"[T]he only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity."
Which is something Joe Konrath and others have been saying for a while. It's a great time to be an author, especially if you have some understanding of business and marketing. Some authors are lost in this brave new world without a publisher to take care of everything for them, no matter how ineptly that might take place. I've heard one best-selling author describe how she just writes a huge number of pages, and then her editor turns it into a novel. (One of the many unsung editors who deserve far more credit than they ever get.) The author sounded like she really couldn't be bothered with figuring out how to tighten up her work, put it in order, make it make sense... I think that sort of author, who is deeply reliant on a publisher's help, is going to struggle without a publisher.
Most authors are certainly going to need a graphic artist to design a cover, develop formatting and such; an editor to at least find typos, and probably to help refine their writing; technical help in preparing their books for various electronic platforms; business and marketing advice on banking, company structure, how and where to market, and a zillion other things. Certainly some authors are familiar with some or all of this; some may even be able to do a pretty good job of all those things. Most will need to find people to help them with some or all of these tasks, and usually for a flat fee. These are all functions that publishers took care of, but they took an enormous percentage of sales to do all that... which makes sense given that books then had a huge capital cost and inventory and shipping costs. All that has gone away with digital distribution, and even with print-on-demand. Bookstore and newsstand distribution is still the one area where the self-publisher can't go without a partner, and that may be a good reason to go the traditional route with a book... at least so you can attract attention to all those other books you are selling yourself digitally.
I'm also excited to see that authors are beginning to experiment with different lengths, and styles of publishing. Let's see those monthly pulp adventures return, the 90-page adventures of The Shadow and Doc Savage and countless others. The new magazine era is upon us, for digitally published content. Apple's new Newsstand app in iOS 5 is apparently causing huge jumps in sales for magazines. Which is great, because that may help magazines finally make the transition to digital.
It all means I'm going to have to make some time to work on the books I want to write...