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August 17, 2016

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A Perfect 10:  DN Journal Completes Its First Decade and We Couldn't Have Enjoyed it More - Thank YOU For Making it Possible!

By Ron Jackson

DN Journal marks its 10th Anniversary on January 1, 2013. I've always thought it was more productive to look forward than back, so I've never stopped to celebrate previous anniversary dates for our publication, but hitting double digits, especially for an online media outlet, made even me think it was time to pause and reflect on how we made it to this 

point in time - especially since I never planned on DN Journal becoming a business in the first place! Life is funny that way. You never really know where the next step is going to take you.

The passing of a full decade leaves too much ground to cover in a single article so I've taken a two-pronged approach to observing this special occasion. First, in our daily Lowdown section over the past couple of weeks I  posted articles featuring chronological photos and highlights focusing on industry people and events that we have covered over our first ten years. The links to each of those articles are posted below. 

DNJournal.com Founder Ron Jackson and his wife Diana
at the October 2012 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Conference in Florida.

DN Journal's First 10 Years: Revisiting Some Familiar Domain Industry Faces and Places - The Way They Were

Highlights From DNJournal's First 10 Years: Conferences in Tech Meccas Silicon Valley and Seattle Put Domains on The Map

Highlights From DN Journal's First Decade: Domain Pioneers Up Close and Personal - How Our Cover Stories Evolved Over the Years

Highlights From DN Journal's First Decade: 2007 - The Year the Domain Boom Reached New Heights

Highlights From DN Journal's First Decade: 2008 - Another Big Year Before the Great Recession Arrives

DN Journal's First Decade - 2009: Recession Arrives But Domain Investors Hold Their Own

DN Journal's First Decade - 2010: Conference Wars Continue, Cover Stories Feature Key Players from Multiple Arenas

DN Journal's First Decade - 2011: Predictions We Would Run Out of Things to Write About Prove to Be Unfounded

DN Journal's First Decade - 2012: The 10th Year of the Ride of Our Lives

While those posts touch on a few of the many great people and events we have been privileged to cover over the past decade, this story will focus on the history of the publication itself - why I started it and how DN Journal took on a life of its own that carried me along on the unexpected but delightful decade long ride I'm writing about now.

The story begins shortly after I arrived in the domain business in the spring of 2002. I was starting my third career after spending over 20 years in broadcasting (primarily as a TV reporter in Florida), followed by 12 years as an independent entrepreneur, running my own brick and mortar music retail stores (Details on those previous occupations are in a 2004 autobiographical Cover Story I wrote about My Second Year in the Domain Business, the follow up to a piece I had written the year before called My First Year In The Domain Business: A Rookie's Diary

Image from Bigstock

The Internet (coupled with the arrival of CD burners) had wiped out most of the nation's independent music retail stores (including mine) by the time the new millennium arrived in 2000, or soon after. I decided if you can't beat them join them and started looking for a new way to make a living - determined that whatever I settled on would be based on the Internet because it was upending one traditional industry after another, leaving almost no place offline as a safe refuge - certainly not brick and mortar retail which I had been doing successfully until the web came along and siphoned off our customers. 

One day in the spring of 2002 my monthly copy of PC World magazine arrived in the mail and it had a full page ad placed by Neustar, the operator or the .US registry, in it. They were letting people know that the .US extension, that had previously been reserved for government use, had been opened to all American citizens. I recalled how hard it had 

been to find a relevant .com name for our record stores before settling on MusicParadise.com in 1997. At the time I didn't know it was possible to buy a name from someone else, I only knew that most of the ones I looked up were already taken, so I assumed there was no way to get them, so I kept searching until I found an unregistered name.

My stores were called Rock Island, but RockIsland.com was taken. Since our print advertising, as well as the Rock Island T-Shirts, mugs and other souvenirs we sold included a slogan that said  "A Music Collector's Paradise" I wound up registering MusicParadise.com for our website in 1997.

So, even though I had not yet decided exactly what I was going to do on the Internet after leaving music retail, I thought it might be a good idea to get some names in this newly opened .US extension that could be used for websites devoted to areas I had some experience in (like music, sports, media, etc.), because I knew from past experience that the exact words I wanted weren't likely to be available in .com. At the time I didn't really understand how dominant .com was in Internet mind share, the value of type in traffic, how much traffic might be leaked from a new extension, etc. - all of the things that go into determining domain value on the aftermarket. 

