James Iles

A Closer Look at the $17million Chinese Auction That Wasn't

By James Iles, Feb 3, 2016
  1. In December, we brought you news of China's first ever domain name conference in Shenzhen. Along with reports of the event itself, we showed you the impressive results of the premium domain name auction. The data available to us at the time showed that the auction produced a total of $17million worth of bids.

    We referenced the fact that the sales figures may not actually be the final sales prices due to the fact that buyers had the option to pull out of deals, or negotiate deals with sellers after the auction had taken place.

    Today I decided to check out the auction listings to see whether the domains had actually sold or not. From what I've found, it seems that many bidders took the option to pull out of their deals. - 21,500,000 CNY ($3,316,314)
    Yao is a common Chinese surname, so it is no surprise to me that this domain received bids of over 20million CNY. My research shows that it has been registered to a generic 4.CN brokerage email address ([email protected]) since August 2013. However, this doesn't mean that it hasn't changed hands.

    Many domain names pass amongst clients of large brokerage houses without the public WHOIS details ever being updated. The website has changed since's last update in August 2015, and's last entry on 29th September, so there is a possibility that did in fact sell at this event; although the $3.3million price tag cannot be verified. - 17,000,000 CNY ($2,622,202) was sold from a UK registrant to China in July 2015 and the domain changed registrants to it's current owner on 4th December 2015, over two weeks before the auction took place. The listed owner's email address changed from [email protected] to another Chinese brokerage house, so a sale seems to have taken place at this point.

    Whilst the sales price is plausible, the WHOIS details have remained the same since the beginning of December, with no changes in the name servers. From the data I have, I am undecided on whether this name sold at auction, but remained behind the same generic email address. - 16,200,000 CNY ($2,498,804)
    The news of this bid sent rumours around the domain industry, suggesting that Chinese buyers had moved on to acquiring premium one-word .COM domains. There isn't any evidence to suggest this has happened, or that the domain actually sold at the auction event. was sold by Domain Holdings in 2014 to a 4.CN client. As with many premium domains, the generic [email protected] email address has been listed as the registrant ever since then. Whilst it is possible that it has changed owners internally during that time, I don't think that the domain sold at December's auction on the evidence available. - 16,000,000 CNY ($2,467,955)
    Here is another valuable domain name that was acquired by a Chinese buyer in February 2015. The current registrant has been listed as the owner of the domain since 26th June 2015, so on this evidence I would say that no domain sale occurred at the event. - 13,200,000 ($2,036,062)
    Another premium one-word .COM domain that received a multi-million dollar bid at the auction. The domain name's listed registrant has been the same since 2014, and whilst the registrant is a part of another Chinese domain brokerage house, I don't believe that this domain would have sold at this price to a Chinese investor. - 6,880,000 CNY ($1,061,220)
    Another popular two-letter .COM domain name that was owned by an American company until November 2015, when it was sold to a Chinese investor who owns many other two and three letter .COM domains. It hasn't changed registrant since November 2015, so a sale didn't happen in the December auction. - 5,700,000 CNY ($879,209)
    This domain is currently for sale through 4.CN, and the 4.CN brokerage email [email protected] is again listed as the registrant. 4.CN's brokerage house have been the registrant of this name since acquiring it from Numerical Recipes in October 2015. Again, this could have sold internally, and it could have sold at the auction; especially considering the sub-$900,000 price tag. - 5,560,000 CNY ($857,614)
    An excellent numerical domain that received a large bid at the December auction event, beating Rick Schwartz's three public numeric sales from last year. I believe this domain did sell at the auction, or perhaps just afterwards. changed registrant on 5th January 2016. - 4,400,000 CNY ($678,687)
    Here is another premium numeric domain, but I'm a little less certain about this name. Sometime between 20th October 2015 and 9th January 2016, the name switched to show a new owner. It's possible, maybe even probable, that this domain sold at the auction, but I cannot be certain. - 4,200,000 RMB ($647,838)
    This is another domain name that I think did sell at or just after the auction. WHOIS data shows a change of registrant on 7th January 2016.


    Out of the ten auction listings we posted in December, it seems that two domains were likely to have been sold at or just after the auction, with a further three domains possibly selling. This would mean that out of the $17million worth of bids that were placed, between $1.5m and $5.6m worth of domain names were actually sold.

