If people want to spend their money on sending out query letters that they spent an hour on, it's their prerogative. But it's a thankless job that agents must do, and the probability of them finding something worthy of a partial / full request is pretty slim. So why should agents' clients bear the cost of agents reading unsolicited mails (among other things) by paying higher commissions? It doesn't make any sense.
If reading fees are low (like a buck or so in my example), standard and industry-regulated, then there will be much less potential for abuse.
She’s absolutely right.
And here’s an argument I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else: I like knowing up-front what my commitments will be.
If I have to pay Agent So-and-So $x to query her/him, I can decide beforehand whether I think the chance of getting Agent So-and-So as my agent is worth $x.
But I cannot tell whether the deal My-Agent might get for me is worth the y hours multiplied by her/his hourly rate until the final contract is signed. I also think that an hourly rate is far more subject to abuse than a reading fee.
As I said earlier, a reading fee is up-front. You can do your research, and then decide whether Agent So-and-So rates $x to query. It’s just like paying to enter a lottery. With your research, you have some idea of the likelihood that the agent will/will not take you.
Hours, on the other hand, can be padded easily enough. You’d have to work really hard to figure out whether your agent is padding them or not. It’s not like you can keep an eye on them over their shoulder.