Trevor Little

It has been announced that sunrise registrations (and most brand-related registrations outside sunrise) in the ‘.sucks’ string will cost $2,499, making defensive registrations a costly proposition and one many brands will struggle to justify. John Berard, CEO of Vox Populi Registry, has unapologetically told WTR that the pricing is “responsive to the opportunity”.

We reported previously on the registry’s plans for the ‘.sucks’ string, specifically its initial announcement that it would charge trademark owners an eye-watering $25,000 fee for sunrise registrations should it secure the string. It subsequently retracted this and its final pricing plans have now been published.

The headline for brand owners is that in sunrise, which will run from March 30 to May 29, the registration cost will be a recommended $2,499 (renewable annually at this rate). Also available during sunrise will be premium names, which have a recommended price of $299+, although this is only likely if a trademark happens to match a term that has been deemed premium, Berard explaining: “Premium names are those that the registry thinks will have value beyond normal, and you don’t have to be a genius to figure which these will be – for instance, it will be strings like ‘marriage.sucks’ or ‘divorce.sucks’. There are certain words that will play well. It’s possible – although something we have tried to avoid - that a company will have a mark in the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) that matches one of these, in which case we will have to reorder the premium list.”

More likely, then, is that if you are a brand owner, $2,499 will be the fee and this will extend beyond those registering in sunrise, with Berard confirming that “all brands will subsist at $2,499”. Thus, once general availability opens, the registry will open what is referred to as a “super premium’” option that will also cost $2,499 and consist of trademark terms: “We have no way of knowing what is in the TMCH, so we will look at other registry registrations and blocks and build a super premium list from that.”

Once general availability opens, as well as the general $249 fee for standard registrations, there is a $199 block option. However, this doesn’t apply to premium or sunrise premium names. The upshot is that brands are faced with the prospect of paying $2,499 a year to secure the respective trademark term or not register and hope that cybersquatters will be deterred by the hefty price tag attached to the domain name.

For many the latter may seem the preferred option, but things get a little more complicated with the ‘consumer advocate subsidised’ option, which will be available from September and allows individuals (but not companies nor, according to its policy, those “in any way affiliated with the corporation the domain is referencing”) to register a domain at a subsidised cost of $9.95. Under this option, those that have previously been available at $2,499 can be registered at the reduced price, the domain pointing to the ‘everything.sucks’ forum (eg, if ‘apple.sucks’ is registered under this option, the domain will resolve to a website with a discussion forum on Apple). 

When WTR questioned Berard over the pricing structure, he was unapologetic and explains that the ‘.sucks’ platform is designed to enable consumers to exercise their free speech rights at subsidised cost and offer companies an opportunity to derive benefit for its $2,499 investment: “I realise that there is a tendency to focus on the top number and that criticism may focus on the fact that this is $2,499, but it’s important to look at the two halves of the grapefruit. Our mission is to get the names in use and I come to this from the belief that a company with a trademark will derive value from managing its own ‘.sucks’ site. When looking at online budgets, they can be off chart and a ‘.sucks’ domain can be a key aspect of corporate practice. This revelation came from a conference I attended a few years ago – a company you would know talked about how it uses its Facebook page to encourage criticism and draw insight into how the company is viewed.

“On the other hand, we are also working towards a partnership with everything.sucks, which will subsidise the registration of names by individual consumers and attach website forum software to the registration so that a discussion site is immediately up and running, with the registrant managing the community. Our feeling is that the pricing is responsive to the opportunity. The difference between $2,499 and $9.95 reflects not just our belief that companies will see value in managing their own site but also that we want to enable people to have their voices heard.”

Providing a possible alternative insight into the $2,499 fee level was his comment that he “would love for some of the names eligible in sunrise not to be registered by the company and end up in hands of a consumer activist for 10 dollars – this would be in the free speech tradition”. Perhaps, then, while adding important revenues to the coffers, there is a hope that the high cost will deter brands from registering and allow a larger consumer discussion network.

In summary, the message for brand owners is stark – stump up $2,499 or risk seeing a discussion site (or rather, given the ‘.sucks’ name, a criticism site) focused on your brand set up by consumer activists for a cut-price fee.

As for Berard, he told us that he intends to attend the INTA Annual Meeting in San Diego. Given that trademark counsel will likely be up in arms about the registration costs, we asked why he plans to step into the lion’s den and were told: I think it is evidence that we are honest in our approach. We say what we mean and mean what we say. We feel that, just as more brands themselves ultimately move to apply for a gTLD, marketers and customer service executives will see value in the ‘.sucks’ platform. I’m counting on smart people seeing what I see.”

One suspects that he will be much in demand in San Diego.

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