A Canadian bookseller wrote a most interesting blog post this week concerning book buyers' reactions to book covers. All of us worry about this, of course, since browsers give each book about twenty seconds before setting it down and going on to another one. What the bookseller said is that she's finding a specific sort of book cover--glossy trade paperbacks--are being perceived by some buyers as self-published books. The buyers reject these, no doubt having had bad experiences with such books (remember that whole quality control issue?) Print-on-demand is a technology, not a publishing method; but it does tend to produce glossy covers without expensive foil or embossing, and print-on-demand technology is what most vanity presses use. The bookseller says that even a beautiful book published by Pyr, a house that specializes in fine art covers, has been in question by these buyers simply because of that glossy trade paperback appearance.
At the same time, Victoria Strauss, who keeps her finger on the pulse of the business for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, has posted a piece about the Harlequin debate here: http://www.facebook.com/#/notes/science-fiction-and-fantasy-writers-of-america/author-solutions-ceo-responds-to-harlequinnelson-flap/219945479873 The upshot, if you don't want to read the whole thing (or see the odd video by a Harlequin executive) is that vanity presses are still employing deceptive practices to get hopeful writers to pay to be published. One of their claims (I did watch the video) is that writers can succeed this way. But--if book buyers are beginning to be sensitive to the quality issues with self-published books--assuming the author could get his or her self-published book into the store in the first place--how can such writers have a success with their effort?
Again, the cardinal rule: Money comes to the writer, not from the writer. Everything else is debatable, but not that.