I'm considering launching a fairly niche website that has the potential developing into major commercial venture. But all the possible .com domains are already taken. I'm not exaggerating - absolutely every imaginable matching keyword and combination of keywords is registered (although no one has implemented what I plan to do yet).
Needless to say, I don't have the cash to enter into negotiations with existing owners. I also don't plan proceeding with development unless I have a good domain name. Buying it later is not a good option, as I would have to promote the subpar domain first. Even if I succeeded, I see how major players in related fields would enter my niche, while having the funds to overbid me over a premium domain name.
The situation would be much easier if I could consider an extension other than .com. Can I? Are there any global non .com success stories? (and I don't mean a situation where they developed to a point to be able to afford a .com) The site would ultimately develop to a stage where it would accept payments from users, so I definitely need their trust.
Yes, you can succeed with a non .com domain name. There are examples of sites that have done just that. The examples listed already are good. I'll add ThemeForest.net to the list. That said, I would not take this approach.
There are differences of opinion on this topic, but my personal preference is to stick with a .com domain name. The problem that I see is that you are reducing your chances of success by choosing a non .com domain. The fact that other sites have succeeded with .net, for example, is not an indicator of success for you. And examples of failed non .com sites are much more abundant.
I realize that finding a good .com domain name for cheap is really hard now-a-days, but if you get creative you might be able to come up with something. Here are a few blog posts on the matter that might give you some good ideas:
Box.net is working well. Consider trademark issues. If someone has the .com domain you want they may also have a trademark that is of concern to you.
Do you really want to stake your business on (say) ToastedTowel.net while there is a ToastedTowel.com out there that you don't own and your visitors will inevitably go to often? BensBargains.net used to have this problem but was fortunate that the guy who happened to own BensBargains.com put a link helping redirect traffic to the right place. Now it seems that Ben's Bargains owns both and the .com auto redirects to the original .net site.
My guess is you probably actually can think of another name and find a untaken .com domain. (and when you do, buy the .net, too.)
I think that it's also worth mentioning that although I think having yourbusiness.com is good. Most of your traffic is going to come from either:
All of these method bar business cards don't require the user to type yourbusiness.com directly into the address bar, and the traffic from the buiness cards have the address there in front of them.
I think that the importance of the search engine in today's internet would suggest that having a website that is SEO optimised is going to help you a lot more.
Lastly the only real issue I see is when advertising your site via more 'fly-by' methods like radio/television/vehicle advertisements when the potential customer only sees/hears your web address for a short time. To counter this I've noticed that a lot of non-.com (and some .com) businesses use the search engine dependency to their advantage by providing a "Google 'Your Business'" instead of the actual web address, which works well if you are at the top of the google search list for the particular keywords.
Alternatives to this approach is to use a tag line or something unique to the business to search by, like using "Putting the sun in sunshine" (excuse the example) to get the user to search results where you're at the top of the list.