They are the ones caught in the cross-Fire.
As the Great Tablet Standoff continues between DC Entertainment and Barnes & Noble — as the titans war over the publisher’s new digital exclusivity deal with Amazon and its Kindle Fire — it is comic authors who must suffer professionally.
Yes, readers bear the burden, as well. But even after Barnes & Noble began pulling 100-or-so DC graphic novels from its physical shelves this month — including many Batman, Superman and Green Lantern titles — B&N shoppers can still special-order the books from the bookseller, and get them from the chain’s online store.
Yet when the nation’s biggest bookstore chain disappears your graphic novel from its 1,300 bricks-and-mortar outlets — removing the chance of a new fan’s sudden visual discovery — it’s you who’s going to feel the pinch in the pocketbook, if not in the book's physical profile. It’s tough to communicate with new readers when you’ve been excommunicated.
As the superstar author Neil Gaiman tells Comic Riffs: “I think it’s a bunch of [people] not talking to each other and overreacting — leaving creators out in the cold.”
Barnes & Noble’s DC blacklist includes more than a dozen titles from Gaiman’s landmark “Sandman” series, published by the Vertigo imprint.
“I’m biased: 12 percent of the titles that they’ve physically removed were written by me,” Gaiman tells Comic Riffs. “From my perspective, it’s a ridiculous overreaction [by Barnes & Noble]. The idea that these people [Amazon] have a digital exclusive, therefore [B&N] will give them a physical exclusive, too — I’m not sure it’s a sane business practice.
“If you force publishers to decide between the Amazon tablet and the Barnes & Noble Nook, some of them may come down on the Amazon side.” (The Kindle Fire goes on sale Nov. 15.)
It’s been more than two weeks since Barnes & Noble — responding to DC’s exclusive digital deal with Amazon — said in a statement that it “will not stock physical books in our stores if we are not offered the available digital format.”
“To sell and promote the physical book in our store showrooms and not have the e-book available for sale would undermine our promise to Barnes & Noble customers to make available any book, anywhere, any time,” B&N chief merchandising officer Jaime Carey said in that statement. (B&N subsequently reached a deal with 2000 AD publisher Rebellion and its Alan Moore library, reports CBR.)
Amid the ever-shifting tectonic plates of digital publishing, do DC creators understand B&N’s reaction?
“I think that what Barnes and Nobles did is very strange,” Gaiman tells us, “when you see such a big and powerful bookseller acting as if [it] could go down at any minute.”
(Joseph Lombardi abruptly quit Friday as Barnes & Noble’s chief financial officer; the Wall Street Journal reported that his exit comes “as Barnes & Noble is endeavoring to transform itself into a digital powerhouse so it can better compete with Amazon.com Inc.”)
Another British comics author, David Lloyd — co-creator of the hit DC/Vertigo comic series “V for Vendetta” — also finds B&N’s actions rather “crazy.”
“Though I can see the value of having sequential art digitalized for electronic display,” Lloyd tells Comic Riffs, “denying customers a choice of a hard copy of a book in a bookstore set up for the very purpose of selling books is indeed strange.”
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(As an artist, Lloyd says he also can’t help but hope ”the Kindle Fire version has the right color balance. If so, it might look better than some softcover print copies I've seen of ‘V,’ which would be an upside!”)
Brazilian author Fábio Moon, whose stunning recent comic “Daytripper” (co-created by twin brother Gabriel Bá ) is physically blacklisted by Barnes & Noble, believes these business decisions are reached in a period of particular economic stress. (The chain Books-a-Million, which has more than 200 stories, subsequently made the same move as B&N.)
“I think it’s like a rushed reaction from Barnes & Noble,” Moon tells Comic Riffs. "I don’t think this is going to be a deal for life” between Amazon and DC. (DC Entertainment would not confirm the length of the deal for Comic Riffs, amid some media reports that the deal will only last for several months.)
“I think DC is still figuring out how to please everybody,” Moon continues, “and how to make a strategy for what will be for sale where, and what is available where.”
DC Entertainment confirms this general strategy. “We will continue to explore partnerships with all potential partners,” Courtney Simmons, senior vice president of publicity, tells Comic Riffs. “The goal is to put digital comics and graphic novels on as many devices, in the hands of as many fans, as possible.”
DC also signals that this is hardly a “lifetime” deal with Amazon. “B&N has been a valuable partner of ours in the past,” DC tells Comic Riffs, “and we hope to continue to work with them in the future.”
Some of the blacklisted comics are by creators Jim Lee [left] and Geoff Johns, who are also in decision-making roles as top executives at DC Entertainment.
Some creators, however, don’t feel quite so empowered.
“I feel worried about not having ‘Daytripper’ in big bookstores,” Moon tells ‘Riffs, “mainly because the type of comics that I do don’t work [by being] only in the direct market. ... Day-to-day stories about slice of life is not something that appeals to everybody.”
MAD magazine caricaturist Tom Richmond takes a measured approach to B&N’s actions.
“I can understand the frustration of a company like Barnes and Noble when a publisher makes an exclusive deal to distribute their product digitally with someone else,” Richmond tells Comic Riffs, “but I don't see how removing the physically printed version from their shelves does anything but cause consumers to buy that elsewhere, as well.”
Several titles by the DC-owned MAD are on the physical blacklist.
“On the other side of the coin,” Richmond continues, “it can't be good to frustrate millions and millions of iPad users who want to legitimately buy your product but are unable to do so.
“An unfortunate situation.”
Gaiman, intriguingly, comes at this business decision — what he calls B&N’s ”intimidation” tactics — from an unusual perch: He previously offered Barnes & Noble an exclusive for leatherbound editions of his novels “Anansi Boys and ”American Gods.”
“If when I gave Barnes and Noble exclusives to do ‘American Gods’ and ‘Anansi Boys,’ I would have been hurt and upset had Amazon stopped selling [them],” says Gaiman, adding that he would have thought such a reaction “childish and foolish.”
Gaiman — who says he believes DC was surprised by B&N’s reaction — also emphasizes that he’s been unhappy with the fan reaction directed toward him.
“What really p----s me off,” Gaiman tells Comic Riffs, “is when I get irritated hate mail on Twitter or on my website, as if somehow I was consulted and organized it and planned it, and was keeping their poor Nook” from having the books.
As many of the creators continue to be caught in the middle — caught, too, in what Gaiman calls “an information vacuum” — the concerned Moon copes from Brazil by waxing philosophic:
“I try not to think about it in the short term, because books are made to last forever.”