A long time ago in the good old days, publishers served two purposes. One, publishers offered editing services to turn rough manuscripts into polished books. Two, publishers offered a distribution network that could get a book into bookstores all over the world.
Unfortunately, both purposes are no longer the monopoly of traditional publishers any more. To cut costs, many publishers have laid off editors, who now work on a freelance basis. That means you can hire some of the best editors to polish your manuscript without going through a traditional publisher.
Second, books are no longer distributed exclusively through bookstores. Now you can by printed books over the Internet (mostly through Amazon) or buy e-books over the Internet (again mostly through Amazon).
Without editing services or distribution networks, traditional publishers have pretty much lost their entire reason for existing.
As an author, you can take control of your work and get it published and distributed without a traditional publisher. Just get a freelance editor, sell your book as an e-book or print-on-demand book through Amazon/CreateSpace (owned by Amazon) and you have all the benefits of traditional publishers while keeping the lion’s share of the profits as well (which is not possible with traditional publishers).
This is the reason why traditional publishers are obsolete with nowhere to go but down. Traditional publishers are simply not needed any more. That’s bad news for traditional publishers, but good news for authors since there’s no longer a gatekeeper to pass through to get your work to the public.
For authors, this is liberating and scary. Without a traditional publisher to help you out (and take most of the profits), you have to learn how to market your own books. For some authors, this isn’t a problem, but for many who just want to write, this new world of self-publishing represents more of a hassle. Yet it’s unavoidable.
Even today’s traditional publishers have cut back on their marketing budget so authors still need to promote their own books. If you don’t promote your own books, nobody else (not even a traditional publisher) will do it for you unless you’re a famous author like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. For the majority of authors, self-marketing is the new way of publishing whether you like it or not.
So embrace the freedom of today’s world of self-publishing. It’s scary, it’s more work, but in exchange it gives you more freedom and flexibility. If you’re interested in writing a book, there’s nothing stopping you from doing it. Now you have no more excuses, and that could be the scariest thought of all.