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August 27, 2012

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David Beats Goliath (Again): How The Author of "The Domain Game" Overcame Some BIG Obstacles and Got His Landmark Book Into Print

David Kesmodel
Author of The Domain Game

By Ron Jackson 

After hearing many accolades for David Kesmodel's book, The Domain Game, I finally got a chance to judge for myself after picking up a copy from David when we both sat on a panel at the 2008 GeoDomain Expo in Kesmodel's hometown - Chicago.

After reading it I can say that the book deserves all of the acclaim it has received. Having read Kesmodel's earlier articles about the domain business in the online edition of the Wall Street Journal, I was confident that he would present an accurate and balanced view of the industry in his book. Though he is a young man, Kesmodel clearly exhibits old school journalistic values. He sticks to the facts and avoids injecting his own opinions and biases into the subject matter he writes about. 

Those values are not as prevalent as they once were in mainstream journalism, so I am thankful that the first in-depth book about domain history and how people have made fortunes in this field was written by a reporter of Kesmodel's caliber. 

To find out more about what went into the making of The Domain Game, I got together with Kesmodel for the interview below. In a story you haven't heard before, Kesmodel tells us how the process unfolded, how he managed to get the book into print after the original publisher pulled out, what he would do differently if he had a second chance and what the domain industry could do to clean up its image. In short, here is the inside story of how Kesmodel produced his inside story of the domain industry: 

DN Journal: First let me congratulate you on the excellent job you did in researching and writing The Domain Game. I donít think anyone could read it without appreciating the hard work and attention to detail that went into the book. The end result is an essential reference for anyone who wants to learn about the domain business, its history and the key players who have shaped this unique industry.  In your reporting career you have covered a lot of compelling business stories. What was it about the domain industry that captivated your attention to the degree that you were willing to commit the time and effort necessary to write a book about it?

David Kesmodel: Thank you, Ron. I was drawn to the people in the industryóthe bold thinkers and risk takers who spend most of their waking hours investing in domains. Some of them are pretty colorful characters. I was also curious about how secretive much of the industry is. I thought I could write a compelling book that showed how leading domain investors became successful, while also shedding light on how this little-understood and fast-changing business works. Long before I wrote about domains, I was intrigued, like many people, by the news stories about names that changed hands for millions of dollars. But I wanted to dive beneath the surface and know a lot more about the individuals and companies that made up this market. I was also attracted to the challenge of weaving together the seemingly loosely connected events involving domains from the past 15 years or soómany of which hadnít been written about in great detailóand showing how they fit together and resulted in the dynamic market we have today.

DN Journal: You wound up getting some great inside stories from many domain pioneers. The section on Scott Day, who gave you a great account of how he found success in the business, was worth the price of the book. However, as you were researching the book I know that some people were reluctant to talk to you. Once the book came out some of those who had declined to share their stories said they wished they had participated. Given your previous track record of covering the industry in a fair and accurate manner, why do you think it was so hard to get those people to co-operate?

David Kesmodel: I suspect there were a lot of factors at play. Some people probably were afraid that I might write a book that largely focused on the negative aspects of the industry, and whether or not they were involved in the negative side, they didnít want to be included in such a book. I also think many domain investors are private people, and they just didnít feel comfortable with the idea of spending hours with an author talking about themselves. Itís often a much bigger deal to do an interview for a book than for a newspaper article.

Scott Day - one of the domain pioneers 
featured in The Domain Game

Another issue is that a lot of domain investors donít like to talk about their investment strategies and specific names they ownóand how they acquired themófor competitive reasons. So I think some investors just didnít see much to gain from talking to me. They might have felt that it wasnít worth the headache of figuring out what they could tell me and what they should leave out.  

Finally, I have a little doubt that some domain investors didnít want to talk because they have been involved in the shadier aspects of the industry and wanted to limit their exposure in the book.  

DN Journal: Now that the book is out, what kind of reaction have you gotten from the many people that you wrote about in The Domain Game?  

