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June 13, 2012, 2:48 p.m.
Business Models

Would you buy a .boston domain from The Boston Globe?

The newspaper has applied to be the registrar of .boston websites — a move that could mean new revenues or just a high upfront cost.

The Boston Globe wants to open up a new line of business: selling domain names.

The Globe is among a number of organizations that are vying for a new series of web suffixes like .yoga, .android, .hockey and .kindle. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the group responsible for deciding who gets to run these new domains, released its list of more than 1,900 applications today. On that long list of tech companies (Microsoft, Amazon, Google), retailers (Walmart), and companies of unknown provenance (lots of them) was the Globe, which wants to own .boston.

If the Globe is successful — and it’s the only entity seeking .boston; nine are going after .book — it would have the ability to sell domain names like (say) niemanlab.boston or redsox.boston. In its application, it says it would reserve certain addresses like (police.boston, mayor.boston, visit.boston) for the city and offer “a reduced rate” to community groups. (No details on pricing.)

For some businesses on the ICANN list, securing a TLD — top-level domain — is a defensive move to protect the brand (i.e., it’s in Amazon’s interest to secure .kindle). But for the Globe, the move is a mix of local boosterism and the eternal quest for revenue. If you’re a Boston company looking to get fancy with its web extension (gillette.boston? newbalance.boston?), the Globe would be the place to go. That’s important because ownership of .boston won’t come cheap: An approved application costs a non-insignificant $185,000. (The Globe would contract out to OpenRegistry to run the back end.)

When I spoke with Jeff Moriarty, vice president for digital products at the Globe, he said .boston domains would be an extension of the Globe’s mission to provide news and information for the city. “We’re really trying to think about ways we can make this .boston domain something that is good for the community, good for business, and really organize the local web in a new way,” he said.

Because they’re applying for a geographic domain the Globe had to ask (and was given) permission from the city. As they wrote in the application:

The .BOSTON TLD aims to become a new on line identity for the city of Boston, its inhabitants, companies, organizations and institutions, managed and supervised by The Boston Globe.

Given the fact that The Boston Globe (owned by Globe Newspaper Company, Inc.) has always been a major supporter of any activities being organized by or within the city of Boston, and provides up-to-date information to Bostonians and the world under its boston.com Web site, the city of Boston has provided a letter of support to TBG for the .BOSTON initiative. TBG’s Web sites currently receive more than 7 million unique visitors per [month], and have been in operation since 1995.

In a statement, Boston Globe publisher Chris Mayer said: “The Boston Globe sees the new domain extensions as a great opportunity to organize and promote Web sites for our innovative city and is pleased to have the endorsement of the City of Boston for this application. In the coming months, The Boston Globe and the City of Boston will release more details about our plans to manage the .boston Top Level Domain for the benefit of our city, its businesses, organizations and residents.”

If the application is approved, Moriarty told me the Globe would work with local groups interested in managing sites like northend.boston or dorchester.boston. “Town-name.boston or neighborhood name.boston — those are things we would look to work with communities on but wouldn’t operate,” he said.

“It’s obviously important for a business like ours to look for new opportunities and new ways to serve the community and businesses,” he said. “This is an opportunity to represent both.”

The Globe appears to be the only American newspaper to seek a TLD, but it’s not the only media company to submit an application to ICANN. Others include The Guardian (.gdn, .guardian, .guardianmedia), AOL (.aol, .patch), Sky (.sky) and CBS (.cbs, .showtime). (None of the applicants for .news seem to be news companies; no one bothered with .journalism.)

Newspaper companies are trying to find new ways to make money outside of advertising and circulation, and acting as a domain registrar could be a viable new source of revenue. That, of course, hinges on whether there are people interested in having a .boston site.

“It is different from what newspapers and media companies have done,” Moriarty said. “But we’re always looking for new opportunities,” Moriarty said.

There’s reason for some healthy skepticism there: Names tied to a city weren’t a big trend in the other ICANN registrants. (No one registered .chicago, .seattle, .dallas, .houston, .atlanta, .philly, or .denver. The City of New York is seeking .nyc.) And previous new TLDs haven’t exactly caught on — have you been to a .pro, .aero, or .coop domain lately? Large companies, in the name of brand protection, have often been willing to spend to buy up microsoft.everything or nike.everything. It’s unclear whether they’ll keep doing that in a world with almost 2,000 new TLDs. And the pricy quest for the perfect domain name has gotten less important in an age of Google search and URL shorteners.

Moriarty told me the Globe had plans for a number of .boston domains of its own: something like news.boston could be a possibility or, “something like common.boston that would be a forum or wiki of some kind.” But beyond that they would be open for business to any company (within reason) looking to take the extra step beyond .com. “You could see different destinations depending on how these new extensions take hold,” he said.

Of course, I had to ask whether they would apply it to either of their main news sites, which already suffer from a certain amount of brand confusion. “I don’t see Boston.boston, necessarily,” Moriarty said.

POSTED     June 13, 2012, 2:48 p.m.
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