Traditionally, distributors and publishers acquired rights from authors and then passed them on for retail, since physical copies were hard to reproduce and the distributor had a high level of control.
I may be shooting my publishing self in the foot with this repost, but I think that a happy medium should exist. A publishing house is there to provide high-quality edits, layout and promotional assistance, for which they get a cut of the deal. However, authors should not sacrifice all their powers over their own work to have their life-work mass-distributed by a traditional publisher, along with either hundreds of others in a year or to be dwarfed by the big runner in the house and sent out as an extra.
Instead of the "Fast Yes" or "Slow No", editors may want to provide potential authors with a "Fast Yes With Edits" or a "Fast No". There may be the options for either "Fast No But Resubmit Later When You've Corrected Those Glaring Problems And We'll Think About It" or "Fast No But Resubmit When We're Calling For That Subject Material And We'll Think About It".
On Monday 31 October, The Guardian's Tech Weekly will host the last of its series of Tech City Talks, tackling the biggest issues in the UK's future digital economy. The topic: ownership, copyright and intellectual property.