This is the first in a series of articles about the domain name industry in 2020. See the others here.
The biggest story worldwide this year was the COVID-19 pandemic, and its impact on the domain name industry is the biggest story of the year about domains.
I remember chatting with a couple of colleagues at NamesCon in Austin in January. We all said we weren’t very concerned about the novel coronavirus. You can’t blame us; there have been many other viruses that have caused panic but didn’t hit the United States’ shores or spread worldwide.
We were wrong, of course. I blame a lack of direct experience with pandemics, and it’s a reminder to stick to domain names, not epidemiology.
I think back to NamesCon and think about how thankful I am that I went. I’m glad I got to connect with my domain industry family before everything was shut down.
When the “virus hit the fan” in March, both domain investors and companies’ initial reaction was one of caution. The pandemic shut down the economy. People were worried and putting off big expenditures. Surely, this would negatively impact domain names?
Well, yes and no.
On the positive side, businesses rushed to move from offline to online models. In May, Tucows CEO Elliot Noss remarked:
We are seeing first-hand the rush for offline businesses to market, transact and fulfill online. We are seeing years of economic transformation jammed into weeks or months…
Domain name registrars reported record-breaking jumps in business.
It wasn’t all roses, though. GoDaddy laid off employees who did outbound sales to businesses that had to close, and shuttered its Austin office.
The domain aftermarket was a mixed bag and it depends on who you ask. I had my best year yet in terms of $1k-$5k domain sales.
The top end of the market might have been a bit weak, though. Some brokers have told me that volume at the high end was down. Some brokers will tell you otherwise, but it’s clear that the second quarter of 2020 saw a halt in business. Escrow.com, which provides a good proxy for domain sales because its metrics include private sales, reported a huge drop in dollar volume in Q2. It rebounded in Q3, though.
Ron Jackson’s DNJournal year-to-date chart also shows softness at the top end compared to last year.
And, despite (or maybe because of) the pandemic, people continue to pay high wholesale prices for domains on expired domain platforms.
And NamesCon? Well, instead of a return trip to Austin next month, you’ll have to meet up with friends at NamesCon Online.