system (DNS) market is going through significant change. Barriers to entry have dropped, as hundreds of new generic top-level-domains (TLDs) are being introduced. Substantial new sources of capital have invested in the market. While at the same time, overall domain name sales volume has slowed. Recent M&A activities suggest market consolidation focused on building scale. Greater transparency of wholesale and retail pricing shows some TLDs have raised wholesale prices, while simultaneously encouraging deep retail price discounts. Other TLDs have taken a different path, choosing to emphasize exclusivity and quality as a differentiator and as a bulwark against commoditization. These are all the hallmarks of a deregulating market.

The DNS market is generally divided into three major segments: “legacy” generic TLDs, country code TLDs and new gTLDs. Each of these segments is experiencing their own pressures due to deregulation with very few immune from any impact. In general, the legacy gTLDs (.com, .net, .org, .biz, .info, etc.) have the luxury of being the long-established incumbents which normally means scale, reach, stability and management talent. The legacy TLDs have been primarily consolidated within the control of Verisign, Neustar and Afilias — all for-profit companies. In contrast, the ccTLD segment is hugely fragmented. Although many are also long-established incumbents, each ccTLD is mostly a stand-alone entity focused on administering their country’s namespace. Most ccTLDs have some form of public benefit mandate and many are not-for-profits. Finally, there is the new gTLD segment that is an eclectic collection of incumbents, new entrants, ccTLDs and entrepreneurs.

The pressures of deregulation impinge upon each of the segments differently as well as uniquely on each of the players. Most ccTLDs are facing slowing to declining growth for the first time in their existence. Until recently, the predominant experience of ccTLD managers had been one of managing growth, in domains under management (DUM), budgets and staff. For the first time, some are now faced with looking inwards to cut budgets, lay off staff and dip into financial reserves. These challenges are often very personal and can distract the leadership from addressing urgent and changing market conditions or other business challenges.

The ccTLDs who have decided that their response to the changing market is diversification are then challenged to expand their revenue base and to find new and sustainable revenue sources beyond domain names. This often results in challenging discussions of the role of the ccTLD registry and where diversification fits with this role, with the inevitable potential clash with public benefit mandates and not-for-profit constraints.

What can ccTLDs do? The good news for many is that they have strong financial reserves and experience of managing change. The bad news is that the market is changing rapidly and ccTLD Boards may well have a harder time than the ccTLD management in grasping the implications or in making rapid decisions. In time, this can put the current leadership at odds with their boards at a time when alignment and collaboration is critical.

There are three areas that we are encouraging our ccTLD clients to focus on at this time: performance metrics, channel management and cost structure.

First, we look at performance metrics. Although we work within an industry that is awash with data, we are often surprised how little ccTLDs know and understand about their actual name base. Most measure statistics such as overall size, renewals, consecutive renewals, growth and seasonality. What we find is often missing are comparative metrics or content metrics that help management understand how their name spaces are being used or where potential vulnerabilities are. We call these metrics “canaries in the coalmine” and as early indicators of change they are critical in a rapidly changing market. We ask what percent of new creates have a website within 30-60-90 days?

Next, we encourage a more meaningful understanding of the registrar channel. Very often the efficacy of the registrar channel is measured via rudimentary metrics such as overall rank by DUM volume, new creates, and renewal rates. However, these methods often obfuscate real issues. The high growth registrars may be growing only by offering severe price cuts and taking exiting business from other registrars. If the registrar’s growth strategy is encouraging churn and a “race to the bottom”, without contributing to top-line growth, are they really “high growth” registrars? Instead we encourage our clients to ask: Which registrars are contributing to growth in proportion to their share of the TLD’s domains under management? And which registrars are “punching above their weight” and why?

Lastly, we consider costs. Taking a long and hard look at a registry cost structure is difficult if all you have known is the challenge of scaling for 8-11% growth for ten years+. Where do you start and how do you ensure savings are made in the right areas of the business? Benchmarking can be valuable, as can collaboration. Country code TLDs have the current benefit of mostly being non-competitive with their peers — although exceptions exist. This provides the opportunity for collaboration on cost restructuring that has been successfully performed in many other industries. Collaborative sourcing models, shared customer support infrastructure or alternative financial reporting approaches are possible. The DNS market is not the first to go through these difficulties and can look to other industries for proven solutions.

In this blog we have shared some of our observations on the challenges facing the ccTLD market. We look forward to sharing additional observations on the other market segments in future blogs.

By Alexa Raad, CEO of Architelos. Architelos provides consulting and managed services for clients applying for new top-level domains, ranging from new TLD application support to launch and turnkey front-end management of a new TLD. She can be reached directly at [email protected].



Good news for NameSentrySM customers current and new: A more flexible and lower price, plus automatic upgrades

Alexa Raad
 (June 17, 2015)

We are happy to announce additional functionality and a price change to the NameSentrySM product suite effective June 17, 2015.

