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B&N Retaliated Over a Kindle Fire Exclusive

It looks like Barnes & Noble has decided to take a scorched-earth policy on future Kindle exclusives.

Late last week DC Comics announced that they had worked out a deal with Amazon. 100 of DC Comics' best titles are going to be available exclusively on the Kindle Fire when it launches next month. The exclusive is going to last only 4 months, but it’s going to include Watchmen, Sandman, V for Vendetta, and a lot of other popular graphic novels.

Naturally Barnes & Noble is a little pissed about the matter. They had probably been trying for some time now to get DC Comics titles on the NookColor,and to lose them to the competition? Well.

It took them a few days to decide how to respond. According to Bleeding Cool they first tried to talk to DC Comics about the issue and they were stonewalled. And that’s when they retaliated. B&N corporate sent an email to all stores and ordered them to pull all 100 of the titles covered by the Kindle Fire exclusive, including Dark Knight Returns, Fables, Blackest Night, All Star Superman, and Y The Last Man.

Don’t worry; you’ll still be able to order the comics and graphic novels on the B&N website, but you won’t be able to pick up the novels in store.

This reminds me of last year during the early weeks of the Agency pricing fight. Amazon were fighting directly with Macmillan over the pricing issue, and Amazon responded in a manner just  like B&N. They delisted all Macmillan they wee carrying and turned off all the "Buy Now" buttons. naturally it did not go over well with Macmillan, authors, or the book-buying public.Amazon eventually had to back down and apologize, but I’m not sure they’ve ever been forgiven.

Barnes & Noble might not have taken on as powerful of an enemy as Amazon did, but B&N also picked one that can afford to hold a grudge. DC Comics didn’t have a compelling reason to get their comics on the NookColor, and now they have an emotional incentive to refuse.

Let’s hope B&N didn’t piss off anyone other than DC Comics; they need all the goodwill they can get.

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fjtorres October 7, 2011 um 8:23 pm

Given that Fire is both a digital comics and a video storefront, DC (and parent Time Warner) stand to make a lot more money off the deal with Amazon than they might lose to B&N’s snit.

DC has been actively looking to move to digital and video (the recent DCU reboot being just one of several moves in that direction) as they know the days of print "floppies" are numbered. If that is B&N’s best move, DC is unlikely to care overmuch.

I wonder, though, is B&N going to destock Harry Potter books over Sony’s exclusive promo?

Nate Hoffelder October 7, 2011 um 8:49 pm

What Sony exclusive? All they got was a coupon for a free ebook.

fjtorres October 7, 2011 um 9:33 pm

But it is Digital Content that isn’t available to B&N. By the letter of their new policy, B&N is to pull any print content that exists in digital but is not available to them. That means Harry Potter, no? 😉

Personally, I think it is much ado about very little; we’re talking a lot of 20-30 year old comics, many of which aren’t in the b&m stores anyway, and that might sell a copy or two a week at best. Besides, if I were looking for that kind of material, my first stop would be a comic shop, not B&N.

Nate Hoffelder October 7, 2011 um 10:55 pm

Except Sony don’t have it either. No one does.

But your point is still valid; let’s see what happens when the ebooks hit Pottermore.

fjtorres October 8, 2011 um 9:34 am

On further thought, I think there is something meaningful going on here but it has nothing to do with DC or Amazon.
It’s B&N. I think the pressure is getting to them.

Over the last year they’ve done a lot of things right, they have a good vision of where to go, and they have a couple of good weapons in the fight for survival… but they’re low on ammo and getting outflanked by Amazon on multiple fronts.
How people react to pressure says a lot about who they are and where they are emotionally.
B&N is throwing a hissy fit over a common competitive move–a simple timed exclusive–something they themselves have done already (PEANUTS, anybody?) and making policy on the fly. A policy they simply can’t carry through on. (No, I don’t for a minute think that B&N is going to drop the Harry Potter pbooks just because they can’t sell the ebooks.) And what if, come next April, DC takes their graphic novels to Apple, Kobo, and Comixology, and decide they can do without B&N? What if *they* choose to send a message of their own?

It’s a purely emotional over-reaction to a minor PR move and that is worrisome because well-run companies don’t indulge in tantrums, publicly showing up their suppliers, and companies fighting for survival can’t afford tantrums. (Amazon’s own tantrum didn’t end well, did it?) And this is B&N’s *second* public tantrum in the past few months. (The earlier one, their recent filing in their ongoing patent fight with Microsoft didn’t get this much scrutiny but it might be worth revisiting as it too is long on emotion and whining and short on substance.)

