The gist of the dispute is that Amazon wants a better deal from big publishers, in terms of how much of a cut Amazon gets from its online retail sales of books. The big publishers are resisting. Amazon retaliated by making it more difficult for one of the big publishers, Hachette, to sell its books on Amazon. Searches for Hachette books on Amazon result in advisories that best-selling books, which normally ship immediately, can be subject to a several week wait. Among such best selling authors are J. K. Rowling and James Patterson.
Let me first say that I can well understand the frustration of would-be buyers and readers of Hachette titles. No one likes delays, especially those that arise from a contract negotiation. But I nonetheless side completely with Amazon on this one, and I say this an author published by major world-wide publishers as well as small presses, the latter of which has given me direct knowledge of how Amazon treats authors.
And that treatment by Amazon of me has been good - indeed, about as good as it can get. I receive nearly instant reports of sales of my Kindle books, crystal clear earning statements, and monthly payments of my earnings that have been accurate to the penny. I can't say the same about my experience as an author with traditional publishers, who are accustomed to paying once a year, twice if you're lucky, and whose royalty statements would give an accountant a headache, and certainly often give me one. And the royalty statements are not always accurate. I believe I have eventually received every cent that was due to me from my traditional publishers, but I don't appreciate the errors in the first place and the effort it took to correct them.
Maybe best-selling authors get better treatment from their publishers than a midlist author like me - I couldn't say. But I do know that traditional publishers come from a tradition in which they think the author should be thrilled that her or his book is being published, and be happy for the fractional part of the sales received as a royalty. In other words, the better deal that Hachette is trying to get from Amazon will likely not make much difference to most authors with traditional publishers.
Amazon has revolutionized the book world with its Kindle editions and the new relationships made with authors. Understandably, the old guard may be less than comfortable with this. But I'm convinced that the Amazon way is the road to the future, and I'm happy to be on it.
Further reading: Here are three articles with analyses which, unlike the NY Times story, are not biased against Amazon. Thanks to Mike Spinak for reminding me about them / bringing them to my attention: Amazon v. Hachette: Don't Believe the Spin by David Gaughran, More Thoughts on Hachette / Amazon by Hugh Howey, Updated: 'Amazon Derangement Syndrome' Characterizes Dispute Between Amazon and Hachette by Chris Meadows