A couple of months after registering my first few domain names in May 2002, in the course of doing some further research, I stumbled upon a link to DNForum.com - the pioneering domain forum where a lot of today's veteran domain investors cut their teeth. I joined in July of that year and the forum was a complete revelation. I had always thought the only reason to have a domain name was to build a website on it - and I never imagined there were people out there paying significant money for names that were already registered rather than settling for whatever was still open, as I had done. 

As a former journalist, the very idea that you could actually own the rights to a word on the internet and buy and sell those rights left me slack jawed with amazement. I jumped in with both feet and, making the common newbie mistake, started registering everything in site - none of which had any value! By the fall of 2002 I was getting discouraged because no one was buying any of the "gems" I had accumulated. Hungry for some advice that would set me on the right path I started paying more attention to what people were saying on the forums (rather than blindly running full steam ahead with no idea where I should be going). 

I also started looked for the kind of industry trade magazine I had relied on in my previous businesses to keep abreast of what was going on, what was selling and who the key players were. In broadcasting we had Broadcasting Magazine. In music retail we had Billboard Magazine. In the domain business I was surprised to find no 

Image from Bigstock

such animal existed. The field, though it had already spawned more than a few millionaires, was just too new to have attracted the attention of any professional journalists. 

By that point in time I had been out of journalism myself for 13 years and never had any plans to go back into it. However, after hearing so many amazing rags to riches stories about people who had made it big in domains, I thought someone should be telling those stories and if I didn't who would? Over the next few months I gave the idea of an online magazine some more thought, but I never saw it as a business opportunity, reasoning that no one would pay to read it (everything on the Internet was free!) and I never even thought about anyone paying to advertise on it, after all - it would be a new no name publication in a niche business.

However, I did see a different kind of reward that I felt would make it worth my time to put a part time hobby publication together. My domain investing activity was going nowhere fast so I figured if I could get the people who had proven that they did know what they were doing to grant in depth interviews for my publication, I could learn what I needed to know from them to turn things around in my own investing endeavors. 

So, I started putting the usual elements of a magazine together with the centerpieces to be the Cover Story profiles of the most successful investors and companies and an "industry buzz" section called The Lowdown that would be updated more often with shorter bits of news and information. The weekly domain sales reports we are so well known for now would not arrive until near the end of that first year (more on that in a few moments).

Image from Bigstock

Now all I needed was a name. Since the only way I could see to send traffic to the site was to publicize it on DNForum, in late 2002 I asked the other forum members to help me choose a name. I had narrowed it down to two. One was DotBeat - a nod to the old school journalism term of covering a "beat" - a specific area of interest. The second was Domain Name Journal to be abbreviated as DN Journal, a nod to DN Forum, the site that helped me birth the publication by providing advice, an audience and a range of contacts who became subjects of our stories or led me to others we featured. Forum members overwhelmingly favored Domain Name Journal and the URL DNJournal.com and I took their advice.

In December 2002 - in preparation for a January 1, 2003 launch of the site, I put our first Cover Story in the can and also got two forum friends to contribute feature stories to help fill out the opening day line up. Tariq Ghafoor wrote about .com fighting off a challenge from new extensions (.info and .biz) - a classic example of the more things change the more they stay the same as today we are still talking about new extensions challenging .com with ICANN's plans to start rolling out an unlimited number of new TLDs in 2013). Also, Dan McCullough wrote about the prospects for the .US extension that had been opened the previous spring (the event that pulled me into the domain business in the first place). On New Year's Day 2003 I was ready to flip the switch.


A screenshot of DNJournal.com's Home Page the day the site launched on January 1, 2003.

There is a funny story behind that first Cover Story. I wanted it to be a profile of Thunayan K. Al-Ghanim, better known on the forums as Elequa, an extremely personable and popular young investor/developer who had put together a tremendous domain portfolio for his company - Future Media Architects. Though we knew each other from the forums, Elequa was a little gun shy about being my Cover Story guinea pig. He valued his privacy and who knew what kind of angle I might take? So, while he was reluctant Elequa was a guy who always tried to help, so he referred me to a friend of his, industry pioneer Igal Lichtman, who had just opened a new domain monetization company at DomainSpa.com - one of the first PPC companies to automatically display images relevant to the domain's keyword on parking pages. 

