If Amazon didn't find the agency model acceptable, Sargent said Macmillan would expand its "windowing" of e-book editions. "Windowing" is the practice of waiting until a particular edition of a new book has been on the market for a while before making cheaper editions available. Publishers have for decades waited until the hardcover sales window has closed before opening the sales window on paperback editions, for example. This helps protect the sales channels for hardcover books. Windowing e-books is similarly believed to help protect a publisher's sales channels for physical books. The risk with windowing is that some owners of e-book devices are angered that low-priced e-book editions aren't available as soon as books are released in hardcover form.
This was a bold move by Macmillan. Amazon has a well-deserved reputation for playing hardball. When it doesn't get its way with publishers, Amazon tends to start removing "buy buttons" from the publisher's titles. It's a harsh tactic, by which Amazon uses its dominance of online bookselling to punish publishers who fail to fall in line with Amazon's business plans. Collateral damage in these scuffles, of course, are authors and readers. Authors lose their access to millions of readers who shop at Amazon; readers find some of their favorite authors' works unavailable. Generally, the ending is not a good one for the publisher or its authors -- Amazon's hold on the industry, controlling an estimated 75% of online trade book print sales in the U.S., is too strong for a publisher to withstand. The publisher caves, and yet more industry revenues are diverted to Amazon. This isn't good for those who care about books. Without a healthy ecosystem in publishing, one in which authors and publishers are fairly compensated for their work, the quality and variety of books available to readers will inevitably suffer.
Macmillan's move is timely because, at the moment, the e-book market is still far smaller than the physical book market, but the e-book market is growing quickly. The longer Macmillan waited, the more difficult the transition.
Amazon didn't wait for March, when Macmillan's new policy is slated to go into effect; it decided to hit Macmillan immediately and comprehensively, removing the buy buttons for nearly all Macmillan titles, in all editions. This is a direct attempt to use its clout in the physical book industry to enforce its business model in the e-book industry. In some ways, it was an unusual exercise of power for Amazon. The company has used the tactic of turning off buy buttons on several occasions before, but, with major publishers it's usually selective, and doesn't turn out the lights on nearly all titles. That treatment is reserved for smaller publishers. (Authors receive no advance warning of Amazon's treatment of their titles, nor can they do anything about it.)
Amazon, it appears, overreached. Macmillan was a bit too big a foe, and Amazon's bullying tactics were a bit too blatant. Sunday evening, Amazon announced that it would have to "capitulate" to Macmillan, "because Macmillan has a monopoly over its own titles." (By this definition, nearly every company exercises a monopoly over its products.) We're all still waiting for that capitulation: Macmillan's books still weren't available on Amazon on Monday evening. If Macmillan does indeed prevail, the economics of authorship in the digital age are likely to improve considerably. We may go through some rough stretches to get there, however."