It looks like the owners of the Chicago Sun-Times have bought Chicago.com—but they’re not talking about it yet.
The Sun-Times is hosting a beta version of the @chicago identity service, which allows premium subscribers to its digital offerings to purchase email addresses under the chicago.com brand. “Grab your FREE @chicago email address as a Sun-Times Premium Member. Stand out. Let your name do the talking,” the beta site advertises.
The daily newspaper publisher joins others in its industry that own the dotcom name of the city in which they publish. The Boston Globe, which was sold earlier this month, operates Boston.com, and Miami.com is owned by the Miami Herald.
A new logo for the Chicago.com appears on the website of the private equity-funded investment company that owns the Chicago Sun-Times and other media properties, including the Chicago Reader, a pioneering alternative weekly.
The firm, Wrapports, says it “invests in the future of local media. We look at underperforming businesses and underserved markets and see opportunities for disruption. We seek to transform business models and build new ones.
“We believe in the power of technology to change industries and create new value consumers demand. Where others are taking steps, we are taking the leap,” according to a statement on the Wrapports website.
Merrick Ventures CEO Michael W. Ferro Jr. and former Long Island Newsday publisher Timothy P. Knight negotiated the purchase of the Sun-Times Media Holding Company from late publisher James C. Tyree’s estate in 2011. The Sun Times’ reported sale price to Ferro and Knight’s group was $20 million.
According to domain name records, ownership of the site changed at the beginning of 2013 from Chicago.com, Inc. to Things to Do in Chicago, Inc. Subsequent changes to the Internet registration records occurred, indicating changes in domain name servers and hosting providers.
The site was purchased in 2002 by a company controlled by Internet service provider founder Josh Metnick from its original registrant, Silicon Valley software engineer Karl Swartz. According to Swartz’s LinkedIn bio, he served as “Co-Founder, Director, & Vice President” of Chicago.com. “I originally registered the Chicago.com domain circa 1990 because I grew up near Chicago; at the time there was no WWW and only a few thousand .com domains,” Swartz writes in his LinkedIn resume.
“In 2002, I sold a partial interest in the domain to Josh Metnick, a lifelong Chicagoan who wanted to develop an information portal based on the domain,” Swartz posted. “We formed Chicago.com, Inc. and soon launched the site. I retain a substantial interest in the company and serve on the board of directors.”
The year after purchasing Chicago.com, Metnick organized Associated Cities, a coalition of “city.com” site operators and owners. The association helped establish an industry around what are now known as “geodomains.”
Chicago.com drew revenue from links to online travel agencies who sold hotel rooms through the site, and links to real estate listings. In 2012, Metnick began selling email addresses under the @chicago brand for prices of up to $4000 for firstname.lastname@example.org identity services. Metnick also brought on a new technical team and took down the city guide site with real estate and travel information. In its place he launched a stripped-down directory of scraped entertainment event listings.
New owner Wrapports is chaired by Ferro, who was CEO and founder of business software company Click Commerce, Inc. Although the Chicago.com logo is prominently featured on Wrapports’ website as a portfolio asset, a call to Ferro’s family office drew a long silence when asked about the purchase, followed by “no comment.” The spokesman said Ferro was not ready to talk about it yet.
Metnick similarly refused to comment on the sale or the selling price.
It’s not much of a secret in the domain name industry, however, that Metnick was seeking millions. If Metnick fetched his asking price, it would be larger than any of the reported domain name purchases this year.
Disclosure: The author of this article is a principal owner of Boulevards New Media, Inc., which owns a significant portfolio of city.com domain names and has been actively involved in the industry.