Shame on You Duotrope

oh_no_you_di_int_retro_housewife_b_w_tshirt-d23504043240443180228y9d_325For well over a year, perhaps closer to a year and a half I have been very openly supportive of Duotrope.  They have offered a great service that was 100% free for users, and all they asked in return was for donations to help keep the site running.  Unfortunately, according to Duotrope, only 10% of the users donate.  As a result they feel compelled to begin charging users a subscription fee for use of their services starting January 1st.

As a business owner, I understand needing to cover your expenses.  I can’t even blame them if they want to make a profit (though they have never said they want to do this), but I can blame them for a lot of bad business choices they are making by passing this cost on to users.  Especially at the crazy price of $50 a year.

It is my prediction that this move will ultimately lead to the downfall for Duotrope.  Not because of this choice to charge, but because of how they have implemented it.  I don’t think they really have given much thought to this.  Recently they posted on Facebook that they did consider this for some time, but this has all the markings of a hastily made decision rather than a carefully thought out one.

Here is why I say “Shame on You, Duotrope.”

You didn’t consult your users for their thoughts:

The users are the life blood of a service such as Duotrope.  You need their submission stats to get the information other users come to your site to gather.  And you spit in their face by not even offering a simple survey of your users to see what options they would prefer to keep the site running.  Ads on the website, subscriptions fees, multilevel publication listings, and much more are all options that could have been put on a survey to see what your users would prefer.  It would have also given us more time to prepare for the idea of Duotrope charging.

You gave us no time to get acquainted to this idea:

The first announcements came December 1st.  Giving us one month to be prepared for this idea.  Past posts on Facebook gave no hints to this plan.  There was nothing in the newsletters to prepare us.  You sprung this on us with one month’s notice.  This is where the above idea would have benefited us all.  If you had told us three months ago that donations were down and in order to keep the site up, Duotrope was considering other options to make money.  Then if you offered a survey for user ideas, we would have known something like this was coming.

You’ll become another service trying to take advantage of writers:

Let’s face it.  Duotrope offers little more than you can already track yourself.  After all the most valuable feature to the writer, is the submission tracker.  To be honest, all you have to do is make an excel spreadsheet to do that.  I admit that the response stats, acceptance rates, and “Top Market” lists are fun.  But you really don’t need any of that information to be an author.  And if you want to find markets, Google works for free.  Ralan.com is also free.  And all the writer’s groups you are in are also free.  They can tell you about markets.  The main appeal of Duotrope was that is was convenient and free.

Writer’s don’t make a lot of money.  Lets put this is perspective here.  $50 a year means selling 5,000 words a year at one cent per word.  Not to bad, if you are a good writer.  But if you are like me, who has a lot of other projects going on at one time.  I don’t always get 5,000 words sold in short stories each year.  And considering the bulk of Duotrope’s listings don’t pay anything, there is not much chance of making any money on your $50 investment.

This puts Duotrope right in line with other rip off services, such as markets that charge you to submit to them.  There is no value in the $50 a year you will spend.  You get nothing of real value from it that isn’t free elsewhere. They are doing nothing more than tricking you into paying for something you can get for free.  That is the definition of a scam.

There are better ways to make money:

There are a lot of better ways, but they take work.  I admit that charging users is the simplest and easiest answer to their funding problem.  But there are ways that are better for their users and Duotrope in the long run.  This includes selling advertising space on their website, charging markets to list on their site, and multilevel listings.  I like the multilevel listing and website ads options best.  As the owner of a publishing company, I would gladly spend a little extra to be a “featured listing” on Duotrope.  I’d pay $50 a year to do that or even $100 a year depending on what I got for the money.  As a writer, I’d pay to have my book get an ad on the website.  The traffic I am sure Duotrope currently generates would make advertising with them a worthwhile investment.

I’m sure that if they really put their minds to it, they would find these would make far better choices than charging users.

They won’t make anymore money from this:

The reasoning behind this choice was to make enough money to run the website.  The problem is that simply won’t happen.  Read the comments on the Facebook announcements.  You will see that most of those that say they will pay, say they already donated anyway. Many say they donated more than $50 a year.  I suspect that 10% of users that donate, will likely stay the same.  That is, I think only 10% of the current users will subscribe.  And if many of them donated more that $50 a year, then Duotrope will actually lose money from this.  Even if 15% of current users subscribe, they won’t make that much more than the donations.  And by the time they reverse the decision and try something else, the damage will be done.

