Barnes & Noble protests Kindle deal by yanking books

The book publishing business has largely avoided the exclusive deals that marked record companies' first digital forays, but that's changing. In the wake of a Kindle Fire deal with DC Comics, Barnes & Noble responds by pulling books from its shelves.

The DC Comics deal with Amazon for exclusive content on the Kindle Fire (pictured) has Barnes & Noble seeing red.

What does Barnes & Noble think of the Kindle Fire? While it may not have released a statement about the device, the company's actions speak louder than its words, at least regarding an exclusive digital graphic-novel deal that freezes out the maker of the Nook.

Just after announcing its Kindle Fire tablet last week, Amazon also announced a partnership with DC Comics to sell digital copies of 100 of DC's graphic novels exclusively on the Fire.

"We're thrilled to work with the leader in digital books to bring many of the world's most beloved and best-selling graphic novels to Kindle readers," said Jim Lee, co-publisher of DC Entertainment, DC Comics' parent company, in a statement. These included superhero books starring Batman and Green Lantern, the entirety of Neil Gaiman's fantasy/horror series "The Sandman," and Alan Moore's "V for Vendetta," which has recently seen its Guy Fawkes masks revived by members of the hacktivist group Anonymous.

Barnes & Noble responded to the deal in a statement today by revealing that it has tied its physical copies to its digital ones. "We will not stock physical books in our stores if we are not offered the available digital format," said Jaime Carey, the company's chief merchandising officer. He explained that to have the physical book but not the e-book, "would undermine our promise to Barnes & Noble customers to make available any book, anywhere, anytime." And so, the company has removed those 100 books from its brick-and-mortar store shelves, even though the Fire isn't due to arrive until November 15.

In a statement, DC said that while it is disappointed in the move, it is "pursuing multiple distribution channels" that include independent bookstores, locally owned comic book retailers, and digital options including the Kindle apps, the DC-branded Comixology apps, and Comixology's Web stores. This means that the books won't be locked in to the Fire tablet.

These moves by both Barnes & Noble and DC/Amazon are aggressive ones and could signal drastic change for the publishing industry, if physical-book retailers are willing to withhold books from their audience, and theoretically hurt their own bottom line, as retaliation against digital deals.