Entertainment Industry

Category: DC Comics

Barnes & Noble to pull DC graphic novels in digital spat

Watchmen DC Comics' efforts to expand digital distribution of its graphic novels has gotten it caught in a battle between two book-selling giants.

Barnes & Noble said Friday it will not stock physical copies of 100 of DC's graphic novels that the Warner Bros.-owned unit is making available exclusively on competitor Amazon.com's Kindle platform, including the upcoming Kindle Fire tablet.

DC agreed to give Amazon exclusive digital distribution rights for the books, which include "Watchmen" and graphic novels featuring Batman and Superman, for four months starting with the launch of the Kindle Fire on Nov. 15.

The deal gives DC's books, which are being made available digitally for the first time, the advantage of being part of Amazon's huge marketing push for the Kindle Fire.

Barnes & Noble said it had a policy to not put books that are available on other digital platforms, but not its Nook e-reader, in its 1,341 stores.

"We will not stock physical books in our stores if we are not offered the available digital format," chief merchant Jaime Carey said in a statement. "To sell and promote the physical book in our store showrooms and not have the ebook available for sale would undermine our promise to Barnes & Noble customers to make available any book, anywhere, anytime."

Customers will still be able to special order the books, however, as well as buy them from Barnes & Noble's website.

In response, a DC Entertainment spokeswoman pointed out that the graphic novels will be available on any device with Amazon's Kindle app, including Apple Inc.'s iPad, and not just the Kindle Fire.

"We are disappointed that Barnes & Noble has made the decision to remove these books off their shelves and make them unavailable to their customers," she said.

DC will swallow the sales hit from Barnes & Noble for the four months rather than alter its Amazon agreement, apparently betting that it can make more money online than it would have in the retail giant's stores.

As part of a relaunch in September of all its comic book titles, DC for the first time has been selling all of its comic books as digital downloads the same day they go on sale in stores.

-- Ben Fritz


DC Comics hopes revamped heroes and digital will save the day

DC Comics relaunch setting sales record... relatively speaking

Photo: A panel from "Watchmen." Credit: DC Comics.

DC Comics relaunch setting sales record... relatively speaking

Action Comics Superman

DC Comics is already setting sales records for its upcoming relaunch of 52 superhero titles, a sign that the Superman and Batman publisher's new strategy is garnering fan attention, at least for the moment.

The Warner Bros. unit revealed in a story in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times that pre-orders for Justice League No. 1, which goes on sale Aug. 31, are already higher than 200,000. That makes it the bestselling comic book of 2011. In addition six other No. 1 titles -- Batman, Action Comics, Green Lantern, Detective Comics, Superman and Flash -- have pre-orders higher than 100,000, making them among this year's bestselling comics too.

DC is relaunching its entire superhero line with No. 1 issues over the next month in a bid to simplify and modernize stories and characters to draw new, younger readers. In addition, for the first time it is making all of its comics available on digital devices like iPads the same day they go on sale in stores. It's a two-pronged strategy to revive sales in the slumping comic book market at the same time that comic book characters are being used more than ever by entertainment giants like Warner.

Of course, today's high water mark is not a lot to brag about historically speaking. Veteran writer and editor Marv Wolfman said that when he ran DC's larger competitor Marvel Comics in the 1970s, any title that sold fewer than 175,000 copies would be canceled. In today's comic book market, that would mean Justice League would be the only comic book left.

Sales of comic books have been in a long-term decline. They have dropped steadily for the past three years, and are down an additional 7% so far this year. DC has found a way to reverse that slump for a month, but the big question is whether it can bend the declining sales curve or if it will find itself in the same difficult position next year.


DC Comics hopes revamped heroes and digital will save the day

Warner Bros.' DC Comics team makes a heroic effort to rival Marvel's films

Warner Bros. moves all operations except publishing to L.A. from New York, cuts staff

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Part of a variant cover for DC Comics' new Action Comics No. 1, drawn by Jim Lee. Credit: DC Comics.

