What’s in a Name?

Dec 8, 2006

Almost exactly twelve years ago, we were fervently working on the launch of a big website with tons of content called voyagerco.com. This was in the fall of 1994, and if you're wondering how long ago that was in web years, Netscape 1.0 wasn't even released by mid-November of that year.

A bit of history here. The Voyager Company was started in 1983 by Aleen Stein, Bob Stein, and Roger Smith. That year Voyager published the first titles in the Criterion Collection–Citizen Kane and King Kong—on laserdisc. Janus Films got involved the following year when it licensed many of the movies that would become the backbone of the collection over the years, and soon thereafter, Janus became a partner in Voyager. The most important line that the company published was the Criterion Collection, but Voyager had a much larger mission than releasing great movies on laserdisc. In 1989, we started publishing CD-ROMs, and our CD companion to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is still one of my favorite things we’ve ever published. By 1992, the Internet started to evolve into a viable tool for reaching the world—as a way of selling to our customers, and equally important, delivering content. While basic by today’s standards, the home page that Peter helped develop was driven by content, ease of use and our overall publishing efforts, much as our website is today. Now back to the story…

The Voyager Company was set to launch its website, and without much debate we all agreed that the URL should be voyager.com. Not that there was much already registered in those days, but voyager.com was gone. We did a quick search and settled on voyagerco.com (co for company.) We knew it would have to do until we could liberate voyager.com. The website went up and voyagerco.com was a small success. We delivered content from the Paris Review and others and asked viewers to “Bring Your Brain.” We showcased our titles and we offered downloads for sale years before it became the thing to do. A section of the site was devoted to the Criterion Collection, but only a small part. Then we debated. How much was the Voyager name worth? The company that owned voyager.com wasn’t using it.

Was it worth $5,000 or was it $50,000 or was it priceless? Could Voyager be successful if it didn’t own voyager.com? We debated and argued and finally offered the $5,000 and yes they came back with $50,000. Long story short, we passed and so did much of the CD-ROM market. By 1997, we sold what was left of the CD-ROM business and the Voyager name to concentrate on movies and Criterion. We were still a year away from Criterion's launch of DVD, but we felt it was necessary to concentrate on our core business. It was time for a new website and clearly criterion.com was our choice. By this time, our luck was the same, and it was gone. We registered criterionco.com (co again for company not collection). We were used to the “co” and it felt like home. We didn’t spend much time thinking about the URL until earlier this fall. People knew where to find us. We liked the link to the past. All in all, it worked.

Peter and I were having lunch, and on a whim I asked whether he thought we should try and secure criterion.com? We talked for a bit and ended up on “sure if it’s not too expensive.” Not much debate, not much angst. Well, we made an offer, they came back with a counter, and we settled in the middle. As some of you may have noticed, criterion.com is now our home too. You’ll see it on our stationery and in our email addresses. I missed the “co.com” for a day or two when I was talking to people, but just plain criterion.com feels right. I feel a bit like we closed the loop we started fifteen years ago.