Statistics will no longer be reliable:

If the number of users decreases by even just 50%, the statistics they collect will be damaged significantly.  I suspect the users will decrease by 90% or more.  This will destroy the integrity of the Duotrope’s statistics.  So even if you plan to subscribe because you like the stats, you won’t get what your think your paying for.

Currently Duotrope.com represent around 30% of the actual submission to Plasma Frequency.  And that is high.  Other editors are reporting that Duotrope’s stats are only reflective of 10% of their submissions.  Imagine how much lower this is going to drop when Duotrope’s user pool shrinks by 90%.

This will change what Duotrope is all about:

Duotrope has been free for seven years.  For seven years Duotrope has been about helping writers find markets for their writing.  Duotrope now wants to be about making money.  Don’t let them fool you into thinking that $50 a year goes to running the site.  Because it doesn’t cost a lot to run a website.  I run two of them right now. Let’s look at this by using costs from Go Daddy:

Domain name: $14.99 a year, unlimited disk space hosting is $179.88 per year.  Now, assuming they build their own website (and they now have the templates all in place for every new listing).  That is all the real cost associated with running this site.  $194.87 per year, if they didn’t take advantage of any of Go Daddy’s regular sales.

What they (the owners of the site) want to be paid for is their time.  Does this make them evil?  No.  Business needs to make money.  And clearly Duotrope wants to be a business now.  That completely changes the dynamic of the site.  This will now be about paying for them to do the work required to run the site.  Something they already admit to doing part-time.  But if four users can pay the operating expenses of the site itself for one year, how much are the owners going to take in for their time?  A lot.

I don’t pretend to know all their costs.  And they refuse to tell us (see below).  Even when they did donations, it was just blind percentages.  There was no defined dollar amount to run Duotrope.  So now they plan to charge writers so they can make some money, rather than continue to be a valuable resource for writers.  Once again, this goes back to the fact that I feel they are simply trying to take advantage of writers.

Duotrope doesn’t care about the user:

This is the part that inflamed me the most.  They could care less about writers.  They’ve made that clear by everything above.  And they have practically said so.  The overwhelming majority of comments on Facebook are against this, yet they just continued to repeatedly post the same generic announcement. This morning they finally posted something more, and it angered me.  You can read the whole thing if you want, but I’ll just address what made me mad:

“The decision to become a paid service was not made lightly; many, if not all, of the suggestions mentioned on social media were considered, but in the end our current subscription model is what we determined to be the best compromise all-around. I know some of you want specifics on our numbers, our decision process, etc. While we understand your desire to know the inner workings of Duotrope, we are a private company, and our internal data is not public domain.”

Why can’t you share your operation costs with us?  User numbers?  The amount of money you are losing each month?  Is it because, as I showed above, the real costs are not all that much?  I think so.  Do they have to share this information with us?  No, they don’t.  Should they?  Considering the outcry from users, yes they should.  It is my opinion that they should give us some idea of why this has to be the way it is and why it has to happen in January.

“We knew going in that many of you would be terribly upset over the upcoming change. We are extremely sorry that this has caused you anger, sadness, and the like. However, the decision has been made, and while we are certainly not inflexible about adjusting to upcoming challenges, our subscription model needs to be allowed the opportunity to go into effect before it can be evaluated fairly. Time will tell what the future holds, but time will be allowed to pass before any changes, if any, are made to the way Duotrope plans to operated as of 2013.”

If many of your customers will be upset, and you know it, then it is not the right choice for your business.  The problem with putting something out there and evaluating it on the fly, is that the damage will be done.  If I leave, Duotrope, I won’t come back.  Even if they go back to free.  It took seven years to build Duotrope, they can destroy it in 30 days.

“This is the basic principle of quantity v. quality. As just one oversimplified example, many casual users (and we do mean many!) will report a new submission to a market and then never follow-up on it, leaving that entry as a sort of orphan in the overall data. That is the type of data problem we predict will be reduced significantly under the new model, increasing the accuracy of the statistics on listed markets. We know this is not specific enough for some of you, but we hope that over the many years Duotrope has offered its services for free we have managed to earn at least a little bit of your trust.”

When it comes to statistics you need quantity.  As I mentioned above.  A smaller statistical sample will not mean a better result. The writers that can afford this will be writers who are accepted more often than others.  Therefore the statistics will become skewed to only experienced writers who sell a lot.  Right now, it is reflective of a broad range of writers.

And don’t even get me started on trust.  We trusted you, and you are expecting us to keep trusting you.  Trust is a two-way street.  You want us to share money and trust you with it, but you don’t want to show us where the value is.  You won’t explain in depth why seven years of free service no longer works.  Trust me, I am a Nigerian Prince who wants to give you ten million dollars, just send me $5000 to facilitate the transfer of funds.  Come on.

