Because I think there is more to this whole topic and it seems to interest me.
One point: the trade published have one huge advantage over the self-published. True, the publishers aren't marketing books after release like they used to, but if your book is in a catalog going out to Borders, to B&N, Amazon, and even to the independent bookstores, and it appears alongside names that have sold well for these stores in the past, AND it has a nice quote on the cover from one of those writers, well, you're leagues ahead of the self-published writer just in that. Instant advertising. These companies have longstanding, mutually-reliant relationships. The sales people from the publishers have relationships with the buyers at bookstores. When buyers balk at your book, the seller can say, "Yeah, but remember? I brought you MARLEY. I brought you WICKED and BLINK and..."
While I'm still pretty flimsy on the whole subject of trade vs self, I am adamant about a couple of things. I pretty well loathe the word artist. I've made and sold quite a bit of art. It's only art until the writer puts it up for sale, and then it is a product. I mentioned in comments that I thought most writers don't have the know-how (balls) to market their own work. Actually, I think the problem goes much deeper. Most writers don't have the capability to make it past the "arteest" stage. I can do it to a point; but it's taken me a lot of years to get there, and I try to recognize the "arteest" in me when she rears her ugly head. Most writers never make it to this point--even really good writers. That's why they need editors and publishing houses.
In the past year I've spoken and marketed pretty often. I think I'm pretty good at it and improving. I was a teacher, and part of my dream is to teach writing to adults, so it's good practice and a means to that end. But even promotion after publication takes massive amounts of time. Of course the biggies spend a lot of time on promoting themselves. But I also put out a small magazine. I know a little about production and it's my least favorite part of the job. I know producing a novel would be even bigger. I'd, frankly, rather spend that time writing and promoting my work and leave the technical/publication/selling aspects to someone else. There's a huge difference between the writer promoting her work and the sales guy who works for the publishing house. True mass-market sales requires a very specific, time-consuming skill-set.
Some people may be really into the publishing end of things; that' s not my bent. I'm betting it's not right for most writers, either. Some of the technical aspects runs like clockwork, but frankly, I want someone who has designed covers for hundreds of books to be on my side when it comes to my book. I want the publisher's sales guy to have those relationships with buyers.
I also don't agree that the cream magically rides to the top. I think a lot of crap rises to the top along with it. (I hesitate at naming names here, but everyone can think of a book they hate.) I think it takes, first, skill alongside talent--and that means millions of words written, years of practice. (I'm thinking of all the nights the Beatles played in Belgium nightclubs.) Then it takes colossal marketing and publication know-how for artistic cream to rise--those are the folks who know culture and what sells and why. I think it takes constant vigilance, because culture is always shifting. I'm learning, but a lot of that is way beyond me, will always be beyond me. More power to those who can tackle all that and keep their sanity and write books! I don't have it in me. But I want my books to go big, so I must accept that I need help from those smarter than me.
I wonder if writing a book could be like trying to start a technical start-up. If you view publishers more as "investors" (and plenty of investors grab creative control of start-ups--I've seen it happen over and over. To great success, I might add.) then it starts to be more palatable. But, all this makes me wonder: what if the pure self-pub model were tweaked a bit to more resemble the software start-up? In other words, I wonder if a writer could ever get "funding" from angel investors--the sort of funding that gets your work in front of booksellers, that buys the publicist and marketers and cover art, maybe even the CEO to run the whole thing. An interesting concept, but I don't know that the single writer model can really scale. Hmm.
By the way, Nicola is talking about publishing/marketing collaboratives over on her blog. And Dennis Cass loves these sorts of discussions. I might have to email him.