written by David Steffen
Most writers I know are familiar with Duotrope, which I have recommended as the single greatest writer’s resource available. It maintains publication listings, including keeping track of when these publications open and close. It has a search engine to find new listings, which you can restrict and sort by a variety of factors, including word length, genre, pay rates. It has a submissions tracker, which is somewhat handy, but the important part of that is that the submissions tracker provides response statistics for each market that are combined and shared for all to see.
Duotrope provides all of this for free (run by donations) and has for years. But, after years of threatening, the staff of Duotrope has decided to go to a paid subscription model as of January 1st. The cost will be $5/month, or if you pay for a whole year at once it costs $50 (which comes out to about $4.17 per month).
The writing portion of the Internet is in an uproar as a result, with reactions (and overreactions) in both directions. At the time that I’m writing this, many many others already have posted reactions, but I still thought it was worthwhile if anyone who visits Diabolical Plots would like to hear what I think.
I have absolutely no problem with Duotrope bringing in money. At the very least, they have server costs, as well as a staff that has maintained and added new features over the years. I have not heard anyone seriously say that they shouldn’t bring in money. But I do think Duotrope has handled this very badly. And I suspect that, if they don’t take some course correction, they are going to tank the greatest writer’s resource on the Internet.
Areas for Improvement
1. The Announcement
The tone of the announcement of Duotrope going paid, like many of their donation requests in the past, focuses on blaming non-donors. With some amount of marketing/feature effort, they could change their message from “You guys are cheapskates, so now you pay or leave” to “check out these exciting new features that are totally worth paying for”.
2. The Data
Of all of the things that Duotrope provides, most of them can be easily duplicated elsewhere. The exception to that is: their submissions data. They provide a Submissions Tracker for years, and people like me use it as a backup tracker, and to contribute data that combines with other people’s data anonymously to provide Duotrope’s most valuable asset–market response data.
Even by their estimates, they’ll be losing at least 75% of their user base. I think it will be closer to 90%. The Submissions Tracker will be behind the pay wall, so they’ve now priced themselves out of most of their data and their main feature. Meaning that those few left are paying way more for less useful data.
Duotrope estimates that they will make up for this by signing on future users. Good luck finding new users, when they will likewise be turned off by the pay wall, especially in those early days of writing when Duotrope would be the most useful but when those writers are sure to be making no money.
3. The Cost
All of Duotrope’s past suggestions for donations have suggested $5 a year. I had been donating this. Suddenly, when they go subscription based, its $5 per month or $50 per year. Where did that come from? They’ve responded to questions about this to say that this is what they calculated they needed to keep going, but have not actually explained this reasoning. The best that I can figure, this was their reasoning:
–If all our current users donated $5 a year, that would be enough
–10% of users donate
–When paid subscriptions begin, the other 90% will leave and this 10% will stay and pay the new rate
–Therefore we need $50 from each per year to get the same amount of money
I really hope they put more consideration into it than that, because that reasoning would be very flawed. Judging by the reactions, I think that they will actually destroy their userbase to such an extent that they will make less money in 2013 than they did in 2012. If they had chosen a lesser amount, say $10 or $20 a year, I think that many of the people who weren’t paying would still choose to pay, and I think they would’ve come out far ahead.
Personally, I have enough money in my overall budget that I could spend $50 on this a year. But this doesn’t come from my overall budget. This comes from my writing budget. I want to make money at writing, period. If I spend $50 on this a year, that cancels out a pro-paying flash sale, or several lesser paying sales. I have made more than that for several years, but I would not be shocked if I did not make that in 2013 (or another year in the near future). If there’s a strong possibility that my writing bookkeeping might cost more than my writing brings in, that’s a red flag to me that I need to find new bookkeeping.
I’m not sure who they’re aiming at with that price point. Novice users will be wary to pay a subscription to use the market listings, and won’t be making any money to justify it. Experienced users won’t need the tool anymore because they have their own lists of markets and ways to find them.
They have not been effective at fundraising. In the past, their only tactic has been to say “If we don’t make enough from donations, then we will put up a subscription fee.” Which to me translates to “If you don’t pay us, then we will make you pay us” which doesn’t entice me to donate in any way. I have donated what they suggested, $5 per year. If they had suggested more, I probably would’ve donated more.
They also use the age-old, and very flawed “cup of coffee” argument, in this case rounding a cup of coffee up to $5. As someone who does not buy coffee, this argument means nothing. And even if I did buy coffee, it is again depending on the “come on you cheapskate, donate!” strategy of fundraising.
