The problem with literary agents and publishers is they now look for well established authors. No one wants to take a risk anymore on an unknown. I recently wrote a novel and tried to get a literary agent to represent. 90% of them wanted to know if I had previous published works. Correct me if I'm wrong but if I had previously published works why in the world would I be looking for a literary agent? Wouldn't I have one already? I have found in this field especially with literary agents themselves they want to do little to no work. They want to represent authors who have already established themselves and that these authors are shopping for a new agent. They are actually the ones who have created a countless number of self publishers because an unknown can't get representation anymore. Publisher's like Tate publishing is quite different from a self publishers. First off Tate publishing puts up 26k of their own money if they choose your work. The fee they ask for is to pay for the promotion of the book. They do this for one reason, they are a small company. Everything from print to cover of your book is done in the same place, because of this they can't take the influx of submissions that your traditional publisher like Random House could take. They want a smaller amount of submissions and one way of doing that is by charging a fee, and that is why if you sell a thousand copies they refund you your 4k
I am not sure if your comment is a question or just a rant. But I will address it as if it were a legitimate question:
First, I will not get into a conversation about Tate publishing. The scope of this blog is to address general questions about publishing, and I don't want to comment on specific houses or agents, especially since I am no expert on Tate publishing's practices, and can only go from what I hear. That said, I will say in general that, regardless of who the publisher is, I always advise authors to never pay a fee (of any sort) to have their work published, since there exist too many vanity publishers who prey on unsuspecting writers by charging fees--and since there are many legitimate publishers who will charge no fee--and pay you an advance.
If authors are unable to land a deal with a legitimate house and are contemplating self-publishing, I would be much more inclined to recommend they self publish in ebook format via KDP, B&N, Google Play, Kobo, Apple, etc.--where there are no upfront fees, and authors control all rights, and there is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I have been a literary agent for 20 years, and you are inaccurate to say that the problem NOW with literary agents is that they only want established authors. Literary agents have ALWAYS been more inclined to represent established authors. Nothing has changed in that regard. That said, you must keep in mind that there are also agents who pride themselves on discovering unknown authors. There are thousands of agents out there, and one cannot make sweeping generalizations.
It is standard operating procedure for an agent to want to know if you've been previously published--that does not necessarily mean the agent is biased against you. Indeed, if you've published with a major house and your sales tanked, then an agent would be LESS likely to want you. So sometimes being unpublished is an advantage. That said, any good agent will want to know your complete publishing history upfront, and you should already know that and include it in your author bio.
You are completely wrong to say that if you've been published, then you don't need an agent. That is absurd. I could rattle off a dozen reasons you'd need an agent even if you were a bestselling author (from contract negotiations, to subsidiary rights, to legal issues, etc. etc.) but I have already done this in my free ebook HOW TO LAND A LITERARY AGENT. The link is on this blog. Read the entire book. It's free. In fact, I give away over 500 pages of information in these books, and it amazes me how many people ask questions who have never even bothered to read the books--which answer all these questions and more, and in greater depth.
I don't agree that (legitimate) agents want to do little or no work. Most agents work tremendously hard and for salaries that are not great. I'd put it 12 hours a day at my desk, then come home and read for 3 hours--then read all weekend. Many agents do the same. Again, one cannot make generalizations. The key is choosing agents who are excellent at what they do. There are lazy people in every profession, and also hard-working people who take price in what they do. You have to choose the right people.
The only thing you say in your post that is somewhat accurate, and that I would somewhat agree with, is that agents are the ones who have created many self-published authors, due to the difficulty of landing an agent. There is some truth to this. It can be very difficult to land an agent. Many years, I'd receive 10,000 queries, and take on 1. The numbers are overwhelming, and an agent can't represent everyone. But the solution isn't to rant against the industry--that won't get you anywhere. The solution is to become better at researching the appropriate agents for you, and at improving your query letters, proposals and manuscripts. (Again, I teach you how in my free ebooks.) And, of course, perseverance. Not just for a few months, but for many years. And if you still can't land an agent, that might just end up for the best--many self published authors on Amazon and elsewhere have found their ebooks are earning them more than a traditional publisher might.