Sony Online Entertainment slashes 205 jobs, ceases development of The Agency in reorganization

Sony Online Entertainment said Thursday it will cut 205 jobs, close three development studios and cancel development of an ambitious online spy game dubbed The Agency.

Most of the job cuts are coming at Sony's Seattle studio, which had been developing The Agency for the last five years. The game was slated to ship last November but was delayed. In addition to the Seattle location, Sony will shutter studios in Denver and Tucson.

Sony is expected to take an undisclosed financial charge to close the studios this fiscal year, which ends Thursday.

The company, in a statement, said it would focus on developing two upcoming titles based on its PlanetSide and EverQuest franchises. It continues to run nine online games, including its latest, DC Universe Online. Sony Online, which is a separate division from Sony's PlayStation business, estimated that 20 million people have played its online games over the last 12 months.

-- Alex Pham

How Warner and Sony's video game rivalry led to cooperation on DC Universe Online

DC Universe Online Box Art In early 2005, Sony Online Entertainment's and Warner Bros.' interests in the online gaming business were very far apart.

Warner was preparing to launch the Matrix Online, a multiplayer online gaming world based on its series of hit movies. And it was considering producing a similar game based on the super-heroes and villains from its DC Comics unit.

Sony Online, the online gaming division of the giant electronics parent company, was in advanced negotiations to create a game based on the characters from Marvel Entertainment, DC's chief rival.

By the spring, however, Sony's talks with Marvel had fallen apart, and launch of the Matrix Online was floundering. Eager to find a partner to take over management of the Matrix game, Warner turned to Sony. In the process of talking, the two companies also determined that Sony would be the right company to make a DC online video game.

Meanwhile, Marvel's game license went to Vivendi. Then when Vivendi gave up on the game, Marvel switched to Microsoft Corp. After sinking millions in licensing fees and development costs, Microsoft, too, punted. A Marvel online game is still in production, this time with a publisher called Gazillion Entertainment.

On Tuesday, DC beat its comic book nemesis to the punch. Its game, DC Universe Online, is finally launching after nearly six years in production and more than $50 million in development costs. For more on how it got made, why it took so long and cost so much, see the story in Tuesday's Times.

-- Ben Fritz and Alex Pham

Photo: A copy of the PlayStation 3 version of DC Universe Online from Sony and Warner Bros. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

The Morning Fix: TV's manic Monday and Fox's fizzling 'Lone Star'! DC moves to L.A. Blockbuster nears bankruptcy. Another MySpace remake.

After the coffee. Before wondering if the Oscar talk for "The Town" isn't just a tad premature.

Here we go again. Monday night marked the official start of the new TV season, but it was an old show -- ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" -- that ran away with the viewers. Still, CBS can crow about the launches of "Hawaii Five-0" and "Mike & Molly," NBC can breathe a little easier about its big-budget drama, "The Event," and Fox can ... never mind. Poor Fox might have to adopt the Boomtown Rats song "I Don't Like Mondays" as its new marketing song if things don't improve. "Lone Star," its critically acclaimed drama about a Texas con man failed to hustle up much of an audience. The 9 p.m. show barely broke the 4-million-viewer mark as more than half of the audience from its "House" lead-in fled. There is already talk that "Lone Star" might join that small list of shows canceled after just one episode. HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," which played in less than one-third of the homes of "Lone Star," got a bigger audience and was already renewed for a second season. Ratings analysis on night one of the season from the Los Angeles Times, Variety, Hollywood Reporter and Deadline Hollywood.

No rush on returning that DVD. Blockbuster Inc., once the king of the home-entertainment business, is expected to finally file for bankruptcy later this week. The chain has been shuttering stores for years as it has struggled to keep up with Netflix and Redbox and has a $900-million debt load it is struggling to pay off. Hard to believe that Viacom once paid more than $8 billion for Blockbuster. Then again, it's hard to believe I used to go there all the time and even its heyday didn't like the way the stores were run. Details on Blockbuster's late-fee issues from the Wall Street Journal.

