I give the definition of them I understand, something to the effect that ebooks are still not as popular as print media due to readability issues and the tactile and possessive nature of humanity. I also mentioned that royalties tend to be greater for ebooks because sales numbers tend to be lower. I try to avoid generalizations, but that's what I've personally found. I also noted that ebooks tend to be an easier market to break into because there are so many ebook publishers.
My pal chuckled and said, "Yes, I always thought they were just one small step above self-publishing."
We talked a while longer, but her comment made me think about self-publishing or "vanity" presses. My background in social studies reared its head and I thought, "What's more American than self-publishing?"
I mean, think about it for a moment. Ben Franklin was self-published and he was certainly no slouch. Thomas Paine (I believe) and Paul Revere's prints...also self-published. Wait--I know what you'll argue: "Back in the day you had to publish that way. There weren't many other real options. But today..."
Actually, there were publishing houses "back in the day" (man, I hate that phrase). But, if you were a free-thinker, bucking the trends and with a real vision in mind, you still needed (or quite possibly wanted) to self-publish (or be a landowner powerful enough to get a house to publish for you because of your name--ah, celebrity). We stress "freedom of expression" in this country as well as freedom of choice. Therefore I think America should be proud of its self-publishing tradition. Sure, there's plenty of things that are awful and still get published (thanks to self-publishing) but there are also things that are awful and get published by "traditional publishing houses" (ah, celebrity).
So here's what I'm thinking: Publish with the traditional houses IF they meet your needs. Will they treat you fairly and respect you and your work or will they ask for so many changes you won't even recognize it as your own? Will they do more than the "traditional" $200 worth of "marketing" for your book (thank you Robert Gould for some numbers that publishers use as standard :-)?
If they can't meet your needs or understand your vision, do some soul searching. Publish when and how you want. Let the public choose who to read and support. Let's face it--freedom of choice still probably ensures OJ's book "If I Did It" will outsell most of us lumped together--but ah, celebrity! ;-)
Do what's right for YOU and your vision. You are your greatest advocate, traditional publishing house or not.
Take care and step out boldly!