John Irving had hoped to make a profit from banks that want to build signposts on the Internet pointing the way to their Web sites, but it seems his timing is off.
For seven years Mr. Irving, an owner and partner of Gullwing Ventures, an Andover, Mass., holding company that buys and sells other businesses, has held on to an asset that might once have been considered a hot property: the domain name financialservices.com.
But an auction this month aimed at selling the name indicated that interest in such broadly named Web sites has waned. Gullwing rejected bids from 12 unnamed companies, mostly large financial services firms, because none met its minimum price.
The highest bid $235,000 fell far short of the amounts some banking companies paid for similarly named sites last year. Bank of America Corp. shelled out $3 million for Loans.com in January 2000, and ABN Amro surrendered $1.8 million for Mortgage.com last December.
Mr. Irving said he knows he could have realized a much larger gain by selling the domain name a few years ago. He held on to it during the Internet feeding frenzy, he said, thinking that eventually he and his partner would develop a business around it.
Mr. Irving, who paid only $35 the standard registration fee for the name, did not reveal his hoped-for bid but said he would consider an offer in the vicinity of $350,000.
At this point, its not worth anything less than that because we could just sell advertising on it now, he said. The placeholder Web site gets about 12,000 visits per month, according to Gullwing.
Though he is realistic about the depressed dot-com market, Mr. Irving said that the domain name retains value. It allows someone to own an entire category in a $2 trillion-a-year industry, he said. The high volume of hits suggests that potential customers are finding their way to the site on the basis of the name alone, he added.
But Carl Howe, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said he believes generic names may be worth little.
The domain name financial services might be worth a lot to a company named Financial Services Inc., but its not worth much to, say, Fidelity or Schwab, because they have strong brands, he said. The imminent introduction of Web extensions such as dot-biz and dot-info will depress domain prices further, he added.
Jeffrey Salkin, another entrepreneur, said he sees value in generic domain names, though discussions he has held with half a dozen banks in the last two years about buying his superbank.com domain name have proven fruitless.
With all the advertising clutter out there, a simple, memorable electronic contact point is valuable, and there are lots of banks with disadvantageous domain names, Mr. Salkin said. A brand like this could be useful to a bank that wants to conduct some part of its business away from the core brand, for whatever reason.
But with no buyer in sight, Mr. Salkin has decided to stick with his original plan to develop the Web address, along with an 800-Superbank phone number, into a direct access consumer-lending outfit.
Mr. Irving, meanwhile, plans to hold another auction for the financialservices.com name and is waiting to see whether the market shifts. For my own personal portfolio, he said, I hope its sooner rather than later.
Gullwing advertised the first auction through a press release and targeted notices to 750 corporations with potential interest, including Citibank, General Electric, Microsoft, and American Express. Among the 12 bidders were a large leasing company and a large tech company, Mr. Irving said.