Heard this before. News Corp. is once again promising a "dramatic remake" of MySpace, that other social-networking site that Hollywood isn't making a big movie about. Speaking at a conference sponsored by the Wrap, Jon Miller, the digital czar of News Corp. said the new MySpace will take the site "back to its roots of music, discovery and self-expression" and will "jar some people and excite others." As long as it excites boss Rupert Murdoch, Miller can jar as many people he wants. More on the latest do-over for MySpace from Bloomberg. For more on the other sessions at the Wrap's daylong conference, here is the roundup.

DC moves to L.A. No, not Washington, D.C., DC Comics. Warner Bros. has wrapped up its yearlong reorganization of its DC Entertainment division, otherwise known as DC Comics. The bulk of DC's New York-based operations are headed West, and about 50 people will be let go. Details on the moves from the Los Angeles Times.

Amy on the move. Amy Banse, who has been running much of cable giant Comcast Corp.'s digital operations, is exiting that post, and her job was so big it will be filled by two people, reports Peter Kafka at All Things Digital. Banse isn't expected to leave the company and, in fact, has a very close relationship with Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts and his family and could end up with a very senior position in the new Comcast after the NBC Universal deal closes.

Ready for his closeup. John Gotti Jr., son of the late New York mobster John Gotti, is participating in an effort to bring his life and relationship with his father to the big screen. Gotti told Variety, "The story's about redemption. ... My father had a hard time accepting that I ultimately didn't want to follow his path." No word on who will play Curtis Silwa, the Guardian Angel founder, radio personality and target of a shooting that Gotti Jr. was accused but not convicted of arranging.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: James Rainey on tabloid gossip and how even good things are said without attribution. Patrick Goldstein on the premature Oscar hype for "The Town." Will there be enough hooting from audiences to make "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" a hit? A former assistant to a top Disney executive pleaded guilty to charges related to insider trading. Ex-"SNL" star Norm MacDonald is developing a new show for Comedy Central.

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter and at least the day won't be a total loss. Twitter.com/JBFlint

Warner Bros. moves all DC operations except publishing to L.A. from New York, cuts some staff

NelsonJohns A yearlong reorganization at Warner Bros.' DC Entertainment division has finally concluded as the studio decided to move some of its New York-based operations to the Los Angeles area, resulting in about 50 layoffs.

DC's multimedia production, including film, television and online, along with digital publishing operations will relocate to Burbank, while traditional comic book publishing will remain in New York.

Since last September, when Diane Nelson was named president of DC -- best known for its superhero properties Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman -- she has considered consolidating the entire unit at Warner Bros.' Burbank headquarters, where she works.

"We seriously considered every scenario and looked at the operational, financial and people considerations," Nelson said. "We think this is the best way to go."

DC's non-comic-book production efforts, including film and television properties being developed at the studio, will be overseen by Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. L.A.-based co-publisher Jim Lee will oversee publishing on new digital platforms such as the iPad and co-publisher Dan DiDio will run the comic book operation out of New York.

About 20% of DC's roughly 250 staffers will lose their jobs as part of the shift, while some others will move to the West Coast from the East. In addition, certain new positions are being added in Burbank.

Ongoing uncertainty has played a role in DC's slow ramp-up since Nelson took her job last year. At the time, Warner's top executives said they were counting on the new DC team to help develop a slate of tentpole movies that could become crucial franchises for the studio after the "Harry Potter" series comes to an end next year.

However, although various projects have been discussed, nothing has been given a definite spot on the Warner schedule after next June's "Green Lantern," which was already in the works before Nelson took her job.

But the DC president said that with the unit's organizational changes complete, development and production are now the top priority.

"Our intention is that this is the final culmination of more than nine months of careful planning," Nelson said. "Now we are all looking forward before the end of the year to talking a lot about our content plans."

