The quick answer: Yes, it is.
That’s why many authors taking this route call it by different names like Independent Publishing and Author Publishing. There is a legitimate distinction to be made. What these authors want to convey is that they are approaching the (self) publishing of their books in a business-like manner. Many incorporate. They’re not publishing the unedited first draft of their first manuscripts either. Nor are they rushing in blindly and signing a contract with the first subsidy publisher that waves a contract at them; they’re making careful comparisons and business decisions after crunching the numbers.
None of this sways the critics, it seems.
They correctly point out that the vast majority of self-published books are poorly written and few will sell more than 50 copies to the author’s family and friends. There are no gate-keepers; the various companies publish anything and everything as long as you pay.
So what? As (Theodore) Sturgeon’s Law says, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” If only 1% of all manuscripts submitted to New York publishers get published (a figure I’ve heard more than once) that still leaves 9% of those manuscripts that are worth reading. Why sneer at authors if they choose an alternate route to getting their work in front of the public?
The risk is that an inexperienced writer has no way of knowing on her own where her work stands. Without a critique group or a teacher she may never learn. It can take a long time and a lot of pages to learn the craft. She may waste her money self-publishing when her work really isn’t ready. But this is a question of self-knowledge, not self-publishing. And submitting to New York can’t provide that guidance. Agents and editors are swamped with manuscripts. They don’t have time to give useful feedback. Authors don’t get personalized rejections until their work is good but “just not right for us at this time.”
The critics of self-publishing also declare that money should flow TO the author, not FROM the author. But we pay for professional memberships, don’t we? We pay for workshops, computers, paper, conferences, and websites. Why isn’t printing and distribution seen as just another business expense?
Approached properly, with lots of research and a careful eye on the bottom line, self-publishing can be a viable business choice if your goals are realistic. It doesn’t have the cache’ of being validated by the New York gatekeepers, but if an author believes in her work, why shouldn’t she let the public vote with their wallets? Her success (or failure) doesn’t take anything away from those taking the more traditional path, after all.