Let's start with a disclaimer. There are some great publishers out there. In fact there are some top notch people working in the industry and I can honestly say that it has been a joy working with these people, some of whom I am now honored to call friend. On the other hand, publishing has been going through what you might call a disruptive and revolutionary period with all the good and bad this implies. Even the best people in the best publishing houses are experiencing an upheaval that has dramatically cut their margins and threatens their continued existence. Sadly, the first people to suffer the effects of this upheaval are the very people without whom the publishing industry wouldn't exist; the writers.
In creating the Ultimate Writer's Website, I kept a few things firmly in mind which may help to explain what this is all about. For the record, I'm coming at this largely from a writer's perspective. By all accounts, I'm a pretty successful author (6 books, 800+ articles in a nearly two dozen magazines, and so on) and I've worked at pretty much every level of the editorial ladder from first reader to Editor in Chief. What I have learned in all of this, and what I don't like, is that writers don't always have a lot of power or opportunity in getting a decent return on their work. In too many cases, writers are expected to work for nothing, with "exposure" being the only reward. Other than when I write on my sites, I've never given away my work but increasingly, publishers traditional and electronic, seem to think that writers should work for nothing. Throughout all this, writers are expected to spend time promoting themselves, appearing at events, answering emails and comments on the sites they write for, all at their own expense and time. When working on the editorial side of the fence, it was always important to me that writers get paid for their work. If the magazine or Website you are writing for is selling a product and collecting ad revenue, then they should pay for your work. Period. Conversely, you as a writer, shouldn't be giving away your work either.
There's nothing wrong with writing for free. There are some good reasons to do so. The best place to publish your work for no money is on your own Website or in your own publications. It's also perfectly okay to write pro-bono if the publisher of your work isn't making any money at this, or for charitable organizations. But even there, you need to set some limits. Make sure that you retain all rights to your pro-bono work and that the publisher of that work understands that there is no exclusivity in this agreement. Sure, they're getting it for nothing but you're doing them a favor and you have the right to turn around and sell that work for money.
Sad to say, it's not getting any better out there and more and more publishers and Websites are expecting quality content from authors without any financial reward. It isn't fair and it isn't right.
That said, I think eBooks may be the missing piece to giving the writers the power over their own words. Sure, we still spend time promoting our work and building a personal 'brand' but now we can control the product and reap the rewards. These days, writers don't only write, but they often play the role of copy-editor, marketer, salesperson, and pretty much every step in between. Maybe it's time for writers to take that final step and become the publishers as well. After all, you do the research, the writing, the editing, the legwork, the promotion, the billing, the accounting, and in some cases (as on many Websites) you even do the publishing. You might as well take the final step and keep any money that gets made for yourself.