Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) doesn’t like comics anymore. Forget the fact that in 2007 the retailer literally was clearing out floor space reserved for traditional titles to make more room for graphic novels — now it’s refusing to sell scads of superhero, horror and dramatic comics at all.
Of course, it isn’t comics across the board that B&N is kicking to the curb, and said kicking isn’t happening because the company is opposed to the medium. Barnes & Noble simply is refusing to sell those published by Time Warner‘s (NYSE:TWX) DC Comics — the house behind Superman, Batman, and many other lucrative properties. Why? Because DC Comics is playing ball with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and not Barnes & Noble.
According to a report at CNN, DC Comics plans to exclusively offer electronic versions of more than 100 comics through Amazon’s Kindle store starting in November. This includes not just best-selling titles associated with marquee brands like Batman and the like, but graphic novels like The Sandman from New York Times best-selling authors like Neil Gaiman, and titles that have been adapted into popular films in recent years, like The Watchmen and V for Vendetta.
Barnes & Noble’s policy is to “not stock physical books if we are not offered the available digital format,” so that means each and every DC book offered only on Kindle is coming off store shelves just ahead of Christmas. They’re just comics, though, right? It’s not like Barnes & Noble is giving up a huge chunk of change by acting like a guy who just got turned down for the prom.
Not necessarily. DC Comics in particular has made a huge marketing push this fall to reconnect with its lost audience, restarting its entire line of comics at issue No. 1 and offering individual issues electronically (monthly periodicals as opposed to the catalog books exclusive to Kindle and disappearing from BKS’ shelves) day and date with physical copies. This included restarting books like the Superman-starring Action Comics that had maintained numerical runs from the 1930s.
The gamble worked. Whereas issue sales have declined year over year for a while now, September comic sales surged. DC Comics sold 3.4 million books during the month, generating revenue somewhere between $10 million and $20 million based on individual issue and graphic novel prices.
It’s a fraction of Time Warner’s overall revenue. The company pulled in $638 million in revenue last quarter, and the Time Inc. publishing imprint that includes DC doesn’t generate nearly the same earnings as Warner Bros. films or other companies. Considering that DC Comics houses major brands like Batman, though — whose film franchise is the eighth highest-grossing film franchise in history — the imprint and its publications have value far beyond their own earnings.
Who loses here? Considering that Barnes & Noble will continue selling those lost titles through its online store, Time Warner shouldn’t worry too much. Barnes & Noble, however, better reconsider its position by the time the newest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, comes out next year lest it lose potential foot traffic.
The other concern for Barnes & Noble is the ever-expanding Kindle library. If Amazon continues to net exclusive content agreements like the one with DC Comics, the Nook Store will find itself struggling to maintain mindshare with consumers.
The secret winner of this kerfuffle? Disney (NYSE:DIS). DC Comics rival and Disney subsidiary Marvel will have all that shelf space to itself this holiday.