So the changes to the bookstores will probably continue to change the relationship that publishers and writers have with each other. As I said, the publishers traditionally acted as the negotiators with the distributors, something which may be a lot less necessary in days to come. I think that publishers may act as a different kind of help for writers, shifting from the go between for writers and distributors to the go between for authors and their readership.
The reason for that shift is pretty logical. The publishers, for all their faults, still know how to market and prepare books for a wide readership. Self-published authors, while they might get a lot of that work done on a contract basis, just don't have the same kind of experience. Cover art, copy editing and a lot of other work that goes into a book have been done by publishers for so long that they have made it into, well, an art. Marketing is another facet of the industry where the publisher has reigned supreme. The boost in readership that a self-published or e-published author could enjoy merely by being associated with a publishing brand is incentive enough for them to accept traditional contracts now; I can only imagine how much more attractive those kinds of deals will become once the publishers adjust to the new state of things.
At the same time, writers are going to enjoy a lot more control and responsibility in the industry than they have before. Publishers and agents may start treating e-publishing as a kind of universal slush fund, and offer contracts to the writers whose work rises above the rest. They may even start offering contracts where the books come out before the hard copy, allowing publishers the chance to gauge how much demand there are for the books. The issue is that it might start to depend on which authors the publishers can count on to produce work on a steady schedule, authors who know enough about contracts not to get suckered into bad deals with agents or publishers. Contracts may change as well, revolving more around royalty rates, deadlines, and rights to the work itself than advances or multiple book deals. A new breed of author might need to be willing to create themselves as marketable properties and brands for publishers to pick up, almost like viedo game companies working with consoles. The new state of things will ask for writers with business sense and at least some marketing knowledge, which traditionally has not been true.
One thing I don't see happening is the absolute disappearance of publishers as a whole. While they may be scrambling right now, and while here and there they haven't been adapting in a good way, publishers simply have too much usefulness and staying power to vanish. It will be interesting to see what further changes come and how the industry grows as a result. We shall see how I can fit into things; hopefully there's a place in all of this mess for a little newcomer like me. :)
In any case, hopefully my internet will be up by Monday and our move will be complete. Wish us luck, I think we'll need it. See ya!