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by Kevin Coupe

There is an interesting new battle shaping up between and Barnes & Noble, and at issue is how Superman and his fellow DC Comics superheroes are going to be followed by fans.

For those not in the know, it should be pointed out here that DC Comics - owned by Time Warner - has decided to reboot virtually all of its archetypal superheroes, creating new and updated origin stories for Superman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman. In doing so, it decided to take the no-longer-quite-so-radical step of making the new comics available for digital download, as well as a series of graphic novels.

And, so, according to the Los Angeles Times, “DC agreed to give Amazon exclusive digital distribution rights for the books, which include ‘Watchmen’ and graphic novels featuring Batman and Superman, for four months starting with the launch of the Kindle Fire on Nov. 15. The deal gives DC's books, which are being made available digitally for the first time, the advantage of being part of Amazon's huge marketing push for the Kindle Fire.”

Barnes & Noble then decided not to carry even physical copies of 100 graphic novels published by DC, saying that “to sell and promote the physical book in our store showrooms and not have the ebook available for sale would undermine our promise to Barnes & Noble customers to make available any book, anywhere, anytime.”

DC said it was “disappointed” in the Barnes & Noble decision, but is not backing down. As the Times writes, “DC will swallow the sales hit from Barnes & Noble for the four months rather than alter its Amazon agreement, apparently betting that it can make more money online than it would have in the retail giant's stores.”

It is an interesting conflict, from a marketing point of view; the question is to what extent retailers need to differentiate themselves in terms of product lines, and play hardball in terms of the competition. On the one hand, by not carrying the physical graphic novels, it could be argued that Barnes & Noble is even less living up to its promise “to make available any book, anywhere, anytime.” On the other hand, if one of your suppliers is going to give preferential treatment to your competition, that would certainly seem to be Eye-Opening grounds for reassessing the terms of your relationship.
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