“We have always known this decision meant parting ways with some of our users. If you will not be joining us, then we thank you for all the support, promotion and participation over the last seven years, and for helping grow Duotrope from an experiment into a mature company and service.”

A business that makes a choice knowing that users will likely leave, is making a foolish choice.  And thank you for acknowledging that you used us to grow your company into a money-making venture and then tossed us aside for the people who can pay you.

My summary:

Duotrope is moving in the wrong direction.  I can no longer recommend anyone use them.  They need to take a pause, listen to the users, and postpone this going paid idea.  They need to really evaluate the priorities of Duotrope and make choices that better follow the goals of the company.  But if the goals are to make money, at the expense of writers, which is exactly what this will be doing, I will want no part in this.  I still firmly believe that money should flow in the direction of the writer.  We writers already make so little, we don’t need this new scam sucking money from us.

Go to Duotrope, back up your data.  And track your submissions the old fashion way, with an excel spread sheet.  Then join the countless writers groups on Facebook, Twitter, and online to find new markets.  Go check out Ralan.com for market listings.  It may take a bit longer, but it will save you $50 a year you likely can’t afford to spend.

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29 responses

  1. Jennifer Ruth Jackson

    Are they still going to shun markets that charge a submission fee? Their motto used to be “money should flow to the writer” but I’m uncertain of that now. I don’t blame them for needing revenue but…

    December 2, 2012 at 19:01

    • Others have asked that same question, but there has been no answer that I have seen. Duotrope has done little to answer many of peoples concerns with this change. Showing once more, they care little about users.

      December 2, 2012 at 19:22

  2. Pingback: Money Flows from the Writer | Genreville

  3. bumper67

    Duotrope says that they will accept a money order for payment, but no mailing address is listed. Duotrope has pulled a dope-e-trope.

    December 3, 2012 at 13:46

    • I hadn’t heard about money orders, but this is all bad for Duotrope.

      December 3, 2012 at 21:19

  4. Like you, Richard, I have always been supportive of Duotrope. I have donated to them yearly, for several years, and encouraged others to do the same. However, the way they’ve handled this transition makes me question if I want to do business with them. At the very least, they have not shown themselves to be wise business people who understand their product. At the worst, they appear that they don’t really care about their users.

    December 3, 2012 at 15:47

    • You hit the nail on the head with your comment. They are making poor business choices and it will be bad for the users.

      December 3, 2012 at 21:21

  5. I couldn’t agree more, Richard, and it’s been nice to see people behind the publishing side of things making their opinion on this known. I’ve loved Duotrope, and have grown to associate it with my progress as a writer over the relatively short time I’ve been writing short fiction. But I can’t support them in this decision. I can afford the fifty bucks, it’s not that big a deal to me. But the fact that they’re fine with pushing a large part of their user base away, drastically affecting their stats, says to me that it’s not something I should gamble a dime on, even though I’ve gladly donated what I could in the past.

    In addition to Ralan.com, some other duotrope alternatives include critters.org/blackholes for market stats and spacejock.com/Sonar3.html for a free submission tracker. I’ve been trying to spread the word about them on twitter and the like, especially black holes, since market stats were the most important part of Duotrope’s services for me. If enough people flock to them, their data will become just as accurate as Duotrope’s has been.

    December 5, 2012 at 19:13

    • Thanks for the suggestions. People don’t realize they have alternatives to Duotrope. Though my hope was that they’d stop this and reevaluate their position on this.

      December 5, 2012 at 19:21

  6. K.A. Levingston

    I’m a relatively new user with duotrope (browsed markets for a while; just created my profile a month ago to track submissions), but I won’t continue to work with them. Part of that is the high cost of membership- I just don’t have the $50 to spare, and I’m not sure that what I would be paying for is worth the money considering how many of their users (and corresponding statistical accuracy) they will be losing in this gamble.

    Mostly, though, I’m unwilling to give my money to a company on the verge of financial collapse that is unwilling provide transparent fiscal information.

    I think you’re right. I don’t believe Duotrope cares about writers, I believe they care about people who are willing to finance them blindly. And that’s a shame.

    December 5, 2012 at 21:31

    • You make a good point about financial collapse. They are telling us they aren’t making it but are not willing to show any proof that a paid system will save them.

