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Ron Jackson is well respected in the domain industry. His online publication, Domain Name Journal, covers the industry with an unmatched level of professionalism. Not surprising considering his background. Ron attended broadcasting school after high school and finished in the top 3 of his class. He worked as a news director at an AM station, WDLR, in his hometown of Delaware, Ohio. When Uncle Sam came calling during the Viet Nam war, he landed a position state side in the fort’s press office where contributed to radio shows and the newspaper, which won awards during his tenure. He later majored in journalism at Ohio State. Soon Ron was working as a TV weatherman and then to sportscaster for 15 years. Embarking on a new career, Ron opened a local record store and music mail order business and enjoyed the business until the internet made downloading music the method of choice.
Ron’s third career led him to the domain world, which at the time, had no industry trade coverage. Ron changed that with Domain Name Journal, which is a staple read in the diet of any domainer. Whether you’re looking for the latest industry news or keeping track of sales on the DN Journal Weekly Sales Report, Ron has it covered. But it’s not just news. Ron is the founder of Internet Edge, the publisher of Domain Name Journal. The company’s primary activities involve web publishing, internet advertising, domain name registration and domain sales. The company owns more than 6,000 generic domains which are utilized in different ways.
Was there a certain event that attracted you to domain names? What caused you to change your career focus in this direction?
Yes, there was. In 2000, after file sharing (downloading songs at no charge from the Internet) and DVD burning wiped out our brick and mortar music retail stores (as they did thousands of others), I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. For a couple of years I tried to keep the music business afloat as a mail order only operation but the handwriting was on the wall.
The game changer for me came in the spring of 2002. I happened to be leafing through a copy of PC World magazine when I saw a full page ad placed by the .US registry (Neustar) announcing that the .US extension was now open for all Americans to use. It had previously been reserved for government use, most often employed by cities, school systems and local law enforcement agencies. I knew next to nothing about domains, but did remember how hard it had been to find a good unregistered music-related .com domain for our store to use in the late 90s (I settled on MusicParadise.com). I thought this new .US thing made a lot of sense for local businesses and that it would make available a lot of the good commercial terms that I knew were long gone in .com.
I also remembered how our website had allowed us to reach people all over the world at a fraction of the cost of the national magazine ads we had been using to reach mail order music buyers. Being online also meant the massive overhead of running a brick and mortar operations could be eliminated. I recognized that the Internet was going to disrupt countless other businesses in the years ahead and I decided that whatever venture I tried next would be based on the web. So started thinking about businesses I might like to be in and then checked to see if keywords defining those businesses were available in either .com or the newly liberalized .US extension.
In the course of doing that research I stumbled upon a domain name forum (DNForum.com) where, to my amazement, I learned that the buying and selling of domain names was a business in its own right! When I saw this market existed it was one of the most exciting discoveries of my life. As a writer I always had a great appreciation for language and to think you could own words and buy or sell them just like a record or CD was the coolest thing I could imagine. I was instantly hooked and started registering domains left and right. Like all newbies I made plenty of mistakes, but over time I learned what worked and what didn’t and built a decent revenue stream though selling and monetizing domains.
As I started becoming acquainted with people in the business I learned that many of them had incredible rags to riches stories that were right up there with Horatio Alger. No one was telling those stories and as a journalist I felt they were just too good to go untold. So on New Year’s Day 2003, I launched DNJournal.com and started writing about the people and companies in the domain industry and sharing some of the things I had learned. It was meant to be just a hobby publication so I was as surprised when businesses started asking to advertise on it. DNJ wound up taking on a life of its own and eventually became my primary business – one that now takes the almost all of my time.
You cover just about every domain industry event with professional, polished writing and a deep knowledge of the people. You include photos to help tell the stories you write about. You have been featured and cited by major publications. Is this what makes DNJournal.com stand out from the other domain news sources?
I think it initially stood out simply because it provided the first professional coverage of the industry and people in the business were excited that someone was writing about it on a regular basis. I was lucky to be the writer who stumbled upon it when I did. The fact that I was in the business myself gave my writing added credibility and the passion that I had for domains was obvious and I think appealing to readers who all shared that same passion.
As time went on and blogs became popular, more people started writing about domains. Today it is hard to find anyone who is NOT writing about them! I think the reason that DNJ still stands out it remains different from the other publications out there. It is an online magazine rather than a blog. My interest has always been in long-form in-depth feature writing and though that is not particularly fashionable in the short attention span world we live in today, it is a major differentiator. Those kinds of articles, unlike breaking news blurbs, also have “legs”. Personality profiles I wrote for Cover Stories years ago still get constant traffic today.
Photography plays a major role for several reasons (not the least of which is that I just love taking pictures). The photos match faces with the names I talk about and they add interest to long blocks of text, pulling people through stories they might not have otherwise committed their time to. Over the past seven years I have built a unique industry photo library that has been a great asset for DNJournal.
In your bio, you mention “I feel that domains are what I was really born to do.” You have an exciting past working in broadcasting and meeting sport celebrities. It’s hard to imagine the domain industry being more exciting that that. In comparison, are domains truly your passion?
Absolutely. I think a lot of that goes back to having an “ownership” interest in domain names. My previous careers in radio, TV were glamorous and gave me a chance to meet dozens of celebrities, however I was just writing or talking about people who had skills I didn’t have (musicians, sports stars, etc). In music, I could (and did) own thousands of records, and later CDs, but as “assets” there is no comparison between those things and good domain names, each of which gives you instant access to an inexpensive, global communications platform that is unparalleled in the history of mankind.
