The Secret of “Closed Generic Strings” and the Magic of the Powerful Words They Hide in Their Vault
The most powerful word in the book world is “Book”. It is owned by Amazon. They also own “Author”, “Buy”, “Pay”, “Prime”.
“Song”, “Tunes”, “Wow”, and maybe “Read”.
A Journey into History and Magic by Paul Hunt
The used and antiquarian book business began to change by 2013, into something that looks a lot different today. The 1970’s -1990s were probably the golden years for booksellers in Southern California, for both new and used books. In the 1970s Hollywood Blvd. was packed with bookstores. Pickwick Book Shop anchored the western end of the Street and book stores, back-issue magazine stores, and newsstands spread east to around Argyle Ave. What happened?
A lot of factors went into the turbulent cultural change. Technology and the Internet certainly were, at the end of the millennium, the basic factors. There were others, like an escalating spiral of high rents, the crime wave that hit Hollywood when the Mayor and the big Donkeys decided to push through a “Redevelopment” scam that would work as a regional part of the Great Society’s Urban Renewal, or as the great Jack LeVan said, “Urban Ruin-all”. I was just getting into the used book business in the 1960s when LBJ’s program started to gut out the centers of many major cities across the country, which meant that thousands of older buildings were torn down and hundreds of bookstores were tanked in the process. The same thing happened in Los Angeles.
There were bookstores in downtown Los Angeles and many had spread west on 6th Street in the 1930s. Urban Renewal pushed the survivors westward. Dawson’s ended up on Larchmont, Zeitlin settled into a barn on La Cienega, a few like Caravan managed to hang on until recent times. Hollywood Blvd had book stores from the 1920s on up, and became the mecca of literature by the 1960s.
When high rents and high crime began to force book stores out of Hollywood, many went to Westwood and further to Santa Monica. Others moved to Burbank’s old Outdoor Mall. Unfortunately, the rents continued to climb and the internet experienced massive growth.
There is now little left of the once plentiful book and magazine stores. It was a wipe-out, a cultural destruction of enormous consequences, and continues until today. Society had opened up the floodgates of unlimited immigration which, with redevelopment, drove rents up, while the trillions in printing press money pounded the value of the dollar down. The culture, bookstores, art galleries, small theaters, newspapers, magazines, all buckled under the pressure and many collapsed.
From this wasteland of reality emerged a new world. It is a world that is in the ethos, somewhere in time and space, sometimes called “the cloud”, or generally, “the internet”. It it invisible until you get a device that will connect you to the ethereal realm and make it visible to you. Without a device, you cannot see or hear the new world. It is a new land, with domains instead of cities. It rules commerce and will soon rule the world with the introduction of “artificial intelligence”. And if something ever happens to shatter the connection, humanity will be stripped of everything.
In 1994 Jeff Bezos founded an on-line bookselling company called Cadabra
(you know, like Abracadabra, the old magic word). The usage of the word Abracadabra goes back to the late 1600s. It is said to have originated in the Balkins, and may be traced back to Gnostic teachings and a cabalistic name for Almighty God. It is used in magic and magik, a term meaning a transition, something that is happening, something magical: a rabbit is pulled out of a hat.
Bezos decided early on that just the word Cadabra sounded too much like “cadaver” so he came up with “amazon” named after a legendary race of warrior women living somewhere at the edge of the world. Bezos was into words of power and he soon devised a plan to control the mighty words so that nobody else could use them, in effect pulling them from use in the domains of the internet, the new territory of time and space, and by keeping them locked in his vault in the “cloud”, he would deprive any competitor from using them. If this sounds esoteric, it is.
Bezos is also a Wall Street guy, and worked at a hedge fund, so he had contacts to get financing, to launch an IPO, to sell corporate bonds, etc. He officially launched amazon.com on July 6, 1995. In 1997 he launched his IPO with 3 million shares of stock at $18 per share. The stock closed at $23.25, and Amazon made 54 million dollars in one day, much more than selling books. The stock is now over $174 per share. The market cap for Amazon is now $1.81 Trillion Dollars.
The new Top Level Domains (TLD)
Around 2012 there began a heated discussion and competition among various companies and persons about the subject of TLDs and gTLDs, (Generic Top Level Domains). The public had been aware of .com, .org, .biz, etc., the original top level domains that most folks were using back in the turn of the century. Even today, .com is still the most popular domain designation. The problem for many folks is that all the “good” and powerful and valuable names have been taken. This has happened in the book business also. For instance, type in book.com. You can’t get this for your domain, because it is actually owned by Barnes and Noble, and book.com will resolve to barnesandnoble.com. The big guys have sucked up all the good .com names.
So the pressure was for the non-profits who run the internet, like ICANN, to make other top level domains, so that a person or company could, for instance have book.academy, or some other top level domain. Book.academy for example, may not be as good as book.com, but it is not bad, assuming someone does not already have it. A great website is TLD-list.com, where you can see an alphabetical list of all top level domains, and if they are active, a chart comparing prices from various registries. Pay particular attention to the “renewal” fee, because unlike .com which is very reasonable, some TLDs have low first year entrance fees but huge renewal fees for year two and so on. You will also notice that a fair amount of the listed TLDs are “not available”.
