The concept of the P&L, however, as well as the slight brouhaha in the comments section of one of Nathan's posts and the post following that one have reminded me more than ever of one of the central tenets of the publishing business:
This. Is. A. Business.
I've gotten my fair share of scorn and derision (not from you, fair readers) for expressing this sentiment before, but I stand by it. If you think art and industry are irreconcilable, don't shop your book to agents or editors. If you decry the publishing industry for trying to make a buck, don't participate! I think this also touches on my main argument against self-publishing, that being: you can't have your cake and eat it, too. If you want no part of the Great Big Publishing Machine, don't expect to make a ton of money. If you want to make a living as a writer (which is no small task), you're going to have to write something that's not only good from a literary/aesthetic standpoint, but also salable, and you are probably going to have to go through the publishing industry to do it.
Publishing houses aren't charities or libraries or Foundations For Ye Olde Publick Goode. They are businesses. If they don't make money, they close, and if we publishing folk don't make money, we don't eat. Sad, but true. So please keep this in mind: yes, you as a writer are practicing a form of art. Yes, it's always tricky when art and commerce get tangled up together. And publishing houses really do care about selling good, engaging, entertaining, well-written books. But they have to make money doing it, and if an agent/editor/publisher/&c doesn't think (s)he can turn a profit on your book, (s)he probably won't acquire it.
I mean, think about your current job: would you make an acquisition or other career move that you thought would bleed money everywhere? How would you justify something like that to your colleagues and superiors? And, if you're nodding along with me now and admitting that you couldn't: what makes that any different from buying a nice book that just won't sell?