Each time Rich Johnston trots out talk of the WATCHMEN contract, I get a reader (I know, I was shocked that I still had any, too) pointing out to me that some of his statements about graphic novels in print are false.
No one has ever cited that Marvel collected the Dark Phoenix Saga in trade in 1984 (wikipedia is wrong about the first version; the first was in '84 with a Sienkevich cover). And that went into multiple printings. Marvel also released their "graphic novels" (Death of Captain Marvel, etc.) to bookstores, and those had more than one printing. In the '70s and early '80s, Marvel did a number of bookstore books (Origins of Marvel Comics, Son of Origins, Bring on the Bad Guys, etc.).So, there were graphic novels in print and previously serialized monthly works that were put into continuously reprinted trade 1-2 years before WATCHMEN saw publication.
By the time Watchmen came out in September of 1986, Marvel had done upwards of 22 of the Marvel Graphic Novels. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marvel_Graphic_Novel
DC put out its first collection of RONIN the same month that Watchmen ended.
I'm not necessarily saying Gibbons and Moore went into this with eyes wide open, but that half the shutting would be due to their own lack of observing the market. I still don't like the deal and think that rights should revert to them, but I no longer have as solid an objective case for it as I once used to.