UPDATE: See the comments for two more interesting articles on this topic.
Everyone's been talking about the future (or sometimes the end) of publishing lately. As a spectator, I am totally unqualified to talk about it, but I'm going to anyway because it's my blog and that's the way I like it. (Likewise, if this is a little stream-of-consciousness, I apologize. I'm kind of thinking out loud.)
I used to think that authors write the books, then publishers do all the printing, marketing, and selling of it so that we don't have to. It turns out that's not true (people have been talking about that too). So if all but the best selling authors are expected to do their own marketing, what is the publisher doing?
As far as I can see, they (1) get art for your cover, (2) pay for the printing, (3) get your book in bookstores, and (4) get your book in at least the basic review places. Those are good things. It's very hard for regular people to do any but (2), and if you are self-published, you can't do (3) or (4) at all.
But how many people read those reviews and then buy the book? Is that a lot of copies there? It's some, certainly, but it's not your main readerbase (well, certainly not in my genre). Similarly, who is buying books at bookstores (other than MattyDub and me, who would live at Borders if they let us)? That's some copies as well, but the bookstores seem to be dying which implies that fewer and fewer people are buying from there. That trend might not continue, but what if it does?
What I'm saying is, if the majority of my readerbase is coming from my own marketing efforts, then what do I get by being with a publisher?
Okay, okay. You get a lot of proofreaders who know what they're talking about, which makes your book a lot better and gives it Credibility. I don't want to knock that. Credibility is good. But it's possible to write a good book, and get a huge readerbase, without the credibility of a publisher. It's hard, but no harder, I think, than getting a publisher to begin with.
I guess my real point is that all the trends seem to be moving the advantages of a publisher away from them and into the hands of small authors. The internet is enabling us more, the slow death/metamorphosis of the publishers is requiring us to take on more. If the publishers don't figure this out soon, someone on the internet will find a way to hand out Credibility to self-published books, and then it will all be over.
Well, not over. Different.
(Bonus Question: how do I self-publish books on the Kindle? No print runs, no art required. I think that would undercut almost everything that's left of Big Publishing, if it can be done.)