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It just might have been the bargain of the century. How often is it that items with price tags as high as $100,000 sell for a mere $20.51? For John Starke, Internet domain name purveyor, once was more than enough. When his company, American Legal Domains, offered the winning bidder in a one-week auction on eBay the chance to choose any one of its more than 1,300 domain names, it had hoped for a greater return on investment. American Legal Domains registered lawyer-friendly domain names, which include http://www.flawlaw.com/, http://www.quadriplegia.com/, and http://www.afrolaw.com/. It paid less than the standard $70 registration fee because of a bulk discount (Starke won’t reveal the amount), but hopes to resell them for thousands of dollars. Its catalog priced domain names from $2,500 to $100,000. But as the auction ended on October 3, the winning bidder — one of only three — bought the right to pick any given domain name for $20.51, less than 1 percent of the lowest ticketed price. So was the auction a complete failure? Starke and his fellow investors, whose names he would not disclose, remain hopeful. “Our purpose from the beginning,” says Starke, “was to find a novel way to market our product at as low a cost as possible, and through eBay we achieved that.” The fledgling company used press releases and mass e-mails to advertise the online auction, its biggest marketing effort to date. “If we could have given away a domain name for the publicity, we would have — and this was essentially a giveaway,” Starke says. The company’s theory in setting up shop was that law firms, which traditionally incorporate only their names into Web addresses such as www.cravath.com, would see the potential advertising cachet of catchy, descriptive domain names. And with legal domain names selling more quickly than almost any other variety, the reservoir of desirable names is drying up by the minute. Starke admits that American Legal Domains contended with this reality itself. Thousands of the names that he and his colleagues wanted were already taken, which often left them with clunky names that tangle the tongue — http:// www.ussupremecourtlawfirm.com, for example. Clever names such as http://www.lemonlaw.com/, http://www.buglaw.com/, and http://www.dueprocess.com/ had been spoken for long before Starke and Co. ever entered the picture. Simplicity and intuition are the watchwords of the domain name game. “If people will naturally type http://www.subject.com/, it’s valuable,” says Mark Pruner of Web Counsel, a Stamford, Connecticut-based Internet marketing agency. Starke’s list, by contrast, offers http:// www.thecontingencyattorneys.com/, http:// www.thecontingencyfeeattorneys.com/, and a host of other variants — but not the straightforward www.contingency.com. David Bogan’s firm, Hartford’s Robinson & Cole, had it easy by comparison. The firm, one of Pruner’s clients, registered such names as http://www.deregulation.com/ and http://www.statetaxes.com/ a few years ago, before pithy domain names became an endangered species. To Bogan, though, the value of Starke’s catalog is dubious. Still, Starke insists he’s not too late for the party: “Web sites for lawyers are the wave of the future. … As for descriptive legal domain names, we are on the crest of the wave.” Prospective buyers can take heart. In the wake of his company’s eBay debut, Starke has sliced all domain name prices in half, and any reasonable offer will be considered. Do I hear $20.52, anyone?

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