Monthly Archives: March 2013

Turow on Amazon/Goodreads: This is how modern monopolies can be built

Amazon’s garden walls are about to grow much higher. In a truly devastating act of vertical integration, Amazon is buying Goodreads, its only sizable competitor for reader reviews and a site known for the depth and breadth of its users’ book recommendations. Recommendations from like-minded readers appear to be the Holy Grail of online book marketing. By combining Goodreads’ recommendation database with Amazon’s own vast databases of readers’ purchase histories, Amazon’s control of online bookselling approaches the insurmountable.

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B&N vs. S&S: Keep Authors Out of It

There’s an ongoing dispute over retail terms between Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble. Ebook sales terms seem to be a key battlefield, but accounts of the dispute are conflicting.

Accounts of the tactics are conflicting as well. It seems clear that B&N has pared back its orders of Simon & Schuster titles — as a story posted by Jeffrey Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) this afternoon confirms. We haven’t been able to confirm, however, that B&N is taking punitive action directed at Simon & Schuster or whether it’s cutting back on book orders generally. It seems unlikely that B&N would be cutting back generally on new titles (it still has many, many stores to fill with books, and new titles are the lifeblood of retailing), but odder things have happened.

We strongly condemned Amazon three years ago when it removed the “buy buttons” from nearly all of Macmillan’s books in an attempt to pressure the publisher into rescinding an announced change to its ebook sales terms. We said then that those “hardest and most unfairly hit are authors with new books published by Macmillan that are in their prime sales period.” See “The Right Battle at the Right Time,” Feb. 2, 2010.

Our views haven’t changed: targeting a publisher by punishing authors as their new books hit the marketplace is an over-the-top tactic that a retailer with B&N’s market clout should never employ. A new book makes or breaks in the first few weeks after it hits bookstores.

Publishers and retailers have fought over sales terms forever.  We hope that reports of B&N singling out new Simon & Schuster titles prove to be unfounded.  New books deserve a fair shot at reaching their readers.

What’s Up With ICANN’s Move to Privatize the Internet Namespace?

Our objections, and those of others, to ICANN’s sale of exclusive rights to .book, .author, .read and other new top-level domains have gained some traction in the media. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), the Telegraph and many others have written about our concerns that private placement of such terms will, as Scott Turow wrote, allow “already dominant, well-capitalized companies to expand and entrench their market power.”

Before we get to our question, here’s some background. Top-level domains are the .com, .org, etc. in Internet addresses.  Such domains in the past have been open, allowing virtually anyone to claim any available domain (mynewbook.com, for example) by paying a fee to Network Solutions, GoDaddy or other registrars. Most of ICANN’s proposed new top-level domains, however, will be closed, allowing proprietary control over these domains. This seems fine for genuine brand names — .pepsi, .nike, .gucci — but problematic for the long list of generic domains ICANN plans to sell, such as .news, .blog, .cloud, .art, .search. The full list is here.

Now here’s our question: Does anyone know why ICANN* is doing this?

We haven’t found a satisfactory answer, which, to us, suggests someone stands to profit handsomely. Is that right? Or is there a public purpose to this that we’re missing?

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*ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. It’s a private company with vast power over the Internet, but seems answerable to no one.

Scott Turow: No Private Company Should Control .book/.author Domains

Yesterday, Authors Guild president Scott Turow objected to ICANN’s plan to sell .book, .author, and other generic top-level domains (“top-level domains” are website suffixes such as “.com” and “.org”) to private companies.  Amazon has bid to be the exclusive custodian of the .book and .author domains; Google is aiming to control the .blog domain.

“Placing such generic domains in private hands is plainly anticompetitive,” said Turow, “allowing already dominant, well-capitalized companies to expand and entrench their market power.  The potential for abuse seems limitless.”

The complete letter follows, and is posted at ICANN gTLD comments web page.

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