-- Ben Fritz


Warner Bros.' DC Comics team makes a heroic effort to rival Marvel's films

Photo: DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times.

Warner Bros. alleges 'scheme' in suit against copyright litigator Marc Toberoff

Warner Bros., in an action aimed at undermining one of its key legal foes, sued litigator Marc Toberoff in Los Angeles federal court on Friday, alleging the attorney engaged in a "scheme" to "enrich himself" by wrongfully seeking ownership rights to the studio's Superman franchise.

The lawsuit amounts to a gambit to discredit Toberoff, an aggressive attorney who has earned the enmity of two of the biggest studios in Hollywood for going after them on behalf of clients who claim they are the rightful heirs of the copyrights behind such valuable characters as the Man of Steel and several of those under the Marvel banner, now owned by Disney.

In a 56-page complaint, Warner Bros.' DC Comics alleges that Toberoff entered into a "web of collusive" deals with the heirs of Superman's co-creators, Jerome Siegel and Jospeh Shuster, that caused the families to repudiate their agreements with DC Comics in a bid to recapture the copyight to the character. The suit further alleges that Toberoff maneuvered to secure "control of the largest financial stake" in the Superman rights through his own companies.

Warner Bros. believes that if Toberoff's efforts succeed, it could put the entire Superman franchise --including future movies, TV shows and comics -- at risk. With its suit, the studio is hoping the court will confirm DC's ownership of Superman and end what it sees as any interference with those rights.

The salvo is the latest exchange of fire between Warner Bros./DC Comics and Toberoff, who previously won rulings returning a share of the profits to the Siegel and Shuster heirs relating to certain Superman rights.

Warner is basing its case in part on a seven-page cover letter that was sent to the studio anonymously in December 2008 that implicates Toberoff, along with confidential documents that Torberoff claims were stolen from his office. A court ruled that the documents were privileged, and within 24 hours Warner turned them over to a court officer. The cover letter, however, was not and was attached as an exhibit to Friday's lawsuit.

Toberoff described the anonymous letter as defamatory, adding "this is going to come back to bite Warner Bros."

As for the lawsuit, Toberoff blasted it as "entirely frivolous ... rather than Warner Bros. litigating the remainder of this case on the merits, they have brought this vicious lawsuit aimed at me as a way of pressuring my clients to license back the [Superman] rights to them. This is an obvious pressure tactic ... we're not a bit deterred from the merits of this case by these thug tactics."

Toberoff said Warner Bros. and DC are erroneously claiming that he has a financial interest in the pending Superman lawsuits, when the only interest he has is a "contingent legal fee ... since when is that against the law? They're just trying to get rid of the lawyer who has been so successful against them."

For its part, Warner issued a statement saying, "DC has spent decades working constructively with our talent and creators and we look foward to a speedy resolution of these matters so we can continue to share Superman with all his many fans for generations to come."

Friday's suit comes shortly after Warner Bros. hired high-powered legal gun Daniel Petrocelli of O'Melveny & Myers to fight the copyright terminations from the Siegel and Shuster heirs.

Petrocelli has prevailed in Hollywood before. The defense attorney helped Disney win a long and costly lawsuit against the heirs to Winnie the Pooh merchandising rights. The case was thrown out in 2004 after Petrocelli introduced evidence that the Stephen Slesinger family had hired private investigators to dig through Disney's trash for company documents relating to Pooh's revenue. The judge determined the documents had been stolen and gave the Slesingers an unfair legal advantage.

The attorney's first major claim to fame was representing Fred Goldman, the father of murder victim Ron Goldman, in the 1997 wrongful death civil suit against O.J. Simpson, who was ordered to pay the family $8.5 million in damages. Another high-profile Petrocelli client was former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, who is serving a 24-year sentence in federal prison in Colorado for securities fraud, insider trading and other counts.

-- Claudia Eller



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