Windowing is a Great Way to Not Sell Content

oblivion movie posterIn this day and age the average consumer expects to be able to buy what they want when they want and receive it in a reasonable amount of time. That’s certainly what I was thinking when I first saw the trailer for the new Tom Cruise movie, Oblivion.

This movie won’t be out until next April, but the first trailer has been posted online and it looks intriguing. I don’t quite understand the story, but it looked like it could be interesting so as soon as I learned that it was based on a graphic novel of the same name I started looking to see where I could buy it.

Universal bought the movie rights to the graphic novel in 2010, so I figured that it had to have been out since at least early 2011 and available somewhere, in paper if nothing else.

Nope. It’s not available in the Kindle or any other ebookstore nor could I find it via Inkmesh, the ebook search engine, or BookFinder, Amazon’s pbook search engine. I couldn’t even find it on The Pirate Bay.

Finally I broke down and contacted the publisher, Radical Studios, and this is what I was told:

The graphic novel is currently in development and is scheduled to release next year to coincide with the movie. As a result, it is currently unavailable.  The release of the novel is a complex issue that involves both us and Universal hence the delay.

Yes, windowing is alive and well in 2012, in spite of the fact that it makes absolutely no sense in this case.

For those not familiar with the term, windowing is industry jargon which refers to media companies deciding to delay the release of  content. Whether the content is simply not sold into a particular market (Australia, for example), or is delayed in one form (a song might not be available on Spotify months after it is released), windowing is a tool which some in media companies use to try to boost income.

It is, for example, the reason why a movie might hit theaters one month, pay-per-view the next month, DVD 2 months later, and then finally Netflix the month after that.  Have you ever gotten annoyed when an episode of your favorite show arrived on Hulu a month after it airs on TV? That is windowing.

As you can imagine, this frustrates customers and sometimes leads to piracy. But in this case it just leaves me pissed off.

Leaving aside the fact that I want to spend my money and am being told NO, blocking the release of this graphic novel is probably costing Universal free advertising.

Right now there are no comics blogs talking about the graphic novel, and there are no SF blogs talking about the graphic novel. That is a lot of free buzz which the movie isn’t getting.

And I seriously doubt that I am the only frustrated reader. Pretty much anyone who reads SF has, at one point or another, seen an interesting movie trailer (or movie) and bought the related book.

The lost sales aren’t helping. Each person who can’t buy the graphic novel is one more person who cannot share details online, something which would help to build interest in the $140 million movie.

That’s an awfully large investment to make in a movie just to through away free buzz, isn’t it? Let’s hope it doesn’t bite Universal in the ass.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. David17 December, 2012

    Not sure this is worth pointing out. But I’ve been reading SF for almost 40 years, and I’ve never bought a book b/c of a movie trailer. Or b/c of a movie either. Or at least I don’t remember doing so.

    Not that I’m against the idea in principle; it’s just never occurred to me. Maybe it will, at some point in the future. But I guess I don’t have the notion in my head that it makes sense to do such a thing.

    Anyway. Your point stands.

    Just sayin’.

    1. Nate Hoffelder17 December, 2012

      I tried to buy The Time Traveler’s Wife because of the trailer (not available as an ebook). I also did buy the Watchmen graphic novel after hearing the buzz online, as well as Surrogates, the graphic novel.

      And in terms of reading, I have also read Children of Men, Fatherland, and much of the work if Philip K Dick as a result of seeing the movies.

      On a related note, I doubt that this is a generational issue. I can recall that The Time Traveler’s Wife was getting a lot of discussion on MobileRead as the members were uniformly frustrated in our attempts to buy the ebook.

    2. The Ogre17 December, 2012

      “But I’ve been reading SF for almost 40 years, and I’ve never bought a book b/c of a movie trailer. Or b/c of a movie either.”

