In Which I Speak of Things I Know Not...
Essentially, the discussion has the two sides that I will unfairly boil down as follows:
LEE: Advances are like pay checks and should not be used to bolster a publisher who is falling down on the job of promoting its authors.
JOE: Advances are up front money that should be invested back into the author's career. There is a side benefit to the publisher that may even bee unmerited, but there is also a tangible benefit to the author with increased sales.
I tend to be on Joe's side of this issue though, like every author, I wish more were done by publishers to promote their midlist authors (who are very often just as talented as the bestselling authors).
The problem is similar to what I see in academe. There are too few full-time jobs for Liberal Arts Ph.Ds. The universities are taking advantage of underpaid, un-benefited grad students and adjuncts to teach lower level classes. The solution proposed by many was that Graduate schools should simply admit fewer students to doctoral programs. Fewer Ph.Ds means that the available jobs will be enough to satisfy the surge of qualified applicants.
So with publishing. Simply trim the list of forthcoming books to a list that the publisher can adequately support with appropriate promotion. Publishers should never again complain that they have too many books coming out to give everyone ad money or a book tour. If they have too many, the solution is to take on fewer. Be selective. Take on fewer projects and promote them well. Select manuscripts that have real commercial potential.
But is that what we really want?