It really does seem like 2011 is the Year of The E-Book Kerfuffle. The latest contestants for the Idiot Response To New Media Award are Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million. These two fine establishment chains (both retail giants) have decided to stop selling hundreds of titles published by DC Comics.
Why? Because Amazon got the digital rights to these graphic novels and comics in an exclusive arrangement for its new Kindle Fire tablet device
Apparently the retailers decided that if they couldn't sell the digital version then they weren't going to sell the paper versions either, so nyah-nyah phblblblbttt. Meanwhile, over in that corner DC is saying you can't have your comics on the iPad or even the old Kindles either so nyah-nyah... well, you get the idea.
Seriously, this resembles not an intelligent foray into 21st-century business model development around digital media but rather a sand-throwing, hair-pulling, name-calling playground tussle among five-year-olds. It's multiple sides cutting off their noses to spite their faces, and along the way hose their fans, customers, and readers. And if you thought music fans were fanatically dedicated, you have not met comic fans. The best possible outcome of this that I can see is more of those fans going back to their local comic shops for the physical versions of the books and series they love.
As I noted a few weeks ago, deals that lock e-book content to a specific reader are going to screw people over. What may seem like a nice enticement to get new people to buy a particular device is going to piss off the hundreds of thousands of other people who already have an e-book device and no plans (nor money) to buy another one.
What's surprising to me is that it doesn't take more than about 30 seconds of thought to realize that we've been here before, and we're in this situation now. Movies, for example, come out now on both standard DVD and Blu-Ray. Eventually, Blu-Ray players will dominate the market to the point where DVD versions of movies are no longer made. In computer gaming you used to get new games out on CD and DVD; now the vast majority of gaming PCs have a DVD reader or a net connection so nobody makes games on CDs anymore. See also books on tape, audio LPs, and on and on. It's possible that in the next few years or so one e-book capable device or one e-book format will come to be sufficiently common that producing only that one is an appropriate business model. But not now.
If companies weren't busy being blinded by the "ooh new shiny" of the sudden surge in e-book numbers they might take a moment to learn from history. Resquiat in pacem, Santayana.