Commentary

Barnes & Noble Flexes Retail Muscle Against DC Comics and Amazon Fire

FireGraphic novel fans looking for a copy of "V for Vendetta," "Watchmen" or up to 100 other DC graphic novels at their local Barnes & Noble store this week may not find the otherwise ubiquitous classics of the genre. B&N is yanking hard copies off the shelves, apparently in retaliation for DC’s recent commitment to give the Kindle Fire exclusive digital distribution of the titles. Last week DC announced it would bring about 100 of its graphic novels to the Kindle Fire.

Late last week, the online blog Bleeding Cool reported that a memo had gone out to B&N employees outlining what sounded like outright petty policies regarding the titles. B&N employees reported to the blog that customers could still get the respective titles online at the retailer’s site but could not even have them special ordered and delivered to the store. The DC titles are not allowed to enter the store under any circumstances.

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So there!

B&N issued a statement quoted in The Hollywood Reporter:  "Regardless of the publisher, we will not stock physical books in our stores if we are not offered the available digital format. To sell and promote the physical book in our store showrooms and not have the e-book available for sale would undermine our promise to Barnes & Noble customers to make available any book, anywhere, anytime."

DC responded officially with disappointment and a reiteration that its titles are available on multiple formats digitally across mobile apps and in hard copies at multiple retailers.

This re-emergence of battles over exclusive content distribution rights for a given platform is reminiscent of the early portal days and seems anathema to the contemporary spirit of hyper-distribution. As the video streaming wars loom among Hulu, Amazon, Blockbuster and Netflix, we are starting to seeing these companies jockey for exclusivity rights. Back in the day, we used to argue this point ad nauseum. Do content exclusives really give distribution channels that much of a leg up? Would anyone really choose a device because it has “Watchmen” on it exclusively?

There is also some uncertainty over whether the DC books will only be viewable on a Fire unit or if they also can be read on the Kindle app, which is available on many other devices, albeit not for the Nook Color.  And it is unclear how long Amazon’s exclusivity runs. The digital version will be priced aggressively, however. Many of the full-length graphic novel collections, like “V for Vendetta,” and “Watchmen,” will be sold for $9.99, compared to $17.99 in print. 

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