By DAVID STREITFELD
The tablet wars have begun. Superheroes are the prize — or perhaps the victim.
Amazon, seeking to make its coming Kindle Fire tablet as appealing as possible, negotiated a deal with DC Comics for the exclusive digital rights to a hundred popular graphic novels. Among the series: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the Sandman and Watchmen.
Barnes & Noble, with a tablet of its own to nurture, did not like this one bit. Two weeks ago it removed all the copies of the physical volumes from its 1,300 stores, saying it would not carry any book if it were denied the right to sell the digital version.
Books-a-Million, the third-largest bookseller with 231 stores, followed suit last week, making the same argument.
Booksellers of all sorts used to pride themselves on never removing any book from their shelves, but that tradition — born in battles over censorship — is fading as competitive struggles increase. Last year, in a sort of foretaste of the present conflict, Amazon temporarily removed the “buy” buttons for the publisher Macmillan as part of a struggle over e-book pricing.
This time, the stakes are once again high. The two chains are desperate to avoid becoming showrooms for Amazon’s digital warehouse, which would quickly send them to the bookstore graveyard like their former colleague Borders. DC Comics must stay relevant in a world where many of its young male fans read everything on mobile devices — not the most congenial medium for comics. And Amazon must preserve and extend its dominance.