Namecheap — This company provides .com domains for $10.69 (plus 18 cents) per year ($9.69 if you transfer from other registrars). Along with your domain, you get free email forwarding, free web redirection (where anyone going to your domain is automatically directed to another address of your choice), free domain name parking, etc. For the first year (or at least, at the time I checked their prices), you can also have their WhoisGuard (where your particulars are masked from public view) for free. They have a wide variety of domain name extensions available, including .net, .org, .biz, .info, .us, .co.uk, .co, .de, etc. You can use either a credit card or PayPal for your purchases.
Official marketplaces offer a third possibility for domain traders to peddle their product. Domain marketplaces, such as Sedo, GoDaddy.com, or BuyDomains.com, link potential buyers with domain holders hoping to sell their prized virtual property. These platforms function as a kind of domain real estate agency and are known to demand somewhat high prices for their services.
ICANN renewed Verisign’s .com contract, this time with an interesting new clause — the $6 cap previously placed on Verisign’s fee was removed, granting permission for Verisign to raise their fee by 7% each year from 2007 to 2010, bringing it to $7.85. The justification given by ICANN was “to allow market forces to determine prices”, which I don’t quite follow, but I’m no Keynes. They also point out, in subtler language, that it’s the US government’s job to worry about Verisign’s monopoly, which is, I guess, fair.
Keep in mind, however, that free domain names are usually free only for one or two years, after which the registrar will bill you for the annual or biennial fee. In other words, the provider of the free domain name pays only for the first billing from the registrar. Also take note of whether or not the provider charges a fee for setting up a domain name. Most services offer to transfer an existing domain name to their servers at no cost, but sometimes you'll find a setup fee over and above the registrar's fee.
Perspective buyers are able to directly contact domain holders in cases where the desired domain is no longer available. Most registries openly publish the names and contact data of domain holders. Once this information is gained, buyers can get in touch with domain holders and make an offer for the name. Sales are also known to occur in instances where the original domain owner had no prior commercial ambitions
More controversially, the new agreement guaranteed the renewal of Verisign’s contract in 2012 unless they were in “fundamental breach” of their obligations as a registry. A similar presumptive renewal clause in the 2012 agreement recently sealed Verisign’s control over .com until 2024. This kind of arrangement, ICANN say, incentivises registries to make long-term investments in infrastructure that benefit the Internet community.
If you're having trouble finding a domain name (whether because of crowding or cyber-squatters), check for a help facility on each registrar's site. Domain registrars typically house search engines that return a listing of available names similar to the one you want. When you search for a domain name at Namecheap, for example, you get both the status of that name and a list of suffixes available for that name. Maybe [Sitename].com isn't available, but [Sitename].biz or .org is.
1and1 have terrible customer service and billing, quite possibly the worst ever encountered. Their billing/invoice system is all over the place, their staff untrained and unwilling to resolve and their pricing is literally plucked out of thin air. Beware, pay 12 months in advance (not monthly) then cancel the direct debit or Paypal auto payment, otherwise they will rinse your pockets when you’re not looking &/or unexpectedly take an extra payment because of an ‘oversight’.
In order to register any domain, you must provide certain personal information that you may not wish to be publically searchable in the Whois database. Signing up for WhoisGuard is a great way to keep your registration data private. WhoisGuard acts as a "shield" for your searchable information, displaying the address, phone number, and email of the domain registrar (Namecheap, e.g.) instead of your own. Keep in mind that WhoisGuard is an optional security add-on that must be renewed separately when you renew your domain.