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I'd say decent product shots are very important - typically it takes me a couple of minutes or so to get from import raw to export JPG - but it does depend on the complexity of the item.
A couple of tips for speeding up things:
How long would you spend in say Photoshop clear cutting or background erasing an image to use in a product catalogue on the web.
Hard edged items - from 3-7 minutes depending on the complexity. When hair is involved, it depends on how good you want it. For a seamless convincing job with no short cuts, it can take up to an hour. Usually in this case I'll get all the hard edges in and the hair roughed out, then switch to mask mode and us the airbrush/eraser with a Wacom table and varying degrees of opacity (on the mask) for a "perfect" job.
How important do you consider it to get it "perfect" getting rid of artefacts, poor edges etc.
Very. The buzz on all the message boards is "good Photochop" meaning anyone can do this, but doing it well is another story. You can spot the signs of a auto-select and identify filters instantly. :-)
Rather than erasing or filling backgrounds it's better to use clipping paths IMO
For print, absolutely, especially when the layout person may want to resize or impose over other elements in a layout program, but I find clip edges far too unnatural for image-on image work. <shrug>
Work at high resolution so the images can be used across media
Generally I find I get better results if I size the image first and knock out later. It tends to lose a little character sometimes if you scale down an original that's already knocked out.