For new authors, this is a Bad Thing, for two reasons:
1. There are now two hurdles to leap where there used to be one
2. Agents naturally prefer to take on writers who are going to earn a big advance
Most writers I know would be pleased to get a publishing deal of any sort (MacMillan New Writing, which offers twelve basic contracts a year with no advance, receives 500 submissions a week). But an agent would be unenthusiastic about such a deal; if she can't see immediate profit for herself, forget it.
The current situation is rather as if I decided I was fed up with going round the West End looking for new clothes. I'd appoint someone to do it for me, and pay her 15% of the cost of each suitable garment she found. Would she battle with the crowds to seek out the odd terrific pair of boots in Primark, costing £22? Or go to Selfridges and select a pair for £295?
Which would be to her advantage? And would I be better off?