Remember Facemash? (If you went to Harvard c. 2004, you do.) Or the much-hyped, long-forgotten Retweet.com? Flippa’s been reviving the Internet’s dead for years now, but this past week has been particularly rejuvenating. Aside from Hipster Runoff, whose bids are now up to more than $11,000, Flippa also just sold ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com — the wildly viral, mildly vindictive project of Aussie Matthew Carpenter, who grew tired of the site after only a few days. Also on the auction block this week: PetsPage.com, SeedandGarden.com, and the tantalizing LatestCelebNews.net.
“I launched this website as a bit of a joke not expecting this level of attention,” Carpenter explains on his particular auction page. “For the past few days it has been stressful … and I want to watch it continue to grow under a new owner.”
His wish was granted: Ship Your Enemies Glitter sold to an anonymous buyer on Wednesday for a whopping $85,000. It’s not Flippa’s biggest auction, by any means. But in the site’s six-year history, it just may be the most high-profile. Credit that both to SYEG’s viral appeal and the changing nature of the odd industry known as “digital real estate.”
“More and more traditional investors [are] coming into our marketplace,” says Flippa’s business manager, Luke McCormack. That means that the behind-the-scenes buying and trading and reviving of Web sites, long the domain of a certain techie set, are finally going mainstream.
It helps, of course, that Flippa has a precedent in real life. People who buy struggling or neglected Web sites in the marketplace generally want to improve them — a process pretty similar to, say, any given episode of HGTV’s “Flip or Flop.”
“Essentially the same principles of real estate investment also apply to Web businesses,” McCormack explains. There are different types of investors on the site, of course. But when it comes to abandoned sites like Hipster Runoff, many are looking to “buy something old and neglected that [they] can easily improve — then work on growing and building it back up. Think buy and renovate.”
Those trendy renovations, the digital equivalents of granite countertops and couples’ vanities, often include the same set of things: a deeper well of content, to draw eyeballs and clicks; a search engine optimization strategy, to pull more traffic from Google; better or more advertising programs, to harvest money from the site.
Since buying WorldTVPC.com for nearly $28,000 in November, for instance, Dan Eriksson has beefed up the number of writers for the cord-cutting and streaming blog to try to boost traffic. Trevor Vanhemert, who bought LimaEasy.com in October, slashed the site’s hosting expenses, coded a mobile version and hired a group of Peruvian writers. (So DIY!)
“I make a living from creating, buying, selling and operating Web sites,” brags Chuck Anderson, who quit his 9-to-5 job and is currently voyaging through Southeast Asia off the proceeds from Adherents.com, a site he bought off Flippa in July 2013. The site — which Anderson says he hasn’t really messed with, down to the FAQ — is basically a very ugly, very underformatted list of the number of people belonging to various world religions. With ads, naturally. Lots and lots of ads.
That is, alas, the downside of the Flippa model for audiences: There’s no saying what will become of a site once it’s auctioned off. To borrow yet another real estate metaphor, there’s nothing stopping the new homeowner from putting on a terrible addition, bulldozing the whole thing or reselling the empty lot.
Retweet.com, a site launched in 2009 as a competitor to Tweetmeme, sold for $250,000 in 2010 and is now both blank and up for sale again. (The site’s seller did not respond to requests for comment.) Facemash.com, the domain name of Mark Zuckerberg’s first social networking site, sold for just over $30,000 that same year. The site, which was “under construction” when it sold, has given up on the constructing bit entirely. According to an error message that you can see yourself here, there’s no Web site attached to the domain and no indication that its mystery buyer intends to add one. If you wanted to buy a site just to shut it down, you could.
That’s not a terribly wise investment, of course; as Hipster Runoff’s Carles advises his potential buyers, this is great opportunist to “own ur own online media company with opportunity for growth, power and money.” The site passively makes $300 to $600 a month on ad sales, without any actual work put in. Given that, I ask Carles, why sell it?
“I am 2 insecure 2 deal with being irrelevant,” he explained, “and overvaluing an irrelevant medium and never mattering anyways.”
Incidentally, Carles may indeed be overvaluing his site a bit. There are only two days left in the auction, and Carles’s reserve price — the minimum he’ll accept for his site — still hasn’t been met.