There are very few records (and almost no CDs) that will ever sell for as much as $10,000 (especially with today’s consumers buying their music as “files” rather than tangible objects). By contrast, good domain names are frequently developed into businesses that earn that much money every WEEK (and you don’t have to give up the asset in return)! Even undeveloped domains of high quality can earn more than $10,000 annually through PPC (pay per click) or some other form of monetization, such as CPA (cost per action) or lead generation.
Domains also have amazing versatility. Just like real world real estate, you can erect a structure (a business) on one and years down the road if the prospects for that business decline, you can tear that structure down and build a new one on the same location. As an asset class, I don’t see anything else that offers that kind of versatility and long term value, including real world real estate which has dramatically higher carrying costs than domain names do.
Five years ago this month, you interviewed Brian Null, founder of MO.com. What has changed in the industry in that period of time?
Just about everything. In fact, it seems like everything in this business changes every five weeks! However, I would say that the single biggest change since we did our Cover Story on Brian (which incidentally was one of the most popular stories we have ever run) has been a massive decline in PPC revenue. In 2005, when there weren’t as many end users (real world businesses) searching for domain names as there are now, many of the buyers were domain investors who based what they would pay on the PPC revenue from domain names.
Now that Google and Yahoo have decided to keep almost all of the revenue from domain-generated traffic for themselves and throw only a few pennies to the domain owners who provide that traffic, the landscape is considerably different. Domain owners are searching for alternatives which has led to an explosion of interest in domain development as well as a bigger emphasis on aftermarket sales.
Interestingly, despite the recession and the drop in PPC revenue, domain sales have held up quite well. Mainstream businesses now realize the importance of getting online and they are buying domain names as the foundation for the web endeavors. Those businesses are looking for memorable brands and most are not even aware of PPC, so the fact that PPC revenues have declined has not had a big impact on sales prices.
When there is a problem new companies always arise to offer a solution and there are great rewards for those who succeed in creating a solution that really works. The PPC drop has generated all kinds of new monetization services, including those that instantly turn domains into ecommerce or informational websites. Most have had mixed results because they are still heavily dependent on search engine rankings, but some have shown promise and produced improved payouts over standard parking solutions. The good thing is that we are seeing innovation that could lead to a breakthrough that will bring riches to both the company that comes up with the solution and to owners of good domain names.
I still believe that the real home runs are most likely to come from developing a site on your own devoted to a subject or business that you are truly passionate about. If you build something good enough to attract direct advertiser relationships or customers who want a product you are selling, then you have real freedom from the whims of the search engines and a revenue stream that will dramatically outperform any other form of monetization. Developing is a completely different animal than Domaining though. It requires a heck of a lot more work and because of that, it isn’t something you can scale across hundreds of domain names. Still the rewards from one hit site make it worth the effort. I combine multiple revenue strategies. The developed site, DNJournal.com, is the most important and rewarding one, followed by aftermarket sales then, a distant third, is PPC monetization.
What has been your favorite story to cover in the years since you launched DNJournal?
That is like asking which one of your kids is your favorite! I couldn’t choose just one. As a group, the ones I have most enjoyed are the Cover Story profiles of successful people in the industry. I think they are very inspirational articles that any entrepreneur would love, whether or not they even know what a domain is. Every one I have written over the years is still available in our Cover Story archive: http://www.dnjournal.com/archive/coverstory-archive.htm.
Among the ones that have been very popular with readers are profiles of:
Michael Berkens (“The Untold Story Behind The Best Kept Secret in the Domain Business”)
The current Cover Story about Chad Folkening (Broken Field Run: How Domain Investor/Developer Chad Folkening Went from Mowing Lawns to Buying Mansions) is also well on its way toward being one of our most popular stories.
New entrepreneurs are moving in and out of the domain space all the time. Do you feel there is still opportunity in domains for people getting started today or has that opportunity been missed?
I think there absolutely are still major opportunities in the domain business for newcomers. The only opportunity that has been missed is getting great .com keywords at low cost. The pioneers from the 1990s took advantage of that remarkable opportunity (even though people back then told them they were wasting their money buying domains) and today they are being rewarded for it. The opportunities are still there, they are just in different places – and new places are constantly opening up.
Over the past couple of years we have seen an explosion in ccTLD interest and sales and that is just one example. As millions of businesses go online each year there are other areas that are likely to mature and explode like kernels of popcorn in hot oil. None of us can say for certain what those areas will prove to be (you do your research, follow your gut instincts, pay your money and take your chances, as with any other investment). Different people are excited by different things including IDNs, re-purposed ccTLDs like .TV, .CO and .ME, under utilized ccTLDs that represent major global economies like .US and .CA, etc. Others advise buying the best .coms you can afford as that remains the dominant extension and, even though prices are no longer cheap, demand for good names in the extension that is synonymous with the Internet itself is not likely to diminish.
There are almost as many strategies as there are people. Some will pay off and some won’t but there are many paths to the mountain top – fortunes will be made in a number of ways. I am still as bullish on domains as I have ever been – actually more so because I am seeing the things I invested in early on really starting to flower and generate nice returns now. Years of Internet growth provided the water for those seeds and the web is only becoming more important with each passing year.
I am so thankful I discovered this business. It has carried me unscathed through the worst downturn I’ve ever seen in the general economy and it holds out the promise of even greater rewards in the years ahead. How can you not love a business like that?