When I went for advice on how to publish a book from young, tech savvy authors who have big web presences I assumed it would tell me to avoid big publishers. I figured they would advocate self publishing, or posting work online for free to generate buzz as good strategies. Yesterday I went to a few sessions at the Toronto Science Fiction Convention and got a hard nosed lecture on how those things are terrible and anyone who is serious about getting published should go to a publisher. I think these folks must get a lot of people trying to convince them that the new way is the better way and so they squash it hard and fast whenever they see it.
This makes sense to me. If you want to be a writer, why would you try to be your own artist, marketer, editor and accountant? If you are really good at writing you should write and let other people who are already great at doing all those things do what they are good at. Specialization is what allowed humanity to drag itself out of hunting and gathering to the society we have today so we should leverage it whenever we can. Karl Schroeder in particular talked about how he was a money loser for TOR books even though he was a successful science fiction writer by any standard - Robert Jordan essentially paid his salary because no other author publishing with TOR was actually making the company any money. According to Schroeder the norm in publishing is a few massively successful authors keep companies afloat while the rest of the authors lose the company just a little money each. Effectively the publishers are acting like patrons, keeping authors around so they they will have a chance to make money off those who happen to hit it big.
Not that I have a book to publish, mind. I do find it encouraging to know that if I decided to write one that the best way to do it is not for me to start my own business though. The best thing to do apparently is to make something awesome and then let other people do all the grunt work of turning awesome into cash for me. I approve.