John F Waterman
The works of John F Waterman

Blog 05.20.16 May 21, 2016

Hi there, folks.

There’s been a lot of discussion about ‘fairness’ in our society of late. Honestly, since long before today, since long before the founding of this nation, people have been talking about it. Everyone comes to the discussion with some preconceived notions about fairness. Sure, everyone can tell almost instantly if a given situation is ‘fair’ or not to its participants. Ask any group of small children, and any of them knows if it’s fair or not if one child out of the group gets two pieces of candy and the rest only get one each.

‘That’s not fair,’ each will cry out – except the one who got two pieces.

The ‘haves’ vs. the ‘have nots’; the eternal question about the human condition. Both groups will argue that there is something inherent in the ‘haves’ (or missing from the ‘have nots’) that got them where they are. Both groups will also argue that there is something inherent in the system they live under that places each member in their respective position; a virtue, a vice, a bias, a selection process of some sort. Here’s where the innate human talent for narrative comes into its own.

I refuse to argue politics in this blog. So let’s approach the concept of ‘fairness’ from the point of view of a writer who wants to sell his works. The writer has poured his effort (and one would hope some talent and skill) into producing his work. He hopes people will purchase his work, to in some fashion repay him for that effort. He may also desire recognition as well, but let us focus on recompense of a financial nature. How does he ‘sell’ his work?

In days not so long past, the writer would engage an agent to work on his behalf to offer his work for money to a publisher. The agent gets a percentage of what the writer might get paid by a publisher; the publisher undertakes the expense of physically printing the work as a book and then offering it for sale to customers. ‘The value of a thing is what the thing will bring’. This is a pure market transaction. The publisher bears the costs and financial risk of producing the printed book, as well as paying for the marketing used to promote what is now its product and trying to get as many customers to buy it as possible. The writer (and his agent) aren’t on the hook for all that, but they have to convince the publisher that it’s worth his while to do so.

Here’s where ‘fairness’ rears its head in this straightforward affair. There were a limited number of publishers for any particular work of fiction, each with a limited amount of ‘product’ (books) it could afford to move onto the market for its customers at any one time, books being an economic ‘want’ and not a ‘need’. The well of potential customers is not bottomless, and they remain fickle. Publishers had to make critical decisions related to assumptions made about the customer’s desires. Agents helped them make these decisions, both by promoting their writers’ works, but also decisions based upon what they felt would sell well.

My question about fairness; is it better when a few people (publishers, as represented by their editors, as well as agents, who ostensibly represent their writers) make decisions about what customers are offered to purchase? Let me know what you think. Next time I’ll discuss what the market for writers – and readers – looks like today, and how it affects ‘fairness’.

Stay safe, and read good stuff.

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