Domain Registrars: A Lesson in Commodity Pricing

Saturday, March 4, 2017

One lesson has been drilled into my head again and again: sellers of commodity goods have no pricing power. Such vendors are forced to sell their wares at the same price as their least expensive competitors. Any attempt to raise prices will simply cause their customers to buy elsewhere.

I believe that this lesson is misleading at best and an utter untruth at worst. Its continued existence stems from flawed academic models, and the constant parroting of know-nothing charlatans.

Let's take a look at the pricing of one of the most generic commodities on earth: domain name registrations. A domain name is little more than an entry in a database. When a web surfer types in a domain like, the associated internet address is retrieved and sent back by the system. No matter which certified registrar a website owner pays for his registration, the exact same central database is used.

Interestingly, the buyer's choice of registrar is fairly well hidden, unknowable to all but the most technically savvy internet users. So there is little chance of any Veblen signaling to confuse the issue.

Many economic pundits would call the world of domain registrations the epitome of commoditization. Surely, each registrar must charge the same exact price for its offerings, right?

Maybe not. Let's take a look at the prices offered by a handful of popular domain registrars.

Cheapest advertised price for a single .com domain on registrars' websites
Registrar Cost to register a new domain for the first year Cost to renew an existing domain for one additional year
Automattic (via $35.88 (advertised as $2.99/month billed yearly, includes blog hosting) $35.88 (advertised as $2.99/month billed yearly, includes blog hosting)
DreamHost $10.95 $13.95
Enom $63.48 (advertised as $13.48 + $50 enrollment fee) $13.48
Gandi $15.50 $15.50
GKG $11.61 (advertised as $11.43 + 18¢ ICANN fee) $11.61 (advertised as $11.43 + 18¢ ICANN fee)
GoDaddy $17.98 (advertised as $2.99 for the first year, $14.99 for the second year, must register for at least 2 years) $14.99
Google $12 $12
Namecheap $10.69 $10.69
Network Solutions $2.95 $37.99
PairNIC $13 not public
Register $5 $38

As we can see from the table, registrar pricing can vary quite a bit!

Here are a few highlights:

I could go on, but I digress.

If companies that are literally selling a single entry into the exact same database are able to thrive with such different pricing techniques, how can you possibly argue that you are forced to use the same pricing as your competitors? Whether you're selling a good or a service, there's always a way to separate yourself from the crowd.

Not sure where to start with your pricing? I'm here to help.