I think we all want fewer but high quality publications but many aspects of academia seems to favour quantity. We should also not forget that apart from numbers of publications, the impact of them through different index measures such as the "h" and number of citations play a vital role in evaluating your output. A paper with no citations is not "good" for your record. I think one has to consider when our publications count and I can think of two and a possible third case (in the following I am concentrating on numbers/quality not impact/h but one could (should?) argue that quality = high impact/h):
- Publications count when you seek employment. The publications will be scrutinized by peers and in this case the quality definitely counts since the publication will be the key evaluation parameter of your scientific capacity, possibly in parallel to your ability to attract funding.
- Publications count when you apply for funding. In this case it is not likely that your publications will be read and evaluated; your proposal will. And, your publication list will be looked at as a sign of productivity. So in this case I would argue that numbers count (not even first/leading authorship may be critical although must be present).
- Publications may be important when it comes to promotions and particularly salary discussions. Here it is less clear if quality or quantity counts but I would argue that quantity is more important since your productivity can be shown as a statistic ( by the dept. and univ.) whereas quality is more difficult to quantify directly.
Since you are likely to seek funding more often than switch jobs, one might suspect that quantity is a must. In my funding system, a certain productivity is expected and in this case it is merely a number/year (on average; if you fall short it will be taken as a negative). At the same time you may lose opportunities when applying for jobs if quality does not enter the picture.
So there is need for a balance between quantity and quality. Very few can survive in the long term by writing few but high profile quality papers and it is also not likely you will survive only on quantity if that is at the expense of quality. We of course need to remember that all papers that count are peer reviewed and as such have formally passed quality control.
My personal reflection is that most of us do as much as we can to produce good quality science. If one were to try to constantly push low-quality manuscripts to gain quantity, ones reputation would probably soon suffer, so there may be additional equalizers at play.
So to answer the question: yes quantity counts but cannot be gained at the expense of quality. To "squeeze" as much as possible out of your research is good in the sense that your experience gets out to the public but negative if your research becomes fragmented across several publications that are lost in the background noise. Finding a good balance and seeing how many quality publications can be produced from a project idea is important.