Harlequin recently announced that it is starting a vanity imprint, or basically a self-publishing imprint. This has created a lot of stir in the industry from other publishers and from authors. There are many different avenues of self-publishing already so you might be wondering why this has caused such an uproar.
As a traditional publisher, Harlequin pays the author an advance for their book, then after the book makes back that much, they pay out royalties. Such is traditional publishing. The publisher must believe the book will be a success to invest in it.
Harlequin's vanity press works in the opposite way. The author pays to have their book published and pays for so many copies. Then distribution is up to the author, usually through Amazon and similar sites. If the author wants more printed they have to pay the publisher. For many authors who can't land an agent and a major publisher, or simply don't want to, this is a good option.
However, if the experts didn't believe the book would be a success, the chances of making money off such a venture are probably slim. There are exceptions of course. Look at Christopher Paolini and Eragon. He landed an agent and a major publisher after he self-published. It's a gamble that can pay off but more than often doesn't.
The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer's of America are outraged at Harlequin's venture. Here's their official statement: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/11/sfwa-statement-on-harlequins-self-publishing-imprint/ What do you, the writers and readers, think of it?