David Kesmodel: There are a number of people I havenít heard from, but the reactions Iíve received have been very positive. I think domain investors, by and large, feel that I did my homework and was fair in my approach. One of the things Iím proud of is that some veteran investors told me they first learned about a number of events from reading my book, and that they were surprised at some of the discoveries.  

DN Journal: Writing a book is a major undertaking that requires you to commit a significant piece of your life to getting it done. How long did the project take from start to finish and what were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome and sacrifices you had to make along the way to get The Domain Game into print?  

David Kesmodel: I signed a book contract in September 2006 and turned in the manuscript in March 2007, so the heavy lifting was done in about six months. The publisher, Thomas Nelson, told my agent it wanted the book done in six months, which isnít a lot of time for an author, so I felt I had to quit my job and work my tail off to write a decent book. I would have liked to have had a full year.  

The biggest challenge was figuring out how to manage my time. I had to do a lot of research and a lot of interviews in a brief period. A big hurdle was to quickly identify which investors Iíd highlight in the bookóand then persuade them to participate. Some friends whoíve written books advised me to start writing the manuscript early, even while my research was incomplete, and I was very glad I heeded their advice. I was still doing interviews up to the last week. The sacrifices were many. In those six months, I worked about 18 hours a day every day of the week and barely did anything fun, as my wife will attest. The main sacrifices were made by my wife and oldest daughter. They didnít see me much, and my wife didnít get much help around the house.  

DN Journal: You wound up publishing The Domain Game yourself after your original publisher backed out of the project. I have heard people question whether there is enough mainstream interest in domains to make a book profitable  - was that the reason behind the publisherís decision? Why did you feel the level of interest was high enough to make it work and what can you tell people about the pros and cons of going the self-publication route, which is one Iím sure others are considering for their own projects.  

David Kesmodel: Yes. Thomas Nelson received my manuscript in March 2007 and had an editor start working on it. But two months later, the new head of business books sent my agent an email and said he was pleased with the manuscript but was canceling the project because he didn't think it had enough sales and marketing potential. It was very disappointing. Obviously, the previous head of business titles had approved the project. I thought there would be enough interest to make the book profitable because millions of people use the Web, and many have become very interested in domain names. Plus, I felt the stories of people becoming hugely successful financially after starting with little would be inspiring to a wide range of people in business. 

I decided to self-publish using a service called Xlibris, and am happy to say that, when I receive my next royalty check in a couple of months, I will have made this a profitable venture, although it's a very modest profit at this point. The upside of self-publishing is that you have control over what your book looks like and when it goes on the market. And you can go out and do deals with marketing partners, etc. The downside, and it is a big one, is you have to do the marketing yourself. And it's very hard to get mainstream press reviews for a self-published title. It's also very difficult to get your books into brick-and-mortar stores. I've decided to focus my attention on Web distribution and marketing, and Xlibris has alliances with top names like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. In addition, Eurocom Books is publishing and marketing the book outside the U.S.  

Kesmodel at a book signing party at the GeoDomain Expo in Chicago - July 2008

DN Journal: Having gone through the process, knowing what you know now, would you do it again? If yes, are there any things you would do differently?  

David Kesmodel: I would still do it, but first I would find a publisher that shows greater enthusiasm for the project. Even when I landed my contract, and while I was racing to meet the deadline, I had a weird feeling about Thomas Nelson. I never felt I was much of a priority and had a nagging sense that something was going to go wrong. In that sense, it wasn't shocking that they pulled the plug. Regardless of this setback, I remember thinking one late, solitary night while working on the manuscript that no matter what happened to the book--whether it made it onto bookshelves and whether it made money--I would always relish the time I spent interviewing people like Frank Schilling and Scott Day and typing up their tales.  

Among other things I would do differently is spend more time traveling to meet domain investors face to face. Limited time and funds caused me to keep travel at a 

minimum. But I think the expense would have been worth it to secure more interviews, which would have made the book stronger. And I might have been able to persuade more of the reluctant domainers to play ball if I just showed up in person.  

