I thought that I’d take a break from the series on “Building a Business” and examine what underpins the domain sales market. There are a huge number of domain investors that have bought into the market purely to sell their assets onwards…..so is this a sensible thing to do?
In my investigation into the domain sales space I thought I’d first of all outline the two fundamental domain sales business models.
Domains as Stock Items
Stock item domains are those that sell for sub $2,500 and represent around 87% of domain sales by volume. The goal here is to move greater numbers of domains and NOT necessarily increase the sales price. The business focus is therefore to increase the stock-turn from 0.3% to say 0.6% of your domains per year….it’s all about speed and automation of transactions.
Think of these domains as the fast food end of the industry….so many people make the mistake of trying to sell their burgers at high end French restaurant prices. Not surprisingly they don't make any sales.
This business model is the bread and butter for companies like Afternic and Sedo who have done whatever they can to get wholesale domains exposed to potential buyers. You really need to have your domains listed in both these major marketplaces if you are to maximise your ROI for this business model. There are other markets but they are substantially smaller.
High Value Domain Sales
High value domains are typically single word .com or prominent ccTLDs (eg. .de, co.uk). There have been a few new gTLD sales for high value and this will increase as adoption of the new gTLDs become more widely accepted.
It should be noted that only about 1% of domain sales are over $50,000 in size. So the next time you try and push a buyer up over this amount you’re really in the stratosphere as far as typical domain sales are concerned.
So who wins in the domain sales market? The registries, registrars and governing bodies all get their fees when domains are renewed or first registered. The marketplaces take a commission on each sale and the buyer secures their long-lost domain. The seller…..well in some cases they win but not always.
Back in 2013 Sedo produced a wonderful infographic that outlined Sedo domain name sales and the fact that they conducted $70.5m for 37,241 domains. This provided an average $1893 per sale and a median of $577.
So why am I reviewing this bit of history? Let’s imagine Sedo did around $100m in 2016 and I think I’m pretty safe guessing they are about 33% of the market. Afternic is the other 33% with everyone else (private sales included) are the remaining third. This means the total domain sales aftermarket industry is around $300m per year. This is not big by global standards.
What’s interesting is that it also means that around 100,000 domains are sold each year in the aftermarket. Given there are approximately 340 million domains registered in the world these sales represent about 0.03% of the total domain market.
If all of the averages play out and you have a portfolio of 1,000 domains, then you should hope to sell 0.31 domains per year at an average price of $1893. This means your average revenue line will be $584 per year. Assuming an expense line of $10,000 for your renewals you are a long way short of the mark.
To have a profitable business you need to believe that your domains are 17.12 times higher quality than the average in the world. I calculated this by taking the direct costs of $10,000 and dividing it by the expected average revenue line of $584 for the year. This of course assumes domains are re-registered each year due to economically rational reasons…..which is not always the case.
If you sold $5,000 last year then your domains are only half as good as the average in terms of quality. On the other hand, if you sold $20,000 then your domains are on average twice as high quality than the average. There are a lot of questions in here such as, did you sell one domain at $20,000 and received no offers on any others……but let’s stick with the averages for now.
I should also state up front that I’m ignoring the cost of your time. Sadly, most people ignore this cost and continue to run their businesses more like a hobby.
So why do domain investors hold onto their stock? I’ve concluded that many people approach domains as something on the side which they hope will blossom into a lottery sized windfall one day.
It’s so easy to read about huge domain sales and hope that if you just hold on a little longer than it will happen to you. Hope is a very dangerous thing if you've just mortgaged your house to take “advantage” of the domain opportunity.
So why am I laying out these numbers? Have I decided to become a cosmic killjoy and rain on everyone’s parade? No….but I hope to bring a dose of reality. Domain sales is a really tough game and if you are new to this industry then don’t expect to make an instant killing.
If you’ve been sitting with a portfolio of domains and wondering why you can’t make ends meet, then just do the maths. I hate to say it but the market has valued your domains and most of them should be dropped. Why renew something for the last ten years if you’ve never received an offer?
What the larger portfolio owners believe is their expertise combined with scale will allow them to become profitable. Along the way, they also get other income streams from their domains (eg. revenue from traffic) that help cover some of the renewal fees. Even still, many of the more skilled industry players have been reducing the size of their portfolio to remain profitable.
Ultimately, the question that every portfolio owner needs to answer is whether they are 17.12 times smarter than the average domain purchaser. By the way…..as I’ve outlined above, this is one of those cases where you can actually measure how good you are.
If you come up short, then think about getting a mentor who has a lot more experience in the industry than you do. It could be the best investment you’ve ever made and either save or make you a lot of money.