Saturday, September 19, 2020

Sherlockian generational wealth

 This morning, I subscribed to a year of Sherlock Holmes Magazine for fifty-eight dollars and seven cents. A reasonable price for a big, glossy, well-written magazine coming all the way from Great Britain, but at the same time, spending that much on a periodical always gives me pause. Not that long ago, I remember having to make the decision to forego a year of The Baker Street Journal due to a post-Christmas budget crunch, even though I'm a fairly successful member of the tail-end-of-the-Boomer generation.

I look at that luxury item I just bought, realize how many of the other Sherlockians who will be buying it come from a generation that didn't have to take out something like a home loan just to attend college, many of whom got no-longer-existing retirement packages that let them quit working in their fifties, and that doesn't even include those folks in our realm who inherited enough from their folks to go full-geek early on. I know, I know, most of us have jobs, earning what's available at the time we're living in, but if I look at all the Sherlocking I did in my twenties, like subscribing to every single Sherlockian journal available, and try to imagine doing that now?

Hard enough to imagine living the lifestyle of my 1980s Sherlockian self in the 2020s with four times the income . . . but if I was at the relative income level of my 1980s self now? No way would I be living the Sherlockian life I had then.

Sherlockiana is a bubble of sorts, where we have always intermingled with folks from all walks of life, and it's easy to think, "Oh, Sherlockiana is the same as it's always been," when, like every other part of the world, it's slowly evolving. Sometimes so slowly that we can pretend it's staying the same.

Should membership in a Sherlockian society be based upon the subscription price to a journal that might have been the ambitious project of the well-off Sherlockian that started it? That's a question I've raised and will be raising with the John H. Watson Society, as I think we need to start taking economics into account as we move forward as Sherlockians. You might not think that the game is rigged, that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, or that folks like Jeff Bezos raise their income by taking income away from the middle class and below. You may think that even suggesting that idea is "politics," the word for any part of reality there might be room to debate. But our little bubble of Sherlockiana isn't an air-tight biodome or terrarium. The outside world affects us.

It's easy to take pot-shots at country club Sherlockians who think that an annual trip to New York is the baseline cost for being in their club. But sometimes we have to step back and look at our own parts of the hobby, and how generational wealth might be tilting things toward a certain market of buyers rather than actually spreading the legend of Sherlock Holmes far and wide as we might prefer.

The game may be afoot, but I'm sure we'd rather it wasn't fixed, wherever the opportunity to even up the playing field can exist. There's enough corruption and bad-actor gamesmanship in the outside world right now working against our younger Sherlockians, so opening doors wherever we can, making things more affordable wherever we can, in events and publications, is probably something we should think about.

Especially in a hobby based around two guys who had to share rooms because they couldn't afford to live without each other.


  1. We've learned at least one good thing from this dreadful pandemic: virtual meetings are not only fun, but they allow people who can't afford a plane ticket, or even the price of a luncheon, to mingle with other Sherlockians they'd like to meet or see again. Whether it's the finest port or plain water for the toast, we're all equal on a computer.

  2. Kudos for posting on this topic, as it's very real and quite timely. For example, I've been back and forth to no avail with Gasogene Books/Wessex Press about their refusing to consider print-on-demand to keep their books in print. Their OOP books sell second-hand for 2 to 3 times their original price (one that was already a bit steep). That puts them out of reach of many Sherlockians, especially those new to the Game.

  3. BSI is by far the worst offender, with a subscription fee that not only does not confer membership but also does not provide digital access to early journal back issues - which, of course, can be purchased in an unwieldy format for a hefty additional fee. As the above commenter mentions, this makes Sherlockian studies an extremely expensive hobby to start out in and also allows BSI to self-select new generations, maintaining their lack of diversity. Perhaps this is unconscious bias at work, but in 2020, why are they not consciously considering their biases?