      I’ve been reading SF for about 30 years, and I *have* bought a book because of a movie. Bought the movie edition of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” at the drug store across from the theatre back in ’84 where I’d just seen the David Lynch adaptation. (and thank the gods I did get it, else I probably never would’ve realized just how bad the Lynch movie actually was! 😛

      Still have that exact paperback, BTW, and read it every year or two. Unfortunately, the next read might be the last one as the spine’s starting to go. 🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁

      1. Nate Hoffelder17 December, 2012

        You can probably find it online in reasonably good condition.

        I recently bought an early edition of Heinlein’s Number of the Beast just to see the illustrations. There were quite a few copies on Amazon, and I bet the same will be true for that edition of Dune as well.

      2. fjtorres17 December, 2012

        Try Powell’s used books. You can find a lot of hard to find stuff in good to great condition through them.
        I even found a very specific, very old ACE double from the 50’s at a very nice (read:cheap!) price.

  2. KarlB17 December, 2012

    So is Universal afraid that if they release the graphic novel ahead of the movie, people will say, “Nah, I don’t want to see the movie; I already read the comic book.”

    The only circumstance under which I can imagine anyone saying such a thing is if the full statement is, “I already read the comic book, and it was awful — so incredibly awful that I can’t imagine a decent movie being made from it.”

    So maybe that’s Universal’s reasoning. Maybe they know that the graphic novel and the movie are both garbage, and they hoping to keep that fact a secret as long as possible.

    1. Nate Hoffelder17 December, 2012

      I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it might not be anything more than a desire to control the release combined with not actually understanding the market for or the appeal of the graphic novel.

  3. Isles17 December, 2012

    Nate, didn’t publishers attempt to window eBooks when the Kindle Store first opened? I seem to remember Jeff Bezos talking about this during a Charlie Rose interview, and he said that customers “really rejected” the concept.

    1. fjtorres17 December, 2012

      They tried it for about two months. They dropped it in favor of the conspiracy.

  4. FeRDNYC17 December, 2012

    *IS* this windowing, though? Or could it be, as they say, that the graphic novel is currently in (re-)development?

    Maybe I’m just giving them too much credit for being clever, but I could almost imagine Universal pushing Radical into something… well… befitting their name. Like having the graphic novel re-drawn to more tightly match the cinematics; heck, maybe even have Tom Cruise’s face drawn into all of his character’s panels or something.

    I mean, we’ve all seen the “NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE!” paperback printings that get rushed out to coincide with the theatrical release, every time Hollywood picks up a screenplay based on some novel. In some ways, a graphic novel based on the movie based on that graphic novel would merely be an extension (t0 absurdity) of that practice. It sounds crazy to me, sure… but it doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s a possibility.

    Or, yesh, it could just be that Radical feel like they’ve got one really good shot to move these things, and they’re waiting until they can do it with that same, tired old motion picture tie-in cover.

    1. Nate Hoffelder17 December, 2012

      I asked, and I was specifically told that the story in the graphic novel wasn’t being changed to match the movie. I don’t know about the images, though.

  5. LCNR17 December, 2012

    On the other hand, up until I read your post, I hadn’t even heard of Oblivion…

  6. DavidW17 December, 2012

    The movie is NOT based on a graphic novel. The director and a chum developed what is essentially a story board for the movie before it was green lighted which is not to be confused with the graphic novel that will be released in the future. The graphic novel in question is being currently developed to be released at the same time as the movie and there is no causal relation between that comic and the movie. The publisher didn’t lie to you, you just dismissed what they said which in this case was the unvarnished truth.

    This is not windowing, end of story.

    1. Nate Hoffelder17 December, 2012

      You could well be correct about the causality, but if you are then all the publicity info is wrong (or at best misleading). Everyone says that the movie is based on the graphic novel. Here’s what Radical said in their most recent press release:

      The sci-fi epic is based on a yet to be released Radical Publishing graphic novel,

      At the very least they delayed finishing the novel until the movie comes out. So they paused an unfinished work instead of putting a finished work in a drawer.

      That still looks like windowing to me. The result is certainly the same.


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