NEW YORK (AP) -- As the Internet continues to sprawl, virtual locations once available for a $70 registration fee now command thousands, even millions of dollars.
Expect to pay dearly for Web addresses that are easy to remember, choice real estate akin to New York's Madison Avenue or Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive. Otherwise, go to the suburbs -- or farther.
Business.com went for a record $7.5 million in November. The asking price for America.com? $10 million.
Simply put, the best words are gone. There is a cottage industry buying and selling the domain names that precede ''.com,'' ''.net,'' and ''.org'' in Web addresses, and Internet regulators are already considering adding new categories, such as ''.info'' or ''.shop.''
''It's estimated that 97 percent of names in Webster's has been registered,'' said Tim Pluma, director of sales and marketing at name broker GreatDomains.com. ''The opportunity for a company to own their preferred or desired domain name is extremely limited.''
While some companies paid premiums to reclaim trademarks in the past, Pluma said the market for generic names has exploded in the last year or so.
WallStreet.com sold for $1 million in April. Autos.com went for $2.2 million last month. Scores of other names, including internet.com and tv.com, got five or six figures.
Speculators grabbed many of the names in years past. In other cases, owners setting up a real business found the name worth more than their venture. Kelly Britt, previous owner of Autos.com, said his auto referral service generated only $8,000 each month.
Steeped in ideals of equality and democracy, the Internet is viewed as a place where computer users can share knowledge without regard for status or location. Yet many of the traditional principles of competition reappear as virtual world meets real world.
''It was the land of opportunity, and then the opportunists came and seized on that opportunity,'' Britt said. ''A gold rush cannot last forever.''
Don Heath, president of the Internet Society, does not believe trading names is appropriate but acknowledges little can be done.
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