Bartleby’s prefers not to see Amazon master of Web books domain

Bloomberg NewsJune 9, 2013 

— Herman Melville’s character Bartleby the scrivener famously said he “would prefer not to,” and 160 years later the owner of Bartleby’s Books would prefer not to see control Internet addresses ending in .book.

“I would just hate to see the cultural process that books represent be controlled by a single firm,” John Thomson, owner of Bartleby’s in Washington and president of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America Inc., said in an interview.

The trade group of 450 booksellers has joined Barnes & Noble and publishers in objecting to Amazon’s application to win ownership of the .book domain. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the nonprofit Web administrator, is weighing requests for more than 1,400 new top- level domains – the letters to the right of the dot, such as .com or .net. The first of the new names in the Internet’s biggest expansion are to appear by year’s end.

Amazon and companies from fashion houses to financial institutions paid $185,000 for each application for a fresh domain. Some applicants are betting there’s money to be made selling website addresses under generic designations such as .game or .shop, while others are trying to protect how their brands are used, with names such as .airbus or .qvc. Search-engine owner Google applied for 101 domains, including .search, .map and .mail.

ICANN says 230 names have more than one applicant, and conflicts may have to be resolved through auctions. Paris-based L’Oreal, the world’s largest cosmetics maker, is vying for .beauty with Top Level Domain Holdings, a London-based company. The U.S. Polo Association, which governs what it calls the “Sport of Kings,” has objected to Polo-brand clothing maker Ralph Lauren Corp.’s bid for .polo.

The contenders are paying the application price because new domain names can be used to lure consumers, Jeremiah Johnston, general counsel for Montabaur, Germany-based Sedo Holding’s which sells Internet names, said in an interview.

“These battles are for the new dot-coms,” Johnston said. “Instead of it just being a company in the background running it like a utility, there’s now going to be motivations for the owners of these new extensions to be the most popular extensions out there.”

Winning applicants can make money by charging for new addresses under their domains, or could use new domains for just proprietary content “having a little bit of a walled garden around your customer base,” Johnston said.

The ability to control the use of generic terms that aren’t brand-specific is at the heart of objections to Seattle-based Amazon’s requests for .book, .author and .read.

Amazon, which controls about 60 percent of the market for electronic books and one-fourth of the market for printed books, would use the addresses “to stifle competition,” New York- based Barnes & Noble said in a letter to ICANN.

“No bookseller or publisher other than Amazon will be able to register” websites in the domains without the Seattle-based online seller’s permission, “leaving Amazon free to exclude competitors,” Vice Presidents Eugene DeFelice and Bradley Feur said in a Feb. 21 letter.

An issue of competition

Mary Ellen Keating, a spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble, declined to comment, as did Craig Berman, an Amazon spokesman.

Amazon said in its application it would run .book “as needed to reflect Amazon’s business goals.”

That’s worrisome, said Allan Adler, general counsel of the Association of American Publishers, a Washington-based trade group that includes Reed Elsevier, the London-based owner of Gray’s Anatomy textbooks, journals publisher John Wiley & Sons Inc., and the Walt Disney Co.’s children’s publisher.

“This would not promote the kind of competition we have been hearing is the rationale for expanding domain names in the first place,” Adler said in an interview.

Companies and groups have put in 1,930 applications for 1,405 names with Los Angeles-based ICANN, which manages Internet functions under a contract with the U.S. Commerce Department.

Objections go before three independent bodies, which may resolve some arguments by August while others linger for “a few months,” Brad White, an ICANN spokesman, said in an emailed statement.

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