Elequa did me a favor - Igal was the real deal. He had already founded and sold a software company (Magic Solutions) that he sold to Network Associates (formerly McAfee Associates)  for $110 million. I contacted Igal and put the piece together. Within minutes of the article going live, I got a call from Elequa on my cell phone. He loved the story and (his doubts apparently having been quelled), he said he would be happy to be my second Cover Story subject (and he was). 
Having heavyweights Like Igal (who was featured again in a February 2012 Cover Story) and Elequa sit for our first major interviews gave us an immediate boost and from that point on it seemed that everyone's door was open to us. Still, even though they were labeled Cover Stories, those early profiles were actually not much more than simple sketches. At that time there had been no major domain conferences so I had no photos of my subjects nor had I had a chance to met any of them face to face. Over the next three years, as DN Journal grew and domain conferences arrived, the Cover Stories evolved into the much more detailed and richly illustrated articles that we are now known for. 

By the fall of that first year a couple of things happened that set DN Journal on a course that would end up changing my life and completely re-ordering how I would spend my time in the domain business. First, I was contacted out of the blue by a major domain company who inquired about advertising and what it would cost. I had never even thought about it (I know - I'm a moron!), so I said I'm a little busy today but I'll get our rate card over to you tomorrow. 

Igal Lichtman (who was featured in 
DN Journal's 1st Cover Story in January 
2003 as well as another in February 2012).

That night I wrestled with how much do you charge for an ad on the Internet - I had no idea! I didn't want to scare the company off so I came up with some numbers that would turn out to be absurdly low. After I emailed my new "rate card" to the company executive the next day he quickly replied - "Are you sure these numbers are right!?"  Afraid that, despite my caution, I had had aimed too high, I immediately responded, "Now, if the prices are too high I can work with you." Incredulous at my naiveté, he said, "Don't tell anyone I told you this, but they are way too low!" Though it was against his own company's interests to tell me that (which is why I am not mentioning his name), he was kind and honest enough to give me a ballpark idea of reasonable rates and signed up to advertise. 

Other companies soon followed making it possible for me to devote increasingly more of my time to the site. Instead of 25% of it spent on a hobby publication, I could spend half my time on DN Journal, a year later 75% and in another year, basically all of it. Helping to fuel that growth was

Former Sedo CEO Matt Bentley

 a new feature that we added in the fall of 2003 - our weekly domain sales reports. Sedo's then CEO Matt Bentley suggested the idea to me and offered to provide Sedo's weekly sales data to help get it off the ground. Matt felt that the best way to spur growth in the industry was to show people examples of exactly how much was being paid for specific domain names. Other companies, as well as many private sellers, quickly got on board and we became publishing the reports near the end of 2003.

The domain sales reports remain one of the most popular features on our site, read by virtually everyone in the industry and frequently quoted by the major mainstream business publications. DN Journal has been featured multiple times in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, ABC News, BBC News, CNN/Money, Forbes and many other publications. 

As the site continued to grow, allowing me to devote more time to it, the Lowdown section also grew from a page with sporadic posts into one with the daily entries people are now accustomed to seeing. DN Journal is not a blog 

- there were no blogs when we started. The Lowdown was modeled after Rolling Stone magazine's Random Notes section. Originally it was snippets of news and information with the proper names in bold face type so you could easily spot names of the people you were interested in reading about. The snippets grew into more fleshed out full articles as time went on.

From the beginning, my plan was a feature based magazine, not a publication that chased the 24-hour news cycle. From my 20 years in newsrooms I knew how labor intensive trying to cover breaking news was - only to have the product become stale as soon as the next day began. Detailed features have much longer "legs" - they are history that people will refer back to for years to come (many of the Cover Stories we wrote years ago still receive hundreds of monthly visitors and almost all of them rank on the first page of Google for the name of the person profiled. They are the gift that keeps on giving.

