This blog post is a response to Rob Eagar’s post here at Digital Book World: What’s The Point of Publishers in a Digital Age. I was going to just make it a comment, but then it grew too big. I recommend you read his post first, and then mine, and the reality probably lies somewhere in the middle.
While human nature must certainly be factored in, and emotion does usually trump logic, when running a business, one must focus on logic. Publishers do indeed help the author ego, if that author happens to be in the top 5% of the ranks at their publisher. Below that, the experience is often the opposite. The midlist is usually the living hell of getting blown off by harried editors, being promised promotion just so you don’t call or email any more and when the book actually arrives, there is no promotion, and the reality is that when you don’t earn out, you are in essence going to get ‘fired’ by not getting renewed.
This was my experience over 42 titles with 4 of the Big 6. Even when I sold over a million books for Random House, they could have cared less. I didn’t see much ego stroking going on for most authors. But if you are in the elite 5%, certainly.