Page Howe has made millions buying and selling domain names, a trade that’s led to his unlikely new gig: official salesman for the Southeast Asian nation of Laos.
That country has been trying for more than a decade to sell websites ending in its official Internet country code – “.la” – to L.A. businesses, but so far with little payoff. Since Laos started renting out dot-la domain names in 2000, fewer than 50,000 dot-la sites have been sold.
Those lackluster sales pushed marketing outfit Dot LA Marketing, a London company with an outpost in Hollywood that operates the registry for dot-la sites, to hire Howe last month to try his hand at popularizing the geographically based extension among L.A. companies.
“I work for Laos, essentially, for lack of a better word,” Howe said.
Dot LA makes dot-la domain names available through Web hosting companies such as Go Daddy, but the firm hopes to make its real money – and continue to pay rent to Laos – by selling off a trove of 2,000 premium names. That’s where Howe comes in, helping the marketing firm price valuable domain names such as Cash.la or Exterminators.la at up to $15,000.
His dot-la consulting gig might be a side project by income, but the Burbank native said his determination to create a viable L.A. community online is his real passion.
“If I build a great dot-la for everybody, then I’ve built a great dot-la for myself,” he said.
Open for business
A simple and easy-to-remember Web address can make an online business.
But these days, it’s tough – and expensive – to snatch prime domain-name real estate. A local insurance company, for instance, has little chance of grabbing Insure.com, a domain purchased in 2009 for $16 million by online marketing firm QuinStreet Inc.
That’s why some L.A. businesses have already staked a dot-la claim. Howe estimates that the registry is signing up 1,000 to 2,000 dot-la names a month. And while some intend to build sites full of their own content, others are buying domains to simply protect their brand.
Managing Director Paul Bricault of startup accelerator Amplify LA, which operates online through Amplify.la., said dot-la was an easy way to reinforce the accelerator’s mission to build a startup community in the city.
“Our mission is L.A.,” he said. “If we were a commerce company and selling to 52 states and Canada, then having dot-la might not be an obvious or relevant domain.”
For Cyrus Batchan, owner of bar and lounge Lock & Key in Koreatown, the dot-la serves as a future central hub for additional venues. He owns not only LockandKey.la, but also domains for dot-kr and dot-tw in anticipation of expanding the bar’s brand and adding locations in South Korea and Taiwan. Right now, those Asia-based domains redirect to the original dot-la site.
“To build a brand, take it overseas and represent that we’re coming from the U.S., that we’re coming from L.A., is one of the reasons why we chose the dot-la,” he said.
Even L.A.’s city government has joined the dot-la movement, setting up a zoning initiatives site at Recode.la.
Howe knows pages
Howe is now leveraging his webpage know-how to try to convince more L.A. businesses to join those early dot-la adopters.
The former financial planner’s early online ventures burst with the first Internet bubble, leaving him with a handful of URLs that soon turned into a profitable domain-name-flipping business. His biggest sales were Seniors.com for $1.8 million and Guy.com for $1 million.
The affable “domainer” continues to sit on a supply of 22,000 domain names, selling 40 to 50 names a month.
His ability to recognize desirable and rare domain names is a big reason why Dot LA called him to price thousands of premium dot-la names.
Yellowpages.la will cost you $4,500. E-Cigarettes.la is available for $14,500. That doesn’t include the much smaller annual rate a business would pay to hold on to a domain name, but Howe pitches these buys as smart investments.
Part of the marketing effort also includes attracting businesses that will pioneer the growth of the dot-la community. Dot LA is offering what it sees as discounted prices on extremely valuable names, sometimes 50 percent off what Howe said will be the name’s eventual worth. DreamHomes.la and Foreclosures.la have already been scooped up, for instance, though Howe declined to share how much they sold for. Those websites will be up and running within a month.
“Dot-com can’t serve every need of every person worldwide,” he said. “Having these little segments, like dot-la or dot-tv, that’s where some of the growth will be in the next five to 10 years.”
End of dot-com?
So far, there are fewer than 50,000 dot-la sites, a tiny figure compared with the 114 million registered websites using dot-com, by far the most popular domain used on the Internet.
But as other countries follow Laos’ lead and take advantage of their attractive domains, and as more new domains get registered, dot-com could see its market dominance slide.
Tuvalu, a tiny Pacific island that sits between Hawaii and Australia, rents out its country code of dot-tv – a domain already seeing more use as new-media sites such as West Hollywood video platform Pluto.tv emerge.
Venice music-streaming site Radical.fm already takes advantage of the Federated States of Micronesia’s dot-fm domain. And Montenegro’s dot-me is often seen tagged for personal blogs.
Those sites, while funding faraway countries, also indicate a larger online movement that is leaving the congested dot-com space.
A new program under the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, headquartered in Playa Vista, has begun making hundreds of new generic domains available, from industry domains such as dot-construction to geographically based ones such as dot-vegas.
Today, there are 3.7 million registrations under the new program. And as Icann nears registering 1,300 new domains, the dot-com era could one day come to a close.
“It’s stunning to me how people treat the Internet as something that is essentially tapped out as far as innovation goes,” said Kurt Pritz, executive director of the Domain Name Association. “Really, we’re probably still in the beginning.”