Amazon may be questioning its role in the first round of new top level domain applications.
With the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) recommending that ICANN block Amazon.com’s application for the .amazon top level domain, it poses an interesting question: should Amazon.com bail out on the entire new TLD program?
Assuming ICANN’s board agrees with the GAC, I suspect the question will at least be discussed at Amazon. The answer has a lot to do with what Amazon actually plans to do with its new TLDs – something only Amazon.com knows.
The Governments Speak
Governments around the Amazon have spoken out against Amazon.com’s application for .amazon. Apparently, they’ll be irreparably harmed by Amazon owning .amazon. (Apparently, ownership of .amazon would not, on the flip side, be a huge help to the region as it did not apply for the domain itself.)
For more about the government challenge, listen to my interview on Southern California NPR affiliate KPCC.
The Governmental Advisory Committee has recommended that .amazon and two IDN equivalents be rejected.
A Lot of Domains
Amazon.com is one of the biggest applicants in ICANN’s top level domain program. It applied for 76 top level domains including 11 internationalized domain names. Many of the applications are brand related including .audible, .kindle, and the at-risk .amazon. Others are generic terms such as .wow, .game, and .mail.
A controversial approach
An interesting aspect of Amazon’s applications is that it doesn’t plan to offer any second level domain registrations to the public.
That’s not just domains under .amazon and .kindle. It also includes the generic domains. So if Amazon is awarded .kids, no one other than Amazon and its affiliates could register domains such as toys.kids, swimsuits.kids, etc.
Amazon is not alone in wanting to keep generic domains closed. Other applicants, including Google, want to keep some domains tightly controlled. But Amazon is the biggest closed applicant, as it wants to restrict all 76 of its strings.
There is some community pushback, and it’s possible that rules will be changed to forbid keeping TLDs closed.
Just what does Amazon want with these domains, anyway?
Amazon.com has been very quiet about its intentions for each string. Its applications all use basic language around using them for the best use of the company, communications, etc.
There are a few theories.
First, it could be a defensive play. Amazon registers a bunch of second level domains under various TLDs. By paying $185,000 for a string and keeping it closed, it doesn’t have to bother registering more domains in more TLDs. Even though it probably wouldn’t spend $185,000 for defensive registrations under each TLD, it’s a whole lot easier than registering domains one by one.
There’s another side to this defensive play, and that’s to keep these strings out of competitors’ hands. Keeping them out of competitors’ hands implies that Amazon thinks there may be some value to owning the TLDs.
So another theory is that Amazon has some grand plan for web domination with the help of strings such as .zero, .box, and .cloud.
Amazon could create product pages under a string like .book, e.g. authorname.book. Or hasbro.toys.
This would allow people to use direct navigation to find what they’re looking for. Under Amazon, someone could type waterfilters.amazon rather than going to Amazon.com and typing “water filters”.
Under ICANN’s guidelines this would be rather cumbersome. Amazon would have to register (and pay for, above a certain threshold) each second level domain that someone would possibly type in. It could already do something similar (and more easily) by letting people type in a third level domain like waterfilters.amazon.com.
It’s also possible that this could be helpful for search engines or suppliers.
Amazon could also plan on opening the strings up to registrants later on.
I suspect that Amazon’s goals are a combination. Some of it is defensive, some of it is for marketing, and some of it is ‘hey, let’s go after these strings just in case we have a use for them’.
The problem with the marketing angle is this: if it doesn’t have .amazon, does the rest of the marketing strategy fail? If people are trained to type in hasbro.toys, but can’t type in hasbro.amazon, does that blow the whole idea out of the water?
Why Amazon could, but likely won’t, bail on the program
Amazon paid over $14 million to ICANN for the privilege of applying for its 76 top level domains. Under normal circumstances, you might think it could use the threat of abandoning the program as a way to pressure ICANN into overruling the GAC’s advice.
There are two reasons this won’t work.
First, although Amazon is one of the biggest applicants, it represents just 4% of applications. It doesn’t have any power to move the program.
Second, ICANN would probably welcome the absence of Amazon’s controversial closed applications.
If you’re Amazon, though, would it make business sense to pull the applications and get a partial refund? If .amazon is critical to its strategy, and if it thinks the chances of getting .amazon are gone forever, then yes.
If .amazon isn’t critical to the strategy, then it makes sense to forge ahead.