A lot of folks have sent me a link to Lev Grossman's essay in Time Magazine that proclaims that:
Saying you were a self-published author used to be like saying you were a self-taught brain surgeon. But over the past couple of years, vanity publishing has becoming practically respectable.
He's the only person, besides a vanity press huckster, I have ever heard voice that opinion. He tries to back it up by citing a couple of the extraordinarily rare examples of self-publishing success. He neglects to mention, just like the vanity-press hucksters do, that these are extremely rare cases that represent a miniscule percentage of the self-published books printed every year.
But I'm not surprised he neglects that fact…and so many others in his essay. He's the same guy who thought Lori Jareo, the dimwit who self-published her STARS WARS fanfic and sold it as a novel on Amazon, was some kind of "unsung hero." He's also notorious for trying to jack up the rankings of his novel on Amazon by posting scores of fake, five-star reviews.
He believes that publishing books on paper, paying authors advances and giving booksellers the opportunity to return unsold books are old-fashioned practices that are so "20th century" and will soon become extinct in favor of – drumroll please — fanfic.
Put these pieces together, and the picture begins to resolve itself: more books, written and read by more people, often for little or no money, circulating in a wild diversity of forms, both physical and electronic, far outside the charmed circle of New York City's entrenched publishing culture.
[…]Not that Old Publishing will disappear–for now, at least, it's certainly the best way for authors to get the money and status they need to survive–but it will live on in a radically altered, symbiotic form as the small, pointy peak of a mighty pyramid.
[…]The wide bottom of the pyramid will consist of a vast loamy layer of free, unedited, Web-only fiction, rated and ranked YouTube-style by the anonymous reading masses.
And what will that fiction look like? Like fan fiction, it will be ravenously referential and intertextual in ways that will strain copyright law to the breaking point.
Only someone who thinks Lori Jareo is a pioneer, and who wrote a novel about a "Boston slacker who has trouble distinquishing between reality and Star Trek," could make that prediction with a straight face.
He's looking at publishing from within the insular world of science fiction and fantasy fandom, which bears little resemblance to reality. I don't think the majority of book-readers today– the millions who can't speak Klingon and never heard of Joss Whedon — would embrace the "ravenously referential" and poorly-written world of free literature that he desperately hopes the future of publishing will become.
I agree with him that publishing is changing, and I suspect that ebooks and print-on-demand will be a big part of the future of the industry, but I doubt that wide popular and critical acceptance of self-publishing and fanfiction will be the ultimate result. To put it in terms Grossman would understand, I think commercial publishing, brick-and-mortar bookstores, and authors being paid for their work are practices that will "live long and prosper" in the face of new technology and new means of communication.