Closed Generic Strings
There was a private auction in November of 2014 by ICANN of their new generic top level domains (gTLDs). Amazon was a big winner at this auction, bidding through a shadowy branch of theirs in Luxembourg, with an international domain consultant company, and of course, a suitcase full of money to put up the millions of dollars it would need to put the Bezos plan of action into reality. For some time before the auction, there was a lot of debate, because Amazon was accused of planning to buy up certain gTLDs and then keep them in a vault and not release them for use. This is called holding Closed Generic Strings, a technical term. This was exactly the plan that Bezos had, because the words are powerful, and it was worth untold millions to snag them and keep them from use by competitors.
Here’s a few of the great gTLDs that Amazon owns: .book, .buy, .author, .now, .pay, .prime, .song, .tunes, .wow, and possibly .read. It is hard to track these down, but there’s a partial list. The most important to our book world discussion are .book, .author, and .read. These powerful words are in Amazon’s vault, and have been for years. Despite these having an original rule that whoever buys them can only have them for 10 years, Amazon seems to have figured out how to keep these forever. It’s like when Disney managed to bludgeon the copyright laws of the United States so they could keep Mickey Mouse for additional years. Money, power, and Wall Street talk the big talk.
By using a generic name, like book, we could have potentially thousands of booksellers getting together and registering their names like PickwickBookShop.book, or Antiquarian.book. If the renewal rate was reasonable, a lot of book folks, publishers, writers, and booksellers would be using .book as their domain. But Bezos does not want the competition.
The same is true of .author, another generic name that Amazon has locked up. Many authors and writers would love to have their name and use the gTLD of .author. Example johnsmith.author. The same would be true of .read, but this would appeal to an even broader audience.
It is not enough for Amazon to control the new book market. They also control a huge part of the used book market. And although they have large numbers of independent sellers, they also have ways of putting their own used books first. They also own Abebooks.com, the largest formerly independent platform for used books. Abebooks owns bookfinder, a large site to search for books. Amazon also owns Goodreads.com, a huge site that does book reviews; IMDB.com which houses all the information about films; Twitch.com, a huge gaming site, and through other entities such web sites as Wag.com (pet supplies), Soap.com (household needs), Diapers.com (baby supplies), and BeautyBar.com (cosmetics) and a whole lot more. Amazon has been known to buy up smaller competitor’s sites and then close them.
Before ICANN handed over these powerful names to Amazon, there were a lot of negative comments and warnings from other competitors and community watchdog groups, all ignored, but here is a sampling below:
Heather Dryden, an Australian consumer advocate: the applicant is “seeking exclusive access to a common generic string .. that relates to a broad market sector,” which Ms. Dryden notes could have unintended consequences and a negative impact on competition. Amazon was subject to a large amount of identical warnings.
Barnes and Noble sent a scathing letter:
Barnes & Noble, Inc. submits this letter to urge ICANN to deny Amazon.com’s application to purchase several top level domains (TLDs), most notably .book, .read and .author (collectively the “Book TLDs”). Amazon, the dominant player in the book industry, should not be allowed to control the Book TLDs, which would enable them to control generic industry terms in a closed fashion with disastrous consequences not only for bookselling but for the American public. If Amazon, which controls approximately 60% of the market for eBooks and 25% of the physical book market, were granted the exclusive use of .book, .read and .author, Amazon would use the control of these TLDs to stifle competition in the bookselling and publishing industries, which are critical to the future of copyrighted expression in the United States.
Amazon’s ownership would also threaten the openness and freedom of the internet and would have harmful consequences for internet users worldwide. When ICANN announced its plan to increase the number of TLDs available on the Domain Name System, one of its stated goals was to enhance competition and consumer choice. However, if the Book TLDs applications are granted to Amazon, 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
(It must be noted that although I agree with Barnes and Noble’s argument, they themselves have a lock on book.com.)
The Booksellers Association of Switzerland:
In the case of a closed generic TLD like .books, the exclusivity granted to the winning applicant would de facto strengthen the position of a single big operator in the book industry and would be detrimental to the industry as a whole
There were many more comments against Amazon, including a lot of competitors who applied for the powerful generic names. They were all rejected.
And so Jeff Bezos said “abacadabra” and now out of the ethereal universe comes to his vault .book, .author, .pay, .now, .prime, .buy, .song, .tunes, and more. It’s magic, folks, and for these powerful words that cannot be touched or used by the unwashed masses, he traded paper tokens produced with more magic by the Federal Reserve. There is a veil over our heads, and it’s hard to peep through the fabric to see the unseen universe and the magik, magic, mystery, prestidigitation, wizardry, sorcery and incantation involved.
Hey, what about .page? Oh, that’s owned by google.com. The good news is that it is available and very reasonable to renew. So kudos to google, and hope this helps some folks travel down their path to finding their very own domain. Just remember, you can trade your tokens to rent it, but you can never actually “own” it. It is only “real” in the alternate universe of the “internet”, and controlled by an entity that used to be referred to as the “I Am” in this world, now called the “I Can” or ICANN in the world of the magical universe.