Provincetown Business News and Information
By Elizabethe Holland | ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Technologically savvy, wary of the anti-gay set and eager to be of help to fellow lesbians, Sue Beckwith registered the Internet domain name Lesbian.com as soon as she knew how.
More than a decade later, Beckwith, of St. Louis, and the Web site’s two other producers have decided to sell the name - and are asking for $2 million.
When Beckwith registered the name in 1995 - a move that cost a mere $35 or so - she wasn’t quite sure what she’d do with Lesbian.com. But after several conversations with activism-minded friends, they decided the site would be used to promote resources and services for lesbians nationwide and beyond.
In 1999, a site geared toward just that was introduced. There, visitors can link to information on health issues, sexuality, the arts, where to vacation and countless other matters of interest to lesbians. It is owned by Beckwith Technology Services, a privately held corporation in Austin, Texas, that was started by Beckwith.
“It’s been a big part of who I am,” said St. Louisan Mel Braman, 46, one of the site’s co-producers. “It’s a big part of my identity.”
But now, Braman and Beckwith said, the time has come to let someone else take it to another level.
The perfect buyer, both women said, would be someone keen on making Lesbian.com an even better resource. “It would be someone who is in touch with the online lesbian space,” Beckwith said.
However, she and her co-producers realize the domain name may attract not only those of a like mind and purpose, but potential buyers interested mainly in investment possibilities, or in promoting pornography.
The site has had suitors before. Not long after Beckwith registered the name, a porn business offered to buy it for $250,000, but she turned it down, she said.
This time, the decision isn’t entirely up to her, and she’s not sure how she’d feel if a porn business ended up first in line.
“I’m just going to cross that bridge when I come to it,” said Beckwith, 51. “It would have to be a very lucrative offer.”
As for the $2 million price tag, industry experts don’t think it’s out of line. Internet domain names have produced huge payoffs. Sex.com, for example, went this year for an estimated $14 million, according to Zetetic, a company that appraises domain names and tracks their sales.
Jeremiah Johnston, general counsel with Sedo.com, a company in Cambridge, Mass., that buys and sells domain names and Web sites, said $2 million might be a bit inflated for Lesbian.com’s final price. “But as far as an asking price, it’s definitely in the ballpark,” he said.
Boosting its value, he said, is that the domain name uses a single, simple, recognizable word that has a target audience. Also of help is that it ends with “.com,” as opposed to a more obscure address ending.
Jim Thornburn, a manager with GoDaddy.com, a company in Scottsdale, Ariz., that specializes in selling domain names via auctions, said in an e-mail that $2 million is a good price for Lesbian.com, especially in light of sex.com’s sale price.
“If there are several interested parties from the pornography industry bidding, which is fairly likely with this domain, the price could go for a substantially larger sum,” Thornburn added. “Million-dollar domain names are rare, but when it happens, it’s usually because the name has either an established business behind it or because its potential as a key word or for type-in traffic is extremely high. . . . This name does not have a lot of traffic compared to other sites such as gay.com but has great type-in potential.”
Lesbian.com logs about 600,000 page views per month, according to Beckwith. And when Google users type in “lesbian” when searching for information, Lesbian.com is the first site listed.
But because the site was never intended to become a major moneymaker, it lacks certain components valuable to advertisers. For one, the site does not use “Internet cookies,” which leave trails that show what sites have been visited. The lack of cookies prevents the site from passing on information about its visitors to advertisers.
But keeping visitors from being traced is important to the site’s producers, Beckwith said.
“There are a lot of places in the world where being a lesbian is against the law and even just saying you’re a lesbian out loud can put your well-being in jeopardy,” she explained. “We not only want them to feel safe, we want them to be safe.”
If the domain name’s new owner wants to make money, there is clearly an audience to be tapped. The total buying power of the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adult population this year is projected to be $641 billion, according to a study by Witeck-Combs Communications and Packaged Facts.
Lesbian.com now sells advertisements ranging from $200 to $700 a month. It does not accept ads from anyone promoting hate or discrimination, and it doesn’t accept banner ads from pornographic sites. It also prefers to accept ads from those with personnel policies that support domestic-partner relationships.
“We make just enough to get by as part-time work,” Beckwith said. “We’ve never really tried to make it more than that.”
As for how the site’s producers are going about selling the name, they’ve sent a news release to wire services that serve gay and lesbian publications but haven’t gone far beyond that, Beckwith said. They already have received inquiries, though, she said.
Given the uniqueness of the domain name, that’s to be expected.
“There’s only one in the whole world,” Beckwith said.
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