Right now, B&N is in a pretty tight spot; the Borders liquidation has depressed the retail pbook business and they haven’t yet started to reap the benefits of reduced competition, pbook buyers seem to be migrating to ebooks faster than expected, and evil Amazon is matching their best cards and raising the stakes.

I hope I’m wrong but it may be that things at B&N are worse than the publicly available data shows. Maybe Encore and Acclaim don’t match up well to Fire, or maybe the Nook Touch isn’t moving well now that everybody has a touch reader? Maybe th college textbook busness is hurting? Maybe B&N needs a killer XMAS quarter and the FedEx effect is saying they won’t?

I’m pretty sure DC isn’t sweating the B&N boycott; they still have their national network of comics shops. But B&N is clearly sweating over *something*.

"I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Chewie."

Ravi October 7, 2011 um 9:34 pm

It certainly feels like the Agency pricing fight, but I do wonder if the balance of power is different this time. Amazon wasn’t the only online bookstore, but Barnes & Noble *is* the only national bookstore chain now. DC might be moving to digital as fast as they can, but they’re still going to feel this.

Peter October 7, 2011 um 11:43 pm

A true scorched earth policy would be disabling the web links.

I think what this is really about is that Barnes and Noble isn’t sure they want to carry the graphic novels anyways.

Physical shelf space isn’t like a web link- it has a very real opportunity cost and stores need to be selective. Comic books take up a lot of floor and shelf space, but they aren’t central to the Barnes and Noble brand, they aren’t big ticket items, they don’t attract a desirable demographic, and it’s a product category that sells better online than in stores.

If they can leverage digital synergy out of the space, then it is worth keeping for that reason alone. If not, Barnes and Noble would be better off expanding the cafe or starting an electronics section rather than wasting space on comics.

Sherri October 8, 2011 um 12:31 am

Maybe it was a function of location or a demonstration of a bad management decision on the part of Borders, but my local Borders had been increasing the amount of shelf space for graphic novels and manga over the last several years. While the shelf space for almost everything else was decreasing, that was increasing.

As I understand it, the exclusive deal was not about comic books, but graphic novels. That’s a very different market.

Nate Hoffelder October 8, 2011 um 8:36 am

It’s not that different. A lot of graphic novels were first released serially as comic books.

fjtorres October 8, 2011 um 9:45 am

And most of the ones in question were in fact serialized first.
The difference between the comics and graphic novel markets is much less than between comics/GNs and prose books.

Sherri October 8, 2011 um 2:07 pm

I mean different not in the customer base but different in the price point. Graphic novels cost more than comic books, more room for margin, discounting, better return on shelf space.

Tyler October 9, 2011 um 12:07 am

I am sure it is not to save shelf space to get more books. They have slowly been reducing shelf space in their stores for the past two years to deplete non selling inventory which means overhead. They have to pay taxes on that stuff because it is property.

Peter October 8, 2011 um 3:45 pm

Well here we go- according to the very first link in the original Bleeding Cool news article, Barnes and Noble’s comics/ graphic novel section was on the way out anyway! This was just two months ago.

And just to make sure we don’t have any wrong ideas- Barnes and Noble has only been in the graphic novel market since May of this year.

So that’s the real story- a store canceled an experimental, underperforming product category after finding out sales would be further undercut by a digital offering.

But Bleeding Cool news prefers to go with the invent inflammatory headline, then react to it school of journalism.

fjtorres October 8, 2011 um 5:39 pm

Barnes & Noble’s position says it all. Direct quote from CBS’s NEWS.COM:

"We will not stock physical books in our stores if we are not offered the available digital format," said Jaime Carey, the company’s chief merchandising officer. He explained that to have the physical book but not the e-book, "would undermine our promise to Barnes & Noble customers to make available any book, anywhere, anytime."

Regardless of what they were doing or were going to do with comics/GNs, the fact is they will *not* be denied. They will *not* tolerate somebody else getting digital exclusives.
Of course, the story is diferent when they are the ones scoring the exclusive:

Tyler October 9, 2011 um 12:10 am

They want to make any book available at any time by not carrying the book.

Bill Smith October 9, 2011 um 9:37 am

Bleeding Cool’s information is inaccurate — Barnes and Noble has carried graphic novels for at least a decade, probably longer.

I know from personal experience, having read and bought graphic novels at a couple of different B&N in scattered geographic areas going back to 2001.

Greg October 10, 2011 um 4:25 am

Bleeding Cool’s report about the Barnes & Noble comic book section was referring to the not insignificant part of their magazine section now devoted to monthly comic books, as distinct from the existing graphic novel/trade paperback section in the book area of the store.

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