A lot of authors in the self publishing world think that subsidy presses are all evil entities perpetrating rip-offs on helpless writers. I spend most of my time on this blog trying to explain to authors why they would be better off setting up their own publishing company and self publishing, rather than paying a subsidy press or an author services company to publish a book for them, but I'm fully aware that most authors choose the faster route. If you want to get into print quickly without having to learn anything about the publishing business, there's no quicker way to do it than handing over your credit card information and paying for the process. The subsidy publishers are even faster than most trade publishers, unless you're talking about a "still warm in the grave" biography of somebody famous.
Subsidy presses aren't evil unless they engage in the business of selling dreams and stealing your rights. Any subsidy publisher that tries to sell you a bunch of expensive add-on services, especially in the marketing department, should be avoided. Subsidy presses with contracts resembling those of trade publishers, who take the rights to your work in return for publication and a royalty, should also go in the trash. Trade publishers need those rights because they are paying you an advance and investing in the publication of the book. Subsidy publisher make money from you for publishing your book, they shouldn't be asking for your rights as well.
When an author makes clear to me that they don't want to be in the publishing business but they can't find a trade publisher and want to pay to get their book into print, I usually recommend Booklocker. I like their no-nonsense contract and I've corresponded with one of the owners quite a bit and he clearly understands the business. I'm also given to understand that they turn down many books that are submitted, and as a consequence, they earn more from selling books than they do from author fees.
Another subsidy publisher with terrific PR is Lulu, which is almost synonymous with self publishing in some circles. Their free setup in-house jobs aren't the same quality as their Lightning Source printed books, though the photos may actually turn out better. They use Lightning Source for their distribution package, as do Booklocker, iUniverse, Xlibris, PublishAmerica and most of the other author services or subsidy publishers. I'm no expert on subsidy publisher contracts and fees, but there's a book out by Mark Levine which compares the contracts of all the major subsidy publishers, exposing rip-offs and explaining terms.
As I've written before, subsidy publishing is a business model for the publisher, not for the author. Authors who want to make a living today in should spend some time on my current self publishing blog, this one is just a host of things past. If your goal is to make a living as an author and you can't or won't sign a contract with an advance paying trade publisher, my advice is to set up your own publishing company. All of the subsidy publishers who offer "self publishing" services are really playing with language. You aren't self publishing if they are the publisher of record.
So why do I bring up the topic of subsidy publishing at all? Because after years of participating in discussions on writing lists and taking questions from authors through various incarnations of this site, I've learned that it's an all-or-nothing game for most writers. Either they want a trade contract with an advance and a miserable royalty on net, or they want to pay somebody to publish the book and get on with their lives. The author's services industry exists to fill the latter demand.
Oddly enough, what the two approaches have in common is that neither is likely to enable you to quit your day job and make a living as an author. The majority of trade books don't earn the author enough to take even a year off from working, and the majority of subsidy published books must result in a net expense to the author. If you follow the path of true self publishing, starting your own company and earning the publisher's share on every book sold, if you don't make a living, at least it won't be a mysterious riddle.