Another day, another rapidly escalating conflict between two industry giants.
This time, though, Marvel is thankfully un-involved - it's Amazon and Warner Brothers who are picking up their dueling pistols and heading towards a dawn confrontation.
The Road to War:
Lets say you want to pre-order The Lego Movie online. It's a great movie, and you want to make sure it's sitting on your doorstep the day of release. Well, if you were thinking of heading to Amazon, think again. The retail giant isn't taking pre-orders for the film - one of the most eagerly anticipated home cinema releases of the year - along with other major Warner Home Video releases, including 300: Rise of an Empire, Transcendence and Winter's Tale.
Doesn't sound like that big a deal? Well, in terms of either company's overall earnings it's likely a relative drop in the ocean, but it represents something much bigger - and could well be a sign of things to come.
The absence of The Lego Movie and it's WB kin is the result of an as-yet unspecified contract dispute between the media giant and Amazon - one of Amazon's ever-increasing list of public relations crises.
After several controversial years deflecting accusations of tax avoidance and low standards of employee care - accusations that are still being investigated - Amazon has recently found itself embroiled in conflicts with the Hachette Book Group and Germany's Bonnier Media Group - conflicts which looks strikingly similar to that now emerging with Warner Brothers.
With Hachette about to publish the latest novel from J.K. Rowling, The Silkworm, Amazon now finds itself in a internet-wide game of chicken - and at risk of losing out on the substantial pre-sale profits that a major series of Warner Brothers and Hachette releases would provide.
Why is this happening, though?
To the Victor, the Spoils:
Amazon has a long and controversial history with most of its business practices - something that is only partly mitigated by the description fitting almost all hugely successful companies. Rarely a month goes by without public debate over its response to trade unions, warehouse conditions, competitive (or anti-competitive) practices or selective product availability.
Recently, however, the conflict between Amazon and the publishers from whom it purchases its products has been growing in scale and stature. The conflict with Hachette dates all the way back to 2008, with Amazon reportedly demanding an ever-improving deal on the books it bought from the company. When Hachette rejected this, it found many of its titles essentially blacklisted.
It's this perception - of Amazon as an insatiable Godzilla-like monster, intent on devouring all around it - that has set up this latest conflict. The retail giant has set out to pressure Hachette into conceding - through lengthy shipping delays on their products as well as an absence of pre-orders - which has in turn entrenched Hachette's sense of being treated unfairly.
Into this comes Warner Brothers, that has presumably found itself facing a similarly harsh deal from Amazon, and decided not to accept it on unequal terms - but what comes next?
A Sign of Things to Come:
Ultimately, the short term impact of all of this will be minimal. Once The Lego Movie is released, Amazon will most likely stock it, and send it out to customers at its usual blistering pace. Hachette and Warners may fold, or they might hold strong. Amazon is unlikely to see its profits fall by enough to really feel the pinch.
However, what we are now seeing could be just the beginning. The service provided by Amazon - a vast, inexpensive and speedily delivered range of virtually anything you could want - seemingly inevitably requires those who provide it with goods to take a smaller profit margin than they were previously used to. In much the same way that the company has complex tax structures in place to minimize costs, they are naturally reluctant to pay any more for what they sell than they need to. With their prices being so low, that means the suppliers get squeezed.
If those suppliers get fed up with this, and enough of them take a stand against Amazon - and find alternative ways of making a profit without engaging with Amazon's system - then we could begin to see a very different retail world to the one we're living in now. Prices could well go up, shipping times could increase, and product ranges could be slashed. Amazon could pick sides, and pit rebellious companies against one another. Companies could select alternative websites and retailers to focus their energies on, or find themselves needing to streamline their operations to a point where beloved but less profitable parts of their operation are cut.
Alternatively, the two sides could reach a balance that works for both - and provides consumers with a sufficiently good service that we don't move elsewhere. With a new report suggesting that the Hachette controversy hasn't damaged Amazon's reputation, that sadly seems unlikely anytime soon.
In the meantime, those of us massively overexcited about the upcoming release of The Lego Movie on DVD will have to look elsewhere for our pre-orders - and perhaps over our shoulders at what's coming next.
[The LEGO Movie](movie:376368) is set for release June 17, 2014. You can pre-order it from...most retailers.