I've discussed before the many ways writers have benefited from the computer and the internet. The fact that you're here at Collector Times, reading this, is one big example of how technology has revolutionized writing and publishing. Producing a magazine such as this in print form, mailed each month to subscribers, would be an expensive proposition to get started. The publishers must absorb the costs long enough to attract sufficient paying subscribers; otherwise, the magazine goes bankrupt and vanishes. Money must be spent on advertising to get the word out to potential readers, hopefully piquing their interest enough to send in a payment for at least a year's worth of issues.
The computer and the internet have changed all that. Publishing a manuscript no longer requires a large staff of editors and typesetters. Everything can be done with an average home computer. The typical novel-length manuscript can be formatted for an attractive paperback layout in just a few hours. That includes full-justified margins, headers and footers, page numbers, drop caps, larger font chapter headers, etc. A magazine or book can be taken from the early draft to the published product in less time than ever before, thanks to the computer.
Just for perspective, if Collector Times were published in the traditional printed hard-copy mode and mailed to you, the contributing writers would need to have our columns in to the editor at least a month in advance, rather than the day before the next issue goes up. You'd get Comic-Con coverage in September or October, rather than in August, right after a July con.
Self-publishing of novels is on the rise as well, though the stigma attached to it remains. For many years, any author was able to self-publish through companies dubbed "Vanity Presses", provided the author had the money to invest. Vanity Presses would charge a certain amount to typeset and print the book (editing was an extra charge, if available at all), and a minimum number of copies had to be bought by the author. For most going the Vanity Press route, they would end up with a garage full of bound copies of their book, and little idea how to market it.
Self-publishing is still seen by many as an indicator that the manuscript just wasn't "good enough" to get published by the traditional publishing houses. In truth, quite a few of the self-published books are in dire need of editing and are not well written. Still, the perception is changing. Even some established authors have become disillusioned with the traditional system and are turning towards self-publishing and Print-On-Demand services to get their books out. Piers Anthony, author of several series of books, including the popular Xanth stories, hosts a web-page specifically for new writers looking into alternatives to the traditional path to being published. Anthony's webpage can be found at http://www.hipiers.com/publishing.html .
Can self-publishing work? It's a long-shot, of course, but then again, so is getting published the traditional method. Christopher Paolini's first novel, Eragon, was published first by his parents in what amounted to being self-published. They invested both money and time in producing and marketing the manuscript, and sales of the book were sufficient to attract the attention of the traditional publishing houses. One of the toughest aspects of self-publishing is that second part: marketing. A traditional publishing house is going to handle much of the marketing of a book, since it behooves them to generate interest in the product. The more books they sell, the more money they make.
The self-publisher also has to be a self-promoter, but here again, the internet has opened up options that would have been unthinkable thirty years ago. One banner ad on the right website can publicize a manuscript all over the world in less than a day, and for a cost that most people wouldn't find too oppressive. Ad prices on one webcomic group I checked started at $50. Try reaching so many regions for that kind of money in print media.
Times are changing and the industry is evolving. I believe we are going to see the stigmas associated with self-publishing diminish as the information age opens new venues for putting our manuscripts out there for the world to read. We're no longer going to be stuck with only getting the books the traditional publishers deem worthy to print, based primarily on how much profit they believe they can make.