Today, those vanity presses still exist, but self-publishing has lost much of its early stigma. It's easier to publish and promote your own book, thanks to a wide variety of web sites. These sites can guide a writer from the very first steps of editing through layout and publication, not to mention publicity and marketing. Sometimes this kind of self-publishing is just what a book needs to garner a bigger market; if an author generates sufficient buzz, an agent and/or publisher might be more willing to risk a contract.
Another choice is e-publishing. Publishing your work in electronic form is even easier than print self-publishing, and it's usually free as well. With the advent of all the electronic readers, e-books may open more doors for authors than ever before.
It's a bold new world out there. Writers need to be just as bold.
I've been looking at these options myself. It would certainly be easier on the pride than the query/rejection cycle. I haven't actually done it yet simply because at this point it still feels. . like giving up.
But give me a few more months, and I may be hawking my own self-published books!