As the planned expansion of internet domain suffixes draws closer, a number of publishing industry groups have voiced their opposition to the decidely ominous attempts of Amazon.com to secure exclusive rights to the domain names “.book”, “.read” and “.author, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal today.
Leading the critics is the Author’s Guild in New York, which said it fiercely opposed plans to sell top-level domains to private companies, calling the move “plainly anticompetitive” as it would allow industry-leading firms to entrench their market power even further, at the expense of smaller companies.
“The potential for abuse seems limitless,” wrote Authors Guild President Scott Turow in a letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
ICANN is the body responsible for the management of internet domain names, and has been actively encouraging companies like Amazon to bid for ‘generic top-level domains’ (gTLDs) for the last two years. The internet domain expansion was given the go ahead back in June 2011, with ICANN promising the move would bring serious benefits to netizens, including the chance to have TLDs in non-Latin scripts for the first time.
The bidding process has attracted quite a bit of controversy already - late last year, Saudi Arabia caused headlines with its opposition to bidders for the domains “.gay”, “.porn”, and “.sex”.
The issue at stake as far as Amazon’s plans go is the perceived power that these new gTLDs would command. The very fact that they are deemed “top-level domains” means that they’ll almost certainly be given the same weight in search engine algorithms as other top-level domains like “.com” and “.org”. With control of domains like “.book” and “.author”, plus the enormous financial resources that it commands, it would be child’s play for a company like Amazon to assume total dominance on sites like Google and Bing for all searches related to books and authors.
Amazon is believed to have applied for a whole host of gTLDs, including those linked to its current brands like “.fire” and “.kindle”, but also dozens more ‘generic’ domains.
Rival bookselling company Barnes & Noble has also voiced concern over Amazon’s efforts to wrest control of these generic domains, which it collectively refers to as the “Book TLDs”. In its own submission to ICANN, Barnes & Noble insisted that allowing Amazon to control these Book TLDs would be contrary to the organization’s stated goal of “enhancing competition and consumer choice”.
The problem, states Barnes & Noble, is that if Amazon secures possession of the domains, all rival companies will find themselves shut out:
“No bookseller or publisher other than Amazon will be able to register second-level domain names in .book, .read and .author without Amazon’s approval, leaving Amazon free to exclude competitors and exploit the generic Book TLDs for its sole benefit.”
The Association of American Publishers has also weighed in with its own arguments, claiming that Amazon is clearly trying to seek “exclusive control” of the “.book” gLTD to further its own business interests, at the expense of thousands of other companies, organizations and individuals who also have valid interests in the domain.
Somewhat predictably, Amazon has so far refused to comment on the claims its pursuing internet-wide domination of the book industry, but one only needs to read its applications for the book TLDs to see how valid these fears are.
“.BOOK will be a single entity registry, with all domains registered to Amazon for use in pursuit of Amazon’s business goals.” states one of the applications.