WAY WE LIVE NOW
THE NEW ECONOMY
stocks may no longer be soaring, but the market
for Web addresses is getting tighter all the
time. By JOHN COOK
John Cook goes
looking for a Web address, but finds the
most obvious permutations of his own name
have already been snapped up.
"It's not for sale," says its
owner, Scott Day, a former watermelon
farmer in Oklahoma who has plans to start
a cooking Web site. Not for any sum?
"I don't think it would be
affordable to you. It wouldn't be
affordable for any individual."
"If it were just a cash deal, I'd
have to hold out for $25,000," says
David Cook, a Florida investor who once
owned the phone number 1-800-PHONECALL,
which he sold for $25,000.
"I'd probably sell it for upward of
$10,000," says Steve Anderson, the
C.F.O. of a Silicon Valley company.
"I think the dot-org domain names
are worth a lot less. A dot-com domain
name is worth 10 times a dot-org,
potentially. It's all in what the buyer's
willing to pay for it."
Network Solutions has the address
registered to a John Little of Cupertino,
Calif., but efforts to contact him were
"We're building a prototype of a
very cool cooking site, targeted more
toward pop-culture," says Firas
Bushnaq, who heads a firm known as
Ecompany and maintains that the name is
not for sale. But if it were?
"Anywhere from $100,000 to
"It was something that I tried to
do, and just didn't have time with
school," says Timothy Cook, a
16-year-old from West Melbourne, Fla.
"I couldn't see charging more than
the price it cost me, which is $100. I'd
have to talk to my dad."
"I registered the domain name for a
friend of mine a few years ago,"
says Rodney Joffe of Phoenix. "He
has yet to use it, but keeps making
noises. He has rejected offers because he
really wants it for himself, but my guess
is that he'd probably settle for a couple
arlier this month, the
Internet domain name www.drugs.com -- just the
name, nothing else -- was sold to an anonymous
buyer for $823,456 (which works out to about
$103,000 per letter). It was not the highest sum
ever paid for a domain name (many addresses,
including wallstreet.com and bingo.com, have
fetched $1 million or more), but it is evidence
of how the supposedly limitless World Wide Web is
running short on real estate.
According to Network Solutions, a company that
registers domain names, all you need to secure a
home on the Web is $70 and an unclaimed name with
no more than 22 characters. But that's not as
easy as it sounds: although a Network Solutions
representative says quality domain names are
"limited only by the imagination," most
experts agree that all the good names have been
taken -- by enterprising visionaries hoping to
turn a $70 investment into a retirement fund.
What makes a good name? For starters, dot-com
is the essential suffix. Dot-net and dot-org just
can't compare. Jeffrey Tinsley, the C.E.O. of
Great Domains, the company that brokered the sale
of drugs.com, explains: "Drugs.org or
drugs.net are worth something to someone, but
dot-com is the Internet's Rodeo Drive." (Of
course, any speculator knows that today's slum
can be tomorrow's hot neighborhood; Great
Domains' parent company holds the rights to
Domain names emerged as an object of intense
speculation around 1996, the year Great Domains
was founded. The people who got in the game early
often just stumbled across the idea. A typical
case might be Scott Day, an Oklahoma watermelon
farmer who in 1997 registered watermelon.com --
and in the process sensed a business opportunity.
He quickly snapped up several food-related names
(including cook.com, desserts.com and
barbecue.com), envisioning a Web-based culinary
empire. "Over 500 people a day type in
'cook.com' looking for recipes," says Day,
who gave up growing watermelons.
Many entrepreneurs control large blocks of
sites. Rick Schwartz, a Web developer in Boca
Raton, Fla., who was introduced to the domain
game as an operator of adult-entertainment sites,
has more than 3,000 titles, including
fishingtackle.com (which cost him just the $70
registration fee), sneaky.com ($3,000), men.com
($15,000), abuseexcuse.com ($70, after hearing
the term used on CNN in reference to Hillary
Clinton) and d-i-v-o-r-c-e.com (for $70, not in
honor of the Tammy Wynette classic but because it
would read well on a billboard). Though he's not
in the habit of selling domain names -- he
intends to develop businesses around all his
sites -- Schwartz did accept $100,000 for the
rights to eScore.com (from Kaplan Education
Services, the college-board prep company).
"I bought my mother a condominium on the
beach," he explains.
Other high-stakes addresses acquired in the
domain name rush include art.com (sold for more
than $450,000) and rock.com ($1 million).
Addresses with an 'e' or an 'i' before them --
like etoys.com -- are also considered hot; those
preceded by a number (4drugs.com) are getting
there, too. Even misspelled versions of famous
addresses -- like amazom.com and yahpp.com -- can
turn a profit, since they guarantee a certain
amount of traffic based solely on typos. No niche
market is too obscure to attract speculators.
"I've seen someone trying to sell
ostrichmeat.com for $5,000," says Ellen
Rony, co-author of the "The Domain Name
Internet experts believe that sooner or later
the naming system will have to change to
accommodate the Web's growth. Until it does,
however, promoters are hungry for any address
that will attract traffic, even if it's from
people who land there accidentally. "I know
of a young boy who wanted to check on a Nintendo
game called Zelda," Rony says. "So he
typed in zelda.com, and guess what? It's a porn
site. And he got into trouble for that from his
school. How could he know? It's a messy
Table of Contents
August 22, 1999