The New York Times has an extensive article about self-publishing here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/books/28selfpub.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=self-publishing&st=cse
The most deceptive paragraph in the entire article is this one: Louise Burke, publisher of Pocket Books, said publishers now trawl for new material by looking at reader comments about self-published books sold online. Self-publishing, she said, is “no longer a dirty word.”
The most honest line is this: “For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there’s two that should have been published,” said Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver, who said she had been inundated by requests from self-published authors to sell their books. “People think that just because they’ve written something, there’s a market for it. It’s not true.”
It all makes me very, very cranky. Not because self-publishing exists, but because the premise by which vanity presses draw their customers in is faulty at its core. Self-publishing a family memoir, a recipe book to raise money for your football team, or a book to share with friends is great. Expecting that, as some companies claim, they will "circulate" your book to film agents is simply a lie.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that some people don't see the difference between vanity press and small press. The difference is enormous: small presses have editors. They have a filter in place.
It all comes down to quality, of course. It's the same issue I have with the school that teaches "Write a lot, send it out, never revise." My beloved son said it best: "Mom, do you want to write a lot of books, or books people remember?"
I will take a deep breath now, and try once again to explain to some of my students why a title with PublishAmerica will not count as a writing credit when they try to sell a book to an agent.