When we announced a flat rate pricing plan for new gTLDs in May of 2014, most new gTLDs had not been launched. As a result, many new gTLDs only had projections for what their registration volumes would be, and varying expectations of what abuse they would encounter. Continue reading



Pricing & Promotions of TLDs - Is Your Billing System Holding You Back? THE SOLUTION

Norbert Grey
 (June 16, 2015)

As the leading consulting firm to the Domain Name industry, we work with many of the leading existing gTLDs, ccTLDs and new gTLDs. During our engagements we do a lot of listening (as well as work) and this gives us a unique perspective on the key challenges the industry is facing. Recently, we are hearing a lot of concern from many leading registries / registrars about their need for more dynamic pricing / promotions and the inability of their back-end providers to give them what they want to compete effectively in the marketplace. Continue reading



Measuring Success for gTLDs

Alexa Raad
 (May 24, 2015)

As recently mentioned by Ray King in this this guest post on TheDomains.com, Domains Under Management are no longer relevant as a measure of success since volume can be built relatively quickly with low-priced or free domains, and it is neither a measure of usage, quality, nor profitability of the TLD. I brought this up in June 2014 on my blog http://architelos.com/does-gtld-registration-volume-measure-success/ and wanted to expand on this subject.
“….More importantly, it’s not volume that is important, it is your back-to-basics business fundamentals.” Continue reading



What to Know About an ICANN Compliance Audit, and How to Handle One if You Are Selected?

Alexa Raad
 (April 7, 2015)

Now that new gTLD registries have been operating for more than a year, a few registries have already experienced going through an audit and a few more are now receiving notifications that they are next in line. For all, the process of going through an ICANN audit is a first. Once you receive the Request for Information (RFI), you will have 15 days to respond, or seek an extension of time. Extensions may be available on a case by case basis.

Origins

ICANN’s ability to request an audit comes from a Registry Operator’s contract with ICANN. Clause 2 contains all of the covenants (or “promises”) made by the Registry Operator (“Registry”) as to how it would run the registry. One of these covenants allows ICANN to audit them. Continue reading



Wait and See Approach on Abuse

Michael Young
 (December 15, 2014)

Wait and see approach on abuse attracts ICANN Stakeholder attention:

A few weeks ago I made a detailed argument as to why product safety applies to domains, just like it does to cars and high chairs. I also argued that good products equal good business or “economically advantaged” in the long run. Then I really made a strong statement, I said if we don’t actively engage other Internet stakeholders — those that interact with our products, we would eventually lose the opportunity to self-regulate. Continue reading



5 Common Misconceptions New Registries Have About Domain Revenue

Norbert Grey
 (November 21, 2014)

It is wonderful to see the floodgates open and see so many new gTLDs launch — 417 delegated as of October 4th. As registry senior management’s focus switches to operational matters post launch, it is now time to consider how the new registries will deal with revenue recognition and its impact on financial reporting. This is primarily the CFO’s responsibility, but senior management must be mindful that improper domain revenue accounting will lead to corporate reputational damage. In 2004 I faced this challenge as CFO of dotMobi, and I was then a new entrant to the industry. Since then, my experience as a finance executive within the domain industry has led to the realisation that there is widespread uncertainty on how to handle the accounting of domain revenue once you launch. CFOs and founders whose companies are entering the domain registry marketplace need to make sure they understand the complicated rules of revenue recognition from the start — or risk having to restate their financial statements in the future, under the critical gaze of investors, lenders or regulators.

Here are some misconceptions that exist, especially among new entrants. Continue reading



Domain Name Abuse Is a 4 Letter Word

Michael Young
 (November 12, 2014)

There has been a lot of back and forth recently in the ICANN world on what constitutes domain abuse; how it should be identified and reported AND how it should be addressed. On one side of the camp, we have people advocating for taking down a domain that has any hint of misbehaviour about it, and on the other side we have those that still feel Registries and Registrars have no responsibility towards a clean domain space. (Although that side of the camp is in steady decline and moving toward the middle ground). Domain abuse by the most common definition means domains registered for phishing, malware, botnets and domains advertised in spam. These activities are commonly recognized in most countries and jurisdictions as illegal or at least harmful. It’s important to note, however, that many Internet stakeholders consider other types of domain misuse just as abusive, and in some cases just as illegal. Common examples include Continue reading



Does gTLD Registration Volume Measure Success?

Alexa Raad
 (June 23, 2014)

For some time, the measure of success of a TLD was volume of registrations, or strictly speaking, Domains Under Management (DUMs). Who better than .com to validate the truth of that metric? More recently, this same metric has been applied to new gTLDs, especially those who achieve volume quickly, by whatever means necessary. These gTLDs are fawned over, written about, and effectively set up as the standard for other gTLDs to aspire to.

But I’d like to challenge that notion. The quick accumulation of Domains Under Management, is an outdated, if not outright incorrect, success metric. Here is why: Continue reading



The NameSentry Report: Benchmarking Abuse Levels in the Domain Name Industry

Alexa Raad
 (July 30, 2013)

On July 10th Architelos released the first NameSentry Report, benchmarking abuse levels in the domain name industry. For some time now, a debate has raged about the potential impact of new gTLDs on Internet safety and security, namely abusive registrations such as phishing, spam, malware, and so on. However, without benchmarking the current state, how can we realistically evaluate if new gTLDs have made any measureable difference in the level of abuse? Continue reading