As of Monday, a search for DVD or Blu-Ray editions of the recent hit “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” for pre-order on amazon.com comes up empty. The superhero’s disappearance appears to be part of a pricing dispute between the online retailer and Disney, which produced the movie.
This isn't full-on war; more of a limited skirmish at this point. Captain America is available for pre-order through Amazon’s Instant Video service. Other Disney titles, like Malificent and Muppets Most Wanted, do show up in a search, but they’re not available for pre-order.
Meanwhile, Amazon’s separate, ongoing war with book publisher Hachette has gotten more intense. For months, Amazon has been declining pre-orders on Hachette books, raising prices, and withholding fast shipping. A group of 900 authors took out a two-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times asking Amazon to cut it out. Amazon pre-sponded on Saturday with an online letter of its own, making a case for itself.
Amazon also had a quick spat with Warner Bros. in May and June. For a few weeks, "The Lego Movie" and other Warner titles were not available for pre-order while the two companies worked out a contract.
Colin Sebastian, an analyst with RW Baird, says Amazon’s aggressive tactics suggest that the company is exploring a big question: Who owns the customer? The creators and distributors, or the retailer?
“The media companies and the book publishers and Disney are perhaps afraid of the answer to that,” he says.
He thinks Amazon is following a playbook that Wal-Mart created. “As a supplier, if you don’t negotiate with Wal-Mart, they will not stock your products,” says Sebastian.
Another analyst, Neil Doshi, with CRT Capital, wonders if the Disney negotiations are more complicated than just DVDs: Right now, Netflix has an exclusive deal with Disney for subscription-based streaming of its movies.
Maybe, Doshi says, what Amazon really wants is leverage in a negotiation for that kind of content.
“They are pushing very aggressively on the digital front,” says Doshi. “Digital provides much higher margins than physical goods."
Which could bring the story full circle: Maybe this is why the Captain America movie is still available from Amazon as a download? Incidentally, a Blu-ray of Captain America can be found on Amazon by those who look hard — a Chinese-subtitled Hong Kong edition, available now, not just on pre-order.
The trade publication Home Media Magazine was the first to report the Disney/Amazon story.
This article was updated at 12:37 P.M. on Aug. 11, 2014