is trying to corner the market on the letter z.
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A man identifying himself as a Canadian lawyer for a small, family-owned business has been purchasing several Internet domain names starting with z, according to several domain-name owners. Those domain names include two that Amazon confirmed it has acquired.
Amazon declined to discuss whether it employed the man to buy up domain names.
The deals follow Thursday's enthusiastically received
, Amazon's new online shopping mall. By owning the names, the Seattle-based online retailer can reduce confusion among customers and prevent rivals or detractors from creating anti-Amazon Web sites under similar names.
Since Amazon announced the zShops plan, domain-name owners have been frantically trying to find out how much their names are worth. By Thursday, several owners were talking to Bill Myers, a software designer who over the last several months advised many clients to register names starting in z, about the offers. He told them they could get more money, and they began asking for up to $20,000, Myers says.
The man identifying himself as the Canadian lawyer has been offering name owners considerably less, in the range of $1,000 to $1,500, according to three people who have been contacted. The man gives name owners 48 hours to decide. According to multiple accounts of the conversations, the man doesn't mention Amazon.
By Friday, owners were swapping stories and strategies on Myers' message board, urging each other, "Don't sell any 'z' domain names until you talk to me first!"
It's clear that some owners feel they sold out for far too little. "Any name with a 'z' in it can be sold for to ANY of the various internet sites that are all in COMPETITION with each other," wrote Mark Nolan, previous owner of
. "The bad news is, there are an endless number of liars and lawyers and wolves in sheeps clothing who want to take advantage of you and 'steal' your valuable name."
As a condition of selling the names, domain-name owners have been required to sign strict confidentiality agreements. They aren't allowed to discuss aspects of the deal "including but not limited to" the terms or the buyer, according to a name owner.
Eight variants of the term zShops were already registered with
, the company that assigns names, according to a records search.
Network Solutions' online database doesn't reflect the new ownership yet. A spokeswoman for Network Solutions says Amazon will have to register its ownership of any domain names it's acquiring to complete any transactions it's involved in. Amazon already owns 60 domain names, according to a records search.
The name zShops.com was owned by Nolan, a California business consultant, according to Network Solutions. He had registered the name with plans to build an online shopping mall similar to Amazon's new zShops, Myers said.
Nolan stopped using the name, but because the software used to build the mall can't be resold, the site redirected visitors to Myers' site,
Months ago, Myers noticed that sites with z-names were among the most trafficked on the Internet.
"We started telling our mall owners, 'Look, you're not going to get a good e-name,' " he says. Instead, he "suggested they start registering names starting with z."
Consequently, he has had a front-row seat to the chase for z-names. Myers, who hasn't sold a domain name or signed a confidentiality agreement, first described the deals. Three name owners confirmed Myers' account.
Sharon Greenspan, an Amazon spokeswoman, says the company "bought all the ones we could buy."
Asked about the man presenting himself as a Canadian lawyer, Greenspan says: "We don't comment on rumors and speculation, and we're a United States-based company.
"Every z in front of every business you could possibly imagine is going to be registered in the next 48 hours," Myers says.
Anthony Blake, owner of the name
, says he plans to register three more z-domain names.
"It still amazes me that Amazon didn't close the deal on the z's before they did the announcement," Myers says.
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