Miss Snark, you said "Every single time you hear something about publishing keep in mind who is telling you and what their agenda is. If you paid money to hear them, even more so. If they want you to buy more services from them, remember, they aren't providing services out of altruism, they're making money off your ignorance."
Does this also apply to websites? I can't help wondering if a) an author actually needs a website and b)how much time and effort actually goes into building and maintaining them, and how much an author should be paying for such a service.
Is this an area where the newly-published could get ripped off?
a. yes you need a website if you're going to have a book. You want a place to post your reviews, your bio, links to Miss Snark's fabulous blog, and all sorts of other things.
b. not that much once it's built
I don't have a clue about cost. However, most websites will tell you who designed, built and now maintains it. You can click on the icon and email them. Look at websites you like and ask those people. You can get template sites and you can pay a fortune to a webmaster but really, its not that hard. I bet there are a lot of author focused web sites that talk about this. I just tell my authors they have to have one. They hear and obey!