Neither the publisher nor Barnes & Noble have confirmed the report for ComicBook.com, and Books-A-Million was unreachable by phone.
"Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million have confirmed to Good e-Reader that many of their flagship locations have stopped carrying single issues and graphic novels of Marvel Comics," the site reported. "You can still find these titles at smaller stores in more rural locations but no new orders will be processed after January 1st 2014."
When rumors first started to fly this weekend about the possibility of Barnes & Noble's Union Square location no longer carrying Marvel's monthly, magazine-format comics, ComicBook.com reached out to the bookstore chain, who directed us to Marvel Comics for comment. Marvel did not respond to inquiries by telephone or e-mail.
Union Square was one of the locations that also reportedly confirmed the news for Good eReader. ComicBook.com reached out to a pair of upstate New York locations and was told that they were unaware of any upcoming changes. Barnes & Noble's website currently stocks graphic novels in both physical and digital formats, but single-issue comics are not and have never been available. Other publishers, including DC Entertainment and Dark Horse Comics, sell digital copies of their single-issue comics via Barnes & Noble's Nook Comics format. Marvel have never done so, which may be a point of contention between the companies.
Back in 2011, when Amazon rolled out their Kindle Fire device, DC Entertainment gave them exclusive digital access to a number of DC Comics graphic novels. Barnes & Noble responded by pulling physical copies of those titles from retail stores.
The obvious question--with both retailers reportedly making these moves at the same time and Barnes & Noble referring press to Marvel for comment--is whether this is actually a Marvel initiative.
"Regardless of the publisher, we will not stock physical books in our stores if we are not offered the available digital format," the company's chief merchant, Jaime Carey, said at the time. "To sell and promote the physical book in our store showrooms and not have the e-book available for sale would undermine our promise to Barnes & Noble customers to make available any book, anywhere, anytime."
Good eReader reported earlier this month that Marvel is looking to take its three disparate apps--Digital Comics Unlimited, their comic sales app and Marvel AR--and to bring them together as one app. They speculated at the time that it might be a move by Marvel to take control of their digital product away from ComiXology, who currently power the storefront for the Marvel and DC Comics apps. By creating a standalone app that would sell digital comics straight to readers without a middle man, Marvel would apparently be adopting the Dark Horse Comics model--although, as noted, some Dark Horse single issues are made available for other retailers, just not via ComiXology. Image Comics, by contrast, sell their comics via ComiXology and have an app powered by the digital comics retailer, but also sell DRM-free, downloadable digital copies of their comics via their own website. As yet, they don't have an app that's separate from ComiXology.
Barnes & Noble, who have been carrying Marvel Comics's single-issues for some time without digital access for Nook, are therefore violating their own policy by doing so. It's possible that if Marvel decided to further tighten their grip on digital product, for instance making the collected editions unavailable to Nook in order to support this purported new app, it could have caused a collapse in the relationship between the companies. That's all speculation, though.
While the Nook division has been a loss for Barnes & Noble recently, hardware-wise, ebooks are one of the few growth sectors for the company (along with niche-friendly specialty in-store products like collectible editions of books, toys and games). As such, Marvel taking a hard line on digital could be a bigger deal now than it would have been in the past.
Marvel's product line have been a major part of Nook's promotions and displays ever since the Nook Tablet rolled out and comics were a major part of its offerings. The popularity of the Marvel films and characters combined with the features of the Nook--which at the time were significantly better for comics than Amazon's Kindle line--and DC's budding relationship with Amazon at the time made the pair obvious partners. As of now, they continue to maintain a Marvel-branded storefront for both digital and physical sales on the Barnes & Noble website.
Books-A-Million also used to carry Nook products, although they are not actually a part of Barnes & Noble but would buy the Nook and resell them. The products are no longer available and BAM's ebooks are currently sold in ePub format, which is supported by Nook but also a number of other readers. The Nook division has been a loss leader for Barnes & Noble recently, and the company said in 2013 that they were looking at options to spin it off or close it down soon.
Throughout the holiday season, Barnes & Noble offered a "buy 2, get 1 free" sale on Marvel and DC Comics graphic novels. That sale will continue through the end of 2013.