November 13, 2014

Amazon bought the .book domain and now we have to call books something else


This is not a book.

This is not a book.

The book had a pretty good run. After starting with a bang—the first book published, a debut novel by a ~6 billion year old author, was an instant bestseller—the book has been the dominant cultural medium for centuries. Sure, ceiling painting and songs about dogs occasionally tested the book’s supremacy, but its record can’t really be challenged: Tom JonesTristram ShandyPride and PrejudiceBleak HouseJane Eyre, Middlemarch, Moby-Dick, UlyssesThe Great Gatsby, The Sound and the FuryGileadMason & Dixon, Taken by the T-RexWittgenstein Jr.these are incredible, essential texts. Without books like House of Leaves we would understand neither architecture nor the seasons. We understand the world and ourselves through literature.

Yesterday, that came to an end when Amazon, a company famous for being the exact opposite of Gutenberg’s press, won an auction to own the .book domain name. According to numerous reports, Amazon spent around $10 million for the domain name. That’s a lot of money for a domain name that is probably a complete waste of money, but the real cost was much greater: we can no longer call books “books” because Amazon has paid $10 million to take that word from us. The auction itself was organized by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), which is a fittingly depressing acronym.

Many opposed Amazon’s purchase of the .book domain—we wrote about the controversy way back in 2012, for instance. Last year the Association of American Publishers (or AAP—now that’s an acronym) argued that Amazon owning such a domain would be “counter to public interest.” Last fall, Publishers Weekly summarized the AAP’s objections:

“In short, Amazon makes clear that it seeks exclusive control of the ‘.book’ string solely for its own business purposes,” the filing notes, “notwithstanding the broad range of other companies, organizations and individuals that have diverse interests in the use of this gTLD.”

If the ICANN plan goes forward and Amazon is granted the “.book” domain, “all domains (in .book will be) registered to Amazon for use in pursuit of Amazon’s business goals,” and, as Amazon noted in its appliocation, the ‘.book’ domain would serve as “a unique and dedicated platform for Amazon.”

That would fly in the face of “traditional primary meaning” of the “book,” AAP argued, and would deny those traditioally vested in the book business to take advantage of the domain, such as “authors, publishers, sellers, libraries, literary agents, educators, editors, collectors, illustrators, photographers, printers, binders, archives,” and others.

But the AAP failed: Amazon bought .book and with it they ended the supremacy of the idea of the book. Neoliberalism reigns supreme. The corporation has superseded the artist. The book is dead. All that remains is .book.

So what do we call the things that we read, the things that we love? What is the book in the world of .book? Here are a few possibilities:

If you have other ideas for what to call the book in the world of .book please tweet them at @melvillehouse or email me at alex at


Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.