I listened recently to a podcast interview with a fellow who had very strong opinions about self-publishing...most of them wrong. I wrote a reply that the podcast host is going to read in her next installment, but I thought I'd also share a few of the points here:
1) His statement: Mainstream publishers look down on self-published books and won't consider acquiring them. Fact: If you can show that you have sold a lot of copies of a book you have self-published, mainstream publishers will be happy to acquire it--after all, you have demonstrated that there is a market for the book. (That's not to say it's easy to sell lots of self-published books, but it can be and has been done.)
2) His statement: It's expensive and difficult to create an online publication, because you have to buy and learn Dreamweaver or similar software, learn HTML, etc. Fact: Most website hosts offer you templates that allow you to create a site without learning HTML or any other software, and the hosting costs for a simple site are under $10/month. Even easier (and free, if you don't mind ads) are blogs like this one. Because I don't want ads on the site, I pay for an upgrade, which costs $9 a month.
3) His statement: Print on demand publishing requires a big upfront fee. Fact: While there are some print on demand publisher who charge large upfront fees, there are also services, such as lulu.com, that have no set-up fee and no minimum order. Your profit margin on print on demand books generally is not great if you are pricing a book to compete with those published traditionally, but this method allows you to do small print runs (as little as one book) which can be great for testing the market appeal of a book. Also, if the information you are offering is of great interest to a small, specialist group, you can set a high price for the book.
By the way, there was an interesting article in The Guardian recently about Moo cards (small calling cards that can incorporate an image you have on Flikr) and lulu.com. Lulu.com's founder, Bob Young, says, "We are printing about 200,000 books a month, and that number is growing by about 10% a month." He reveals that their average print run is "less than two." They have expanded into individualized music CDs, DVDs, calendars and artwork.