Poets & Writers magazine has an excellent, in-depth interview with literary agent Molly Friedrich. Friedrich has been in publishing for three decades and is one of the top reps in the business.
This piece is long, but it's full of important information. (As a colleague, a bestselling author, put it: "This should be required reading at all writers conferences.")
Here's just a sample:
Q. How has technology changed the business from your perspective?
A. I'll tell you, what is hard about being an agent now is the Internet. The Internet is both the joy and the bane of everybody's existence. The bane part of it for me, for an agent, is that it used to be that authors were in isolation. Which was partly bad, obviously, but it was also a good thing because they really got to focus on their work and confront what was on the page. They weren't distracted and hyped up by too much information. Today, if you are a writer of a certain genre, you feel that you've got to get blurbs, you've got to cultivate all these people, you've got to go to this or that event, and on and on. So you have writers who aren't really being given enough time to write the best book they can write. And meanwhile they have become a kind of awful consumer. There are a lot of conversations about who has what. Like, "Well, Joe Blow has shelf talkers. Why don't I have shelf talkers?" No! I don't want to hear about Joe Blow's shelf talkers. You don't have shelf talkers because your career is set within an entirely different context than the person you just mentioned. They all compare notes. They compare advances. Part of it is that they have been told it's no longer enough to just write a good book. They are told that they have to get out there, press the flesh, have blogs, have Web pages, and get advance quotes from everybody and their dogs. Then they're told, "By the way, don't you think it would be a good idea to do two books this year?" This is insane! It is altogether too fast. Everything in this business is too fast.
I recommend reading the whole thing.