They have not made any visible effort to do a donation drive. Kickstarter would’ve been an ideal place to do that. Set a specific goal, with specific incentives for big donors (enhanced feature set, an author bio weblink in the newsletter, etc), as well as extra stuff for stretch goals. Formatted like that, you can reward donors instead of punishing everyone because some don’t donate. I believe it would be a much more lucrative system that would make everyone happy, but they didn’t try that.
They have not made any visible effort to consider other sources of funding besides asking users to pay. Such as:
–Asking markets to pay for a listing, or to pay for an enhanced listing. Markets benefit greatly from the listing, it funnels submissions their way, gets the word out, etc. A market is having to front a bunch of capital to launch their magazine anyway, to pay authors, for printing/hosting costs. The cost of getting a listing could be just another tick on that list. Or maybe not just the basic listing, but allow markets to pay a little for a FEATURED listing that makes them more attractive or more visible.
–Targeted marketing. Thousands of writers get the Duotrope Weekly Wire. Sell a weekly ad to businesses that want to target writers. For instance, editing services, submissions calls, new books, script editing software. Scrivener, for instance. I only know about Scrivener through word of mouth. That would be a product I would want to hear about, so if I saw a link to it in a writing newsletter, I would click-through to learn more.
–Consider Facebook’s model. Facebook makes money, without charging its users. That’s because users are not the CONSUMER, they are the PRODUCT. Facebook has set up a system so that users will flock to it, and then they can make money off of other companies who want to take advantage of clustering users. Duotrope, if they structure carefully, could operate in the same way, because their main product is the submissions data.
5. The Features
While it’s reasonable to ask for some money for Duotrope’s service and product, the way they’re approaching it is not going to help. A pragmatic person like myself looks at the change and sees “I can pay $50 tomorrow what I’ve gotten for a voluntary $5/year for the last four years”. Definitely a negative from a consumer point of view. But with careful planning, that negative could be improved greatly and still bring in money:
–Make the Submissions Tracker free, and make people pay for the rest. People will use that for the convenience and accessibility. You’ll probably still lose some users, but many will at least use this. By encouraging users to use the tracker for free, they’d ensure the maintenance of their most valuable asset–their submissions data. Then people who want to see the statistics based on that data could pay for the privilege.
–New features that are behind the subscription wall. If they kept most of what is going on now outside the paywall, but offered some new whizbang feature behind the paywall, they could draw people in with the semi-useful free stuff and then entice them to pay for the super-useful paid stuff.
It sounds like Duotrope is fully expecting to lose more than 75% of their user base. The thing is, that opens up opportunity’s for someone else to snatch up all of those users for a reasonable price. I think that someone else will fill this niche. The system they’ve put together is very easy to use, but the underlying logic is not all that complicated–just data entry and aggregation.
I’ve personally decided at this point to discontinue my use of Duotrope. If they go back to free, or if they go to a more reasonable rate, I will go back to using them again. If they try a Kickstarter run with some incentives and stretch goals, I will donate. But for the meantime, and before someone else fills the hole they’ll leave behind, I have to find other ways to fill the functionality that they provided. Like I said I consider them at this point to the be the single greatest writer’s resource available. But some combination of other sources can work pretty well too.
1. Submissions Tracker
A submissions tracker for keeping track of only your own stuff isn’t that difficult. If you only want to keep track of what is submitted where, a notebook will do the trick. If you want to be able to get statistics and to do cross-referencing and stuff, a spreadsheet could do it. I’ve made an OpenOffice database that might be of use. Just follow this link, and then click on the “Submissions” link on the other side.
2. Market Listings
Ralan is another favorite to find market listings. I personally find it pretty hard to read, and I’ve heard others say the same, but for occasional checks for new markets, I could see using it. This could also be an opportunity for Ralan to make it a little easier to use and absorb all the users fleeing Duotrope.
Also, writers forums can be very useful for this, as people often raise the topic of a new market when it becomes visible to them.
3. Submissions Data
This is the trickiest one, because Duotrope’s biggest value was their submissions data colleciton. The only other place that I know of is Critters’ Black Hole tool. It is very bare-bones, and is of limited use when there isn’t a lot of traffic. The more people go there, the more useful it will be. If they took the time now to make their interface a little smoother, they could take all of that userbase looking for submissions data.
For less formal aggregation of data, again the writer’s forums can be useful for this, especially if what you’re looking for is the question I’m usually looking for when I dig through Duotrope data: “Is this wait for a response a significant one at this market?”
But when it really comes down to it, those statistics don’t really help me. In fact, I spend a fair amount of time digging through them that I could spend writing. It’ll make me twitch a little to not have this, but I’ll acclimate and will be better off for it.