I want to root for B&N. They’re fighting for survival, and facing off against a seriously tough market. But their behavior this week makes me think the wheels are coming off a bit at B&N HQ, and that fear and stress, not strategy, are running the show right now. They’ve pulled 100 DC Comics titles from their physical stores (the titles are still available online), all over anger regarding DC’s exclusive deal with Amazon to bring the same 100 titles to the Kindle (Fire and tablet apps).
Bleeding Cool about Amazon’s exclusivity:picked up this report from
Well now the other shoe has dropped. I understand that Barnes & Noble executives are furious over this, specifically citing DC’s reluctance to release any of their graphic novels on the Nook Color, Barnes & Noble’s own colour E-reading device.
They contacted DC to express their displeasure, but hit a brick wall. And as a result, they’ve gone for a scorched earth policy. An email sent to stores yesterday instructs them to remove all of the 100 graphic novels listed from the shelves, including Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Sandman, Fables, Blackest Night, All Star Superman, Y The Last Man, V For Vendetta, all strong sellers for the company. You will still be able to order the books on the website, but in bookstores you won’t even be able to special order a copy – unless you request it delivered to your home. Copies will not be allowed to enter Barnes & Noble premises.
Barnes & Noble’s nose, meet your face. Prepare for a bloody and painful divorce.
This just makes no sense as a strategy. These are classic comic books, and if B&N isn’t carrying them in-store they just have to hope their customer heads to bn.com and not, say, Amazon.com. Admittedly, losing DC is a huge blow for the NOOKcolor, but cutting down B&N’s sales is just going to hurt B&N, not DC. Forbes weighed in on this debate and pointed out that BN.com sales are expected to grow 60-70%, while B&N’s stores are growing 2-3%. Even assuming that DC’s sales are right in line with B&N’s overall growth, they’re losing a tiny amount compared to the market being unlocked by Amazon Kindle availability. It’s also insane that B&N would knowingly and willingly cut their physical stores ability to sell products, just to prove a point. Yes, B&N is taking a page from Amazon’s boycott of Macmillan a few years ago, but that was deliberate and temporary as part of a negotiating strategy. This is just sour grapes.
I see a few reasons why DC may have picked Amazon over B&N:
1) Amazon has deeper pockets: Look, we all know Amazon is richer than B&N. No one knows precisely what B&N offered DC Comics, but it’s fair to assume that Amazon probably had the ability to offer more. We don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but if it was a pure money issue, it’s unfortunate but this isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last time, that one company lost something to another, richer, company.
2) Amazon has a bigger audience: I haven’t seen ebook marketshare numbers in a while, but in February B&N said they represent 25% of the ebook market. So it’s a fair assumption that Amazon probably holds somewhere between 60-70%, with smaller players like Kobo and Apple pulling in the remainder. Maybe this wasn’t about just the cash; it’s entirely possible DC looked at Amazon’s significantly wider net and decided they wanted to go with the popular girl to the prom. If that’s the case, then B&N needs to prove smaller marketshare makes them primed for more growth, and that they’re hungry for that expansion. Not selling titles makes it really hard to demonstrate that.
3) Amazon has more opportunity for synergy and media upsell: This, I think, gets to the heart of the matter. The buyer of a NOOKcolor gets a very nice tablet-style ebook reader, with some games and apps. A Kindle Fire owner gets a multimedia device that reads books as well as offers games and movies. Amazon has Prime streaming and the Amazon Appstore, plus Amazon sells movies (downloadable and physical). So a customer who buys “Watchmen” in eComic form gets an email reminding them they can also buy or download the movie. Or if they download a “Batman” comic, maybe they get an email reminding them of a movie tie-in app on the Amazon Appstore. The point is, DC is not purely a comic book company, with movie and video game properties as well, and the Kindle Fire is not just an ebook tablet, so there is a strong overlap. It’s very likely this weighed heavily into why DC chose Amazon over B&N, since it has the potential to expand sales of comics, movies, and other products.
In the end, I think B&N is acting extremely short-sighted. This smacks of a decision made in anger and frustration. Someone started ranting about Amazon not only adding pressure with the new Kindles and the Fire, but now they’re stealing content B&N had been pursuing, and it led to pulling titles. B&N needs to find a better path for themselves. They have a great device in the original NOOKcolor, and I have no doubt the NOOKcolor 2 will be another excellent tablet reader. Their efforts should be focused on improvement and not throwing a temper tantrum like a child who didn’t get their way!