Any time these forums discuss the marketing of books/music/tech there is a general tendency to kick the big companies involved who want to make money. Add to that a general loathing of DRM without offering any idea as to how content creators are supposed to make any money. I have no illusions about big bad corporate life (I've done my time there) but putting two fingers up to the money-making machine without offering any alternative doesn't advance the argument.
There's a good reason to give them the thumb:They add zero value.
I said that above as a tongue in cheek sort of silliness, but it's basically bang on true.
As a content producer, publishers do nothing for you unless you are already at the top. They are ONLY interested in selling the top few products, because that's where all the money is. The long tail is only valuable in that the publisher can state that they have a bajillion different titles... of which they are willing to present 10 to visitors to purchase. (Ok, some hyperbole there, but close enough.)
Meanwhile, you are stuck in the LONG TAIL
where you will never be seen, and you will never sell anything more than enough to pay for a cheap meal once a year. If you're lucky.
This is a systemic problem across more than the digital world though; it extends to the physical world as well.
Retails and distributors will only take on products that are already in high demand. Take a walk through any store and you'll be bombarded with miles and miles of the same old, tired stuff.
If you have a valuable product, you are unlikely to make it into retail except perhaps at pro shops, and then only with massive investment/payoffs. (Prices start at $50,000 to 'have a look' at your product.)
The channel system is like proving that you're tough as nails by jumping into a wood chipper.
The pattern so far has been for "mega" stores (or chains) to open up, fill their shelves with all the bread & butter wares, drop prices below what smaller shops can afford to sell for, and thus drive the smaller shops out of business.
The consequence at retail is that you now have a massively reduced selection of what you can purchase. Everything is generic and manufactured in China, with the odd other over-priced product beside them to set a baseline, which allows the justification of setting prices 5x or 10x or 20x or more higher than things would be if products were priced by costs and reasonable margins.
Just for a simple example, I need to spend $15 for a part here in Australia that I would have spent maybe $2 or $3 on in Korea. Those are the same generic parts with no significant differences. Shipping doesn't cost $10+ for small parts shipped in bulk as many Australian retailers seem to insist. I've seen that pattern again and again and again. (Both here in Australia and in North America.)
(I'm obviously ignoring the problem of over-competition, but that's really getting off topic.)
The point there about retail is that it is only those few extremely high margin items or "best sellers" that will ever make it into retail, and that is analogous to the behavior of online publishers in the way that they really only put the best sellers up for sale, with everything else buried very deep in the dark recesses of their sites where nobody will ever find them.
They add no value.
If they do add value, it's only in the form of a lottery ticket.
Heck, they don't even carry any inventory! Their risk is absolutely zero! None. Zero risk. Nothing. They have no vested interest in the success or failure of their content producers! Some will make money for them, and most won't. What do they care?
To justify a 30% commission, they need to do some work.
The long tail doesn't justify 30%. Maybe 5%... Maybe...
They could work to auction off promotional space with higher commissions getting better placement, but I don't know if that would work or not.
If you produce content, you will make more money by doing all the marketing and promotion yourself. That is, until you hit a critical mass, when the publishers will finally take an interest in you because they see that you're making lots of money, and they can have some of it... Wow. What a wonderful value proposition...
In my time I've purchased 4 copies of U2's The Joshua Tree on cassette...because they kept breaking. I finally pirated the last copy, so now I have one that I know I can keep. Does that make me a bad person? (Do you think I care...? )
I think you're driving at the problem of these guys wanting their cake and wanting to eat it as well.
Are they selling a physical product? An EULA? A license? What is it?
If it's a physical product, then that's one thing. If it's a license, then that's another.
How many copies of Ride the Lightning or The Wall do I need to buy for them to be satisfied?