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Kindle Launches Graphic Novel Price War

'Watchmen' at $9.99

Published: 09/29/2011, Last Updated: 10/03/2011 04:30am
Watchmen, the all-time graphic novel bestseller for retailers, is being offered by Amazon for the Kindle Fire at $9.99, which may portend the kind of price war that Amazon kicked off in the book market when it first launched the b/w Kindle.  Amazon’s advance listing for the Kindle Fire version of Watchmen, which will be released November 15th, shows a “digital list price” (presumably provided by DC) of $17.99, and a “Kindle Price” of $9.99.  Watchmen is one of 100 DC graphic novels for which digital editions will be available exclusively on the Kindle Fire (see “Watchmen on Kindle”). 
The DC graphic novels for the Kindle do not appear to be provided by comiXology; the description of Watchmen refers to the “Kindle Panel View” rather than comiXology’s “Guided View.”  ComiXology will be available in the Kindle app store, which offers Android apps.
The $9.99 pricing for digital editions has a significant history in the book business because of the channel conflict it caused and the reaction of mass merchants who felt it necessary to match prices.  In 2009, Amazon began selling Kindle editions of new hardcover bestsellers at $9.99, a price below its cost, which was based on a discount off cover price.  The move was taken as a loss leader to build sales for the Kindle.  Walmart and Target responded by selling the print versions of those books at $9.99 (also below their cost of goods).  The resulting disruption of the market led to a call by the American Booksellers Association to investigate the companies for predatory pricing (see “Booksellers Go to Department of Justice”). 
The pricing also led to contentious disputes between Amazon and some book publishers, who wanted to retain the ability to set their own retail prices and commission Amazon on an “agency model.”  Early last year, the dispute between Macmillan and Amazon reached the point where Amazon ceased selling all Macmillan books for a time (see “E-book Smackdown”).  The willingness of a major publisher like Macmillan to forgo dealing with Amazon over this issue showed the stakes of the dispute: Macmillan clearly felt that the $9.99 price was ultimately disruptive to its over-all business. 
Amazon eventually caved and allowed Macmillan to set its own prices, a development that most attributed to new competition from Apple’s iBooks store, which allowed book publishers to set their own prices.
Up to this point, DC has been very careful to protect comic stores from the biggest impacts of digital content, windowing its New 52 releases at full price for digital editions for the first month, and offering comic stores the opportunity to open Digital Storefronts through comiXology so they could sell digital editions of New 52 titles along with print editions. 
But the Kindle Fire edition of Watchmen is a digital exclusive to Amazon, and thus not available for comic stores to sell, and the $9.99 price is 50% off the retail price for the paperback edition that has been the most popular version of the graphic novel classic.  The Kindle FIre exclusives are also not available to DC digital comic purchasers that have been buying their comics through the comiXology or DC Comics apps.   

DC’s deal with Amazon for the Kindle Fire is a potentially disruptive game-changer that could have far-reaching impacts on the market for physical and digital graphic novels in the future. 
 
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