Question in e-mail from someone who wanted to know why I thought Amazon pulled this stunt at this moment. I’m not privy to Jeff Bezos’ brain (otherwise it’d have my footprint in it at the moment), but again presuming that this is indeed Amazon’s doing (it seems clear it is, but I still don’t think we’ve seen an official comment) I speculate Amazon pulled Macmillan titles on a Friday night for a couple of reasons:
1. As the White House across several administrations knows, Friday is the day to do or say anything you don’t want heavily reported in the traditional media or heavily read by traditional media consumers, including on traditional media Web sites. And even electronic media outlets are sleepy on the weekend, because, hey, it’s the weekend, and people have lives, even the ones who hang out online. So the black eye Amazon will get in the media for this stunt will be relatively smaller for pulling it on a Friday night than, say, on a Tuesday morning.
2. I’m willing to bet Amazon works like the rest of the online world, which is that its traffic is (and commensurately, its sales are) less on the weekend than during the work week. Inasmuch as Amazon is punishing itself sales-wise by pulling an entire publishing company’s inventory off its site, it wants to do it on low traffic days, i.e., the weekend, when people are away from their computers anyway.
Alternately we could just be seeing a monumental and irrational fit of pique in action, with Mr. Bezos tromping down to Amazon’s data servers and screaming “Embargo!” in his best Master Blaster voice. But as fun as that is to picture in one’s mind, I do give the man and his company some credit for tactical thinking. A weekend embargo would be enough for the company to make its point, without overly hurting itself.
The only problem with this is that tactics are not strategy, and delisting an entire publishing house as a bargaining tactic, on a weekend or no, is going to have a long-term effect on Amazon’s relationship with publishers, and not the one Amazon is likely to want, especially now that iBookstore lurks, gravid, on the horizon. But I suppose we will see.