In addition, if you self-publish properly—start up your own imprint, purchase your own block of ISBNs, and have the book well edited and well designed—as opposed to going the subsidy route (often incorrectly called “self-publishing”), reviewers should have no idea you are self-published. Your book is simply a title from a new independent publisher. And there is no stigma there.The problem with this very idea is actually its goal: "reviewers should have no idea you are self-published." That, obviously, extends to consumers of all stripes, and the practice is woefully unethical. The idea that a self-published author should go the extra step to essentially trick the consumer on the foundational level into thinking that a particular book was published by a real publisher is nothing short of deceptive. Why?
Of all of the self-published authors I have seen doing this, none of them are open about the fact that they are self-published. They play the "I'm published just like *insert NYT bestelling author here*" role, despite having done nothing remotely similar. Some of them even lie when confronted about it, so desperate to keep up appearances that they won't even admit the lie when all the facts are laid out in front of them (I'm looking at you zombie lady, whose "publisher" has a website made by her husband and thinks I'm too stupid to put two and two together).
The problem with pretending to be traditionally published is that it is disingenuous. People who do this are not traditionally published. Yes, they might have produced a good piece of fiction in a nice exterior package, but they did not submit the manuscript to a publisher or an agent or go through any of the numerous processes involved in traditional publishing. Nobody sat with the manuscript and decided it deserved to be in print. Consumers are not always aware of the processes, but they do know that there is a difference between traditionally published and self-published, even if they don't always get those differences correct. Most consumers would avoid a self-published book, perhaps to the detriment of an author who actually produced something of value. But that's part of the game.
Misrepresenting what you are is quite literally a deceptive act. I would liken this to putting a science fiction book in a romance novel package. When a customer buys that book, they expect a romance novel, not a science fiction one. It's one thing to create a nice product, but it's another to pretend that that product is something it is not. I would even go as far as to say this is no different than lying directly to the consumer, and consumers really don't like to be lied to (as we've seen before with authors who have lied, such as that fellow that Oprah endorsed, and Sarah Palin--although, perhaps people liked Palin's lies due to the hilarity they created). As far as unethical business practices go, this is one step from the top of my list--right below flat-out lying by self-publishers to authors about self-publishing and by companies who do the same. Publishers publish other people; self-publishers publish themselves. It's a simple distinction.
The solution to this practice is perhaps not as radical as one might think after reading all of the above. Creating an imprint is entirely plausible, if done right. I think the best way to do it without reaching into the unethical/deceptive spaces is to create an imprint that is your name. Consumers are smart enough to put two and two together. But, I doubt anyone will buy into that solution. There's so much fear over the legitimate stigma attached to self-publishing that, for some, being deceptive and lying is much easier than trying to battle for respectability--stealing it is quicker and less painful.
What this has all taught me is to be very cautious about the books I buy. If I've never heard of a publisher, I look them up, and dig. I do this because I don't appreciate being lied to or deceived. Ever. It's a pain in my backside, but I'm not willing to throw my money on something unless I know who the publisher is and that said publisher is legitimate. Self-publishing can make purchases of books a risk to the consumer, and I know a lot of people, right now and in the past, who don't like to risk their money. And nobody wants to risk their money on something that was presented to them as a lie.
Thoughts? Let me know in the comments.