I am the editor of a student-edited journal at a graduate school. We extended a publication offer to an author that has published with the journal in the past, and with whom I do not wish to burn any bridges. The normal process of an offer goes like this: (1) extend the offer, (2) author either accepts or rejects, (3) send copyright agreement, (4) author signs and returns copyright agreement, (5) we edit and publish the article.
The author accepted the offer within the time frame (step 2), but we have not progressed beyond that. I have to withdraw/rescind the offer because we have maxed out our page numbers for this year. I tried telling the author that I would be happy to work with the incoming editor in chief to see if they want to make him an offer to publish next year, but he insists that because he accepted the offer we are now obligated to publish it next year. I reminded him that we have not sent him a copyright agreement or entered into a publication contract, and even if we did so the journal reserves the right to terminate the agreement at its sole discretion. He essentially said that his acceptance of the publication offer formed the publication contract and now we have to publish him or else (said he turned down other offers, etc.).
I feel terrible about the situation (we've tried our best to never put authors in this position, and have never had to rescind/withdraw an offer before). Since I've only experienced this from the editor's point of view, I'm wondering what published authors have to say about the situation? Is it your understanding that once you accept an offer you've formed a contract with the publication, and they are obliged to print it? Have you ever had an offer withdrawn, and did it burn all bridges with that institution/publication?