Digital publishing is changing the industry in more ways than you might realise at first. It's not just about the economics of publishing, it's about the whole nature of what publishing is.
The other day I was reading Roz Morris's blog, Nail Your Novel. (If you're a writer, or an aspiring writer, then you really should have this on your feed. It's full of good stuff.) She was talking about self-publishing, and made this comment:
Vanity publishing is not the same as self-publishing. With vanity publishing you pay – usually a lot of money – for someone to print thousands of shoddy copies of your book and then you discover they’re not going to sell or distribute them for you. It’s usually verging on a scam. With self-publishing no money changes hands until a copy is sold (of course you may spend money on covers, editing etc, but that doesn’t usually have anything to do with the self-publishing company).
A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) recently sold a novel to a Very Big Publisher (who shall also remain nameless). I was a little puzzled why he was so happy about it. I pointed out that he actually owns a digital publishing company, so he could have self-published. And, by his own admission, he'd probably make more money from self-publishing. That's not blind optimism, by the way. He's got several successful self-published books to his credit already, and can make a pretty fair assumption how much he'd sell if he did another.
His response was a little surprising. "It's vanity publishing, I suppose," he said. "I've got plenty of my own books on my shelf already, but it'll be nice to have one with that logo on the spine."
How's that for a total reversal? Self-publishing is where he makes money, and going to one of the biggest names in the book publishing industry is just a vanity project.