(Corrects corporation headquarters in sixth paragraph of story published May 31.)
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 Amazon (AMZN).com Inc. 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 Inc. (BKS) and publishers in objecting to Amazon’s application to win ownership of the .book domain. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the non-profit 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 (GOOG) Inc. 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 SA (OR), the world’s largest cosmetics maker, is vying for .beauty with Top Level Domain Holdings Plc (TLDH), 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. (RL)’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 Cologne, Germany-based Sedo Holding AG’s Sedo.com, 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.
Mary Ellen Keating, a spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble, declined to comment, as did Craig Berman, an Amazon spokesman.
Amazon in its application said 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 Plc, 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 e-mailed statement.
FairSearch.org, which says it defends online competition and includes software maker Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and online travel agency Expedia Inc. (EXPE), filed objections to Google’s requests for names including .search, .fly and .map, the group said in a blog post.
Having control of the names would give Google power to limit .search to its own properties, and would give it power to decide which mapping and flight-booking competitors could have access to “important new signposts on the Internet,” the group said.
The European Commission is investigating whether Google thwarts competition in the market for Web searches. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission in January closed its review of Google’s search business without taking action.
“Google, the dominant provider of Internet search and search advertising, should not be given the power to reject applications from competitors,” Ben Hammer, a vice president at Washington-based public relations agency Glover Park Group who serves as a spokesman for FairSearch, said in an e-mail.
“We’re just beginning to explore a new source of innovation on the Web, and we are both excited and curious,” Smith said. “By opening up more choices for Internet domain names, we believe users will have options for more diverse --and perhaps shorter -- signposts in cyberspace.”
Some objections have little to do with business.
Closely held apparel maker Patagonia Inc. evoked 1,148 comments about its proposal to operate .patagonia, including one that said, “this is a geographical region of Argentina.”
The government of Montenegro, the smallest former Yugoslav republic, wants Icann to deny Google’s request for .meme. The term is too similar to Montenegro’s established domain, .me, and “will only serve to cause substantial confusion in the domain name market,” Montenegro told Icann.
Google in its application says the term “connotes the echoing of a cultural idea,” and says it will be used for Web space dedicated to viral phenomenon, ideas, images and videos.
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