There will be plenty of free and low cost domain registration options, but don’t expect them to have a big impact on the domain registration market.
I’ve had a number of conversations with people over the past month about the idea of free (as in no cost) domain names.
Will some new top level domain applicants give their domains away for free? Will this upend the market for domain registrations?
In short, I think the answers are “yes” to the former and “no” to the later.
First, it’s important to distinguish that there are two types of “free”.
One type is where you get a free domain that is tied to a service. The service may be free, but you are restricted to using your free domain only with that service. An example would be if Google gave free .blog domains but you had to use its Blogger platform with the domain.
To me, that’s not like getting a free domain. It’s like getting a Facebook or Blogger account because your domain is always at the mercy of the service provider.
The other type of free is literally free — just register whatever domain you want at no cost.
This isn’t a new idea. .TK gives away free domains and has found a way to monetize them. (It’s worth noting that .TK has a cost advantage over new TLD applicants in that it doesn’t have to pay 43 cents to ICANN for each domain registration.)
We will certainly see a number of free domain names. (But don’t expect them to be available at .free. There are five applications for .free but none of them indicate they will give domains away for no cost.)
Would this upend the registration market? Would people take a free domain over one that costs $10?
I doubt it.
Free or low cost domains are a good marketing tool. .Info has built a hefty registration base by offering domains at a steep discount (nearly free) for the first year with full registration fees thereafter. .Cn also built (and later threw away) a strong base with 14 cent domain registrations.
But many people who take advantage of these offers use the cheap registrations as throw away domains, sometimes for nefarious purposes. Indeed, offering free domain names comes with risks.
I think the prospect of free domains changing the registration market is overblown. There will be plenty of free or nearly free domain options. They will compete well against each other and non.com and non.ccTLD domains.
But at the end of the day, people aren’t going to let $10 get between themselves and the domain they really want.