We do of course, include some news items in the Lowdown and by virtue of my contacts in the industry we are able to break some stories, but that is not our primary mission. There are a lot of blogs that do that today and do it very well. I am a fan of those sites and, knowing how hard it is to do what they do, I have a great deal of respect for those reporters. 

I came into this industry planning to spend all of my time buying, selling and monetizing domains and I still do all of that today, but within three years of DN Journal's launch I had little time left to research new purchases, so I now stick to managing a portfolio of domains that remains capped between 3,500-4,000 names. 

The tipping point at which DN Journal pushed just about everything else to the side came at the start of 2006 when the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference took  the domain story to Silicon Valley with a major conference there. The headline on our show review article said it all - Domain Business Moves Into the 

A scene from the landmark T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Silicon Valley conference in January 2006

Fast Lane After T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Stop in Silicon Valley. So many new advertisers asked to come onboard at that show (and in the immediate aftermath of it) that devoting my full attention to the publication became a no brainer.

Being able to devote all of my time to the publication allowed me to take our marquee Cover Stories to a new level that year as well. Pieces like our June 2006 Cover Story on famed domain attorney Ari Goldberger (who was also one our earliest supporters), that detailed his family's terrifying experience during the Holocaust, set the standard for human interest, rich detail and supporting photos that I have tried to follow ever since. 

With all of the key elements on our site, the Cover Stories, the weekly domain sales reports and The Lowdown, fully realized in 2006, I have been able to spend the time since then building on that foundation with constant new content that has told the story of our industry. I've chronicled the  countless changes we've seen over the past decade with people and companies coming and going, rising and falling and new trends continually emerging. Details on many of those are in the 10th anniversary Lowdown posts linked to at the top of this article, so I won't recount them here. One thing hasn't changed though - the inherent value of good domain names. They are the foundation that every successful enterprise on the Internet is built upon - they all start with a domain name.

In closing I want to thank every one of our valued readers and everyone who contributed content that helped make the publication better (one of those being Richard Meyer whose painstaking research helped add valuable data to our weekly sales reports).

A special Thank You also goes out to everyone who advertises on DN Journal, or ever has advertised on it. I could never have spent the time it takes to produce this publication for you - and do it the way I felt it needed to be done - without our advertiser's support. I am especially appreciative of that support because I have never asked anyone to advertise on this site. There is no sales department here. Everyone who is here or has been here asked to be here. I have to operate that way because I have to keep the lines between editorial and advertising 

Image from Bigstock

separate. A lot of media outlets, including household names in traditional media, no longer respect those lines, but that's not the way I was trained and not a path I will be going down. Our advertisers understand and respect that and that has allowed me to produce a publication that treats everyone as equally as is humanly possible.

I'm getting a little closer to "blowing your own horn" territory than I like here, but I also have to  thank those who have recognized our work with numerous awards through the years - T.R.A.F.F.I.C. for their 2005 "Public Awareness of Domains Award", the introduction of their Domain Hall of Fame in 2006 when Rick Schwartz and I were the first two inductees voted in and for their first Domain News/Blog of the Year Award in 2009. To Name Intelligence (the original producers of the Domain Roundtable conference) for three straight Outstanding Industry Coverage Awards, to Donna Mahony for organizing voting for the Domainer's Choice Awards that were handed out at the DOMAINfest Global conference in 2008 when DN Journal was honored with the Best Domain Publication award and to the Domaining Europe conference for their first International Communications in the Domain Industry Award in 2012, one I was delighted to have the opportunity to pick up in person at their conference in Valencia, Spain last spring.

While I certainly appreciate that recognition from my peers, what I value the most is their friendship. The number of lifelong friends I have made in this business has been an even more pleasant surprise than seeing DN Journal unexpectedly develop into a full time enterprise. Very few people in the world practice our profession on a full time basis so there is a closeness and camaraderie among those of us who do that is unlike anything I've seen anywhere else. It really is a special fraternity/sorority filled with the brightest, most creative people I've ever had the pleasure of being around. For both myself, and my wife Diana, whom many of you know as she has been at my side at almost all of the conferences through the years, thank you for making the past 10 years the best decade of our lives. God willing - I know the next 10 years spent with you will be even better!


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