    Data from auctions inside China can be very misleading, and whilst this data can be of interest, you need to take into consideration the fact that some Chinese auction events do allow bidders to pull out of sales by paying a small fee. This could be done for many reasons, from bidder's mercurially changing their minds to owners of similar domains bidding publicly in an effort to drive prices higher.

    Note: I have no official information on the domain names that sold or didn't sell, and the above are just observations I have made based upon WHOIS data and other resources.

    Update on Feb 3, 2015: I have received verifiable confirmation of some of the sales and non-sales of the auction:
    • Not sold
    • Sold before the auction. The buyer also bought four other's at the same time.
    • Not sold
    • Not sold
    • Sold
    • Not sold
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  4. James Iles

    About The Author — James Iles

    James is a domain name industry writer. Contact james (at) For all inquiries relating to NamePros stories and interviews, please email: [email protected] For James' own blog, visit

    This is James Iles's 144th blog post on NamePros. View all blog posts

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  5. Comments (15)

  6. BrandChimp

    BrandChimp Taking A Brake VIP

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  7. domainerfella

    domainerfella DN.DOMAINS VIP

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    Not surprised, this is general nature.
  8. papeter

    papeter Upgraded Member Blue Account

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    This reminds me so much of the late 90's dot com bubble crash. Lemmings jump off a cliff and the rest just follow. You could just see it coming.
  9. Doron Vermaat

    Doron Vermaat Co-founder, Efty Efty Staff PRO VIP ICA Member

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    Good piece and good on you for following up instead of just posting the hype.

    Unfortunately this type of behavior is very common in China with some examples being tech startups intentionally misrepresenting their funding rounds to look bigger or more successful than they are, websites buying fake web traffic to mislead advertisers and undoubtly there will be domain name investors (in both China and outside China) that are reporting fake or bloated sales because they are heavily invested in a certain niche of the liquid domain market.

    It's an unhealthy habit but rooted quite deeply in a big part of Chinese (business) culture unfortunately.
  10. Update: I have received verifiable confirmation of some of the sales and non sales at the auction: not sold sold before the auction. The buyer also bought four other LL.coms at the same time. not sold not sold sold not sold
  11. Omar Negron

    Omar Negron Top Contributor VIP

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    Thanks for the report James!

  12. Willox Perez

    Willox Perez Member

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    Very insightful information - Crazy how they let them back out of their bid for a small fee. The influence of the Chinese investors in the domain industry so far has been insane it will just be interesting to see how it out plays out.

    - Will
  13. joro001

    joro001 Top Contributor VIP

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    I would say this is shocking news, however, sadly it doesn't surprise me all that much.
    Great investigative work OP
  14. Keith DeBoer

    Keith DeBoer PRO VIP ICA Member

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    Thanks for the peek behind the curtain!
  15. Raymond C

    Raymond C Established Member

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    You're terrible Muriel......
  16. bubu56

    bubu56 Established Member

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    i am form china.
  17. VIP

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    Hello, I am from u.s.a.
  18. Gold Account

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    • Not sold
    • Sold before the auction. The buyer also bought four other's at the same time.
    • Not sold
    • Not sold
    • Sold
    • Not sold
    lol assuming those 4's were sold for millions. Looks like some rich Chinese person is planning on laundering money out of China for sure! lol
  19. WilsonM

    WilsonM Established Member

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    "This could be done for many reasons, from bidder's mercurially changing their minds to owners of similar domains bidding publicly in an effort to drive prices higher."

    Are these the only reason for non-sales?

    I wonder if these domains that were not sold are bought by other investors.
  20. NameZest

    NameZest Top Contributor VIP

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    It's more likely that these "sales" are merely there to create a demand for something when there simply is no such demand. It's basically propaganda (false advertising). Some body reads the sales headline and gets the "oh I can get rich quick by buying and selling domains". Essentially it is a sales ploy no different to the domains wanted page here, now not all but many of those posts if you looked more closely, you would see that a user has a certain domain for sale where ever and describes the very same domain,without mentioning the actual name.

    People go looking as the post says example 5k budget and the domain they see exactly what is requested is for sale at 2k, the sucker then thinks oh yeah!
    Reality is the so called wanted domain was a sales ploy essentially a scam. Where a post is placed knowing the domain is for sale, they say the budget is higher than they want for the domain and, someone goes off and buys it where ever it was then suddenly there is no need for the domain anymore. If you look closely at these wanted section posts over the last year you will see what I wrote is the truth.

    This business is full of scammers and crooks as we all know.
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