DN Journal: There is a certain addictive quality about domain names. Once exposed to them it is hard to put them out of your mind. Having researched the industry so thoroughly did you get bitten by the domain bug in any way with respect to registering or buying domains of your own?  

David Kesmodel: I did a little bit, and I registered a few names. Some of those are to promote the book. But I'm so busy with my job and family life that I haven't felt that I've had enough time to invest in domains in the deliberate, measured way I'd want to do it. I'm also not much of a risk-taker. I tend to prefer observing and writing about exciting business trends, rather than participating in them.  

DN Journal: Given the asset value of the domain business as a whole Iíve always been struck by how few people understand it and have made a living out of doing it. In talking to so many different people involved in the industry did you see what you felt were any common characteristics of those who have done well in the business?  

Kesmodel speaking at the 
GeoDomain Expo in Chicago - July 2008

David Kesmodel: Absolutely. Above all, I found people who are very curious, are eager to find ways to make a buck and work for themselves and who arenít so impressed with corporate America. These are entrepreneurial types who are skeptical of taking conventional paths to success and really value their independence. They tend to have a high tolerance for risk. And another key aspect that goes to your question is they are willing to dive into some nitty-gritty technical issues and learn them and figure out how the knowledge can benefit them. 

Domains are simple in some ways, but a willingness to learn a little bit about computer programming and how the backbone of the Web works really pays off. And I think these technical issues are what deter a lot of people from delving into domains. In fact, I remember being on the Web in the mid-1990s myself, fresh out of college, and just assuming that setting up my own Web site, getting a domain, etc., would be too complicated. I recall

playing around with a GeoCities page. If Iíd been more curious and willing to spend the time to understand the Web, perhaps I would have stumbled into domains.  

DN Journal: You obviously now have a lot more knowledge about this business than the average person. You also have the perspective of someone who writes about other business categories. Many generic domain portfolio owners lament the ďimageĒ problem the domain industry has and are looking for ways to clean up that image and be accepted as a mainstream business. What do you think domainers need to focus on doing to get the same kind of press coverage and acceptance that other business sectors enjoy? 

David Kesmodel: Industry leaders should put together press kits that include educational Q&A-type documents explaining to journalists how the industry works. These could include primers to help journalists understand the different types of domain investing and help them recognize the difference between, for example, someone who focuses on generics and someone who deals in trademark-related terms. Industry leaders should do outreach to journalists in which they meet with them without pitching them on stories. Journalists welcome meetings where they don't feel pressure to write a story but can learn about an industry and then later decide what to write about and when to do so.  

It could also help the industry if more leading domain investors became open to the idea of letting reporters into their lives and showing them how they live and what they do. I think it would also help if the venture capitalists and big private-equity backers in this business were more willing to meet with reporters and share their views on the industry. In short, more transparency and greater access for reporters would really help.  

DN Journal: I understand you are off covering another beat now Ė tell us about that and also whether or not you still follow what is happening in the domain world. AlsoÖand be honest nowÖis the industry you are covering now nearly as interesting as domains?

David Kesmodel: I'm covering the alcohol industry and the grocery industry for the Journal and really enjoying it. The biggest issue I've written about lately is the takeover of Anheuser-Busch by Belgium's InBev. I do keep up with key events in the domain world, although I don't have the time to read as many stories and blog entries as I'd like. The booze and food industries have their interesting components. The nice thing is that they involve a lot of money and many consumers are interested in the 

topics. But unlike the domain business, these are very mature, slow-growing industries so they lack some of the excitement inherent to emerging markets like domains. And I haven't yet encountered as many zany characters. So the domain industry is more interesting in some ways, and less interesting in others. Itís a toss-up for me. As long as I can find good stories--and all industries have them--Iím happy.


The Domain Game can be purchased at a discounted price through Amazon.com. Those who will be at the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York conference on Wednesday Sept. 24 can pick up a copy from Kesmodel himself as he will be at the show signing books from 10:30am-4:30pm that day. In our opinion, anyone who is serious about understanding and profiting from the business of domains should own a copy. 

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