Coming this summer to e-book stores near you... e-books disappearing from the e-shelves.
Maybe. There are still a lot of question marks, but the proposed settlement accepted by Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon&Schuster could make their e-books unavailable at various e-book stores late this summer and into the fall.
E-book stores can't sell e-books without a contract with the publisher. Two years ago, when the Agency Model went into effect, all of the e-book stores' contracts were voided. They all had to scramble to get new contracts in place, but the publishers weren't prepared to negotiate with all of them at the same time. It took Diesel six months to get contracts with all five publishers. Surprisingly, it also took Amazon six months to get that fifth contract (Penguin).
E-book stores all over the web were unable to sell a lot of Big Name authors. Some of them still can't.
And here we go again. Sometime after a 60-day comment period, the judge in the DoJ lawsuit will rule on the acceptability of the proposed settlement. If it goes through unchanged, Apple gets hit the hardest: within 7 days after the judge's ruling, they lose all of their contracts with the settling publishers.
For the other e-book sellers, they'll be getting the right to cancel their existing contracts on a 30-day notice. It's very likely that the publishers will notify the sellers that the Required Ebook Pricing and Most Favored Nation sections of their existing contracts will not be enforced. Maybe the e-book sellers will be satisfied with that, and not cancel their contracts.
30 days after the judge's ruling, the publishers are required to terminate their contracts with any sellers who haven't already given their 30-day notice, as soon as possible within the terms of the existing contract. How soon that would be, I haven't a clue. It depends on what latitude the publisher has for cancelling contracts. They certainly seemed to have a fairly free hand back when the switch to Agency Model occurred.
Speculation: suppose the contracts all have clauses permitting the publishers to cancel on a 30-day notice. That means that we have 58 days (remaining of the 60 for commenting), plus however long the judge takes to make a ruling, plus 30 days before the publishers are required to act, plus a 30-day notice. That takes us to, oh, late August or so. We can hope that in those four months, the publishers will be able to negotiate new contracts. But I'm not very sanguine about that: there were about two months of negotiations before the April 1, 2010 cut-off, and negotiations were continuing for six months afterward.
Apple's situation is much more clear-cut. Within 7 days after the judge's ruling, their contracts are canceled and they won't be able to carry e-books from the settling publishers until new contracts are in place.
On the other hand, Amazon's situation is more complicated. All of the Big 6 publishers, not just the three settling publishers, are reportedly balking at signing new e-book contracts with Amazon because of radically increased mandatory co-op advertising fees that Amazon wants. Also, the publishers are almost certain to insist that Amazon contracts include the "no sustained selling below cost" clause allowed by the settlement, and Amazon is almost certain to refuse that condition.
How big a mess this next transition will be, and how long it will last, we'll see. Random House isn't affected, since they weren't involved in iPad-launch maneuvers and weren't named in the lawsuit. I guarantee that Hachette will be fighting furiously to get every possible contract in place for the September 27 launch of JK Rowling's new book.