But I still don't know what they're good for. As far as I can tell, this is an entire profession devoted to schmoozing, hype, and matching the value of a "deal" to the value of a "property." It's all based on insider knowledge and speculative bidding-up based on market perceptions rather than intrinsic values. Scouts (if I got this right) are trying to sell options and rights, based on exaggerated speculation on market movements years in the future, before the
The innocents here are writers and readers. Williams' article mentions authors only off-handedly, as people who entrust their product to an agent so the marketplace can work its magic. Readers—actual readers of published books that have managed to survive this process—are never mentioned at all.
I don't know Emily Williams, but I'm sure she and her fellow scouts are all lovely people. Within the world of publishing conglomerates, apparently this is the way the game is played, and I'm sure it's possible to be good at the game and still be a nice person. (Really: I have known nice people who were investment bankers. Not at the same time—they were bankers, and then they stopped being bankers, and then they were nice—but they were the same people.) But to me it just emphasizes how little the world of publishing conglomerates has to do with writers, readers, and what I know as literature.
Williams' article will be followed by two more parts, discussing the international scene and translation. Fortunately, they're a week or more off, so there's some chance I'll be able to calm down and read them with an open mind.