      December 5, 2012 at 21:41

  7. Jim

    Alden, you prove exactly what will happen. Writers will looks elsewhere for markets.
    Also I think publishers should think about releasing details of their submission requirements elsewhere too, in order to get maximum coverage. Why only publish details to a few users who can afford to pay for a service that was once free?

    December 8, 2012 at 09:26

    • Any smart publisher will try to expose their market on as many of these market listings as possible. We all want more writers to choose from, and we also want more readers. The more we can make people aware of our publication the better. Over at Plasma Frequency, I try to get a listing everywhere. But some of these lesser known sites, I hadn’t heard of before this post.

      Duotrope has not created a wide whole that any one of these “smaller guys” could fill. They just need to put in the time to reach out to markets, writers, and to produce a product better than Duotrope. Then offer it for free or next to nothing and they will jump right in as the next big thing.

      This is what happens when you make a poor business choice, and then don’t do any damage control on it. As I have said, they can charge if they want but they have yet to try to sell us on it. They aren’t even trying. They are basically saying, buy our services. But that is it. They have to realize that if they want to be a business and charge, they need to SELL the services. They can’t expect people to just walk in and pay for something they have always had for free (and can still get for free).

      December 8, 2012 at 10:37

  8. I don’t think I will pay it. The past year or two, I’ve grown increasingly sour over lit mags and reference sources changing policies and now charging. I realize times are tough and it takes work and money to keep things going, but let’s face it, it’s one more step toward the hard connection between business and art.

    There are still many outlets out there putting out great literature and resource info for free, and this work comes from the heart.

    This past year I’ve only submitted to mags who continue to be submission fee-free. I used to think, well, what’s $2-3 when I would have printed out the story on paper and put stamps on the envelope. But now I think, fundamentally, even though I spent money on the hardcopy submission, the market was not saying I have to pay to submit.

    And, not to plug my mag or anything, but The Summerset Review has remained free for ten years. You don’t even need to log in. And there are no ads, no cries for donations. Until I am ready to add all that, I can’t consciously commit to another site that does.

    December 13, 2012 at 08:14

    • I’ll never pay a submission fee. That is unacceptable in my opinion. I don’t mind a magazine with ads or donations, so long as they are paying the writers. But I don’t like to see nonpaying magazines asking for donations or ads. Don’t try to make money off of other people’s talent and not pay the talent. But that is my opinion.

      Also feel free to name drop your magazine. I sure mention Plasma Frequency enough around here. :)

      December 13, 2012 at 09:24

  9. Pingback: Updates: December 2012 « The Flores Factor

  10. Diane

    My time is worth more than $50 a year. I subscribed happily and spent four hours today making about 15 submissions. I try to keep at least 20 active submissions a month. If I had to find the markets on my own, I doubt I would have even been able to submit a third of that, or if I had, my stories would have been sent willy-nilly to random markets instead of selecting what I hope are perfect fits. I knew the first time I signed up for Duotrope (I think around 2007) that they would eventually have to charge. They didn’t keep this a secret. That’s why they had that little bar telling users how far below their needed donates they were for the month and the year. Did you ever, even once, see them make their goal? I know I never did. But I did donate many times since joining because I recognized how valuable their service was to me as a writer. So it didn’t come as a surprise to me at all that they are charging and I think $5/month or $50/year is extremely reasonable. I know I don’t have the time to do what they do for me, and even if I did, I would rather pay them to do it because it will save me so much time that I can then spend writing. Duotrope so far seems pleased by the number of subscribers they have, and I say good riddance to the fair-weather users who probably weren’t reporting their submissions regularly anyway. Yes, the statistics are going to be skewed, but they already were to begin with, and in some ways they might actually be more accurate because those who are subscribing are far more likely to accurately report their submissions that the tons of people who signed up for free and never bothered because why should they when they have nothing invested in it? Anyone who is just using Duotrope for statistics is not fully utilizing the site and I can’t blame them for bailing. I would too if that was the reason I was using it, but being able to customize a search for a market in order to find the perfect fit for my story? That is worth $50/year for me, and I don’t know anywhere else that you can do that. I will give the complainers a nod when it comes to the fact that Duotrope could have given more notice, but if Ralan is my only alternative (which only lists 35 markets for flash fiction for example, compared to the 300+ that accept flash fiction according to Duotrope), I will gladly forgive Duotrope that one mistake. And I am so very grateful they did not go to ads (yuck!) nor did they start charging markets (who, let’s face it, are more often even more broke than the writers submitting to them). I just wanted to chime in and point out that there are a great number of us who are quite happy to pay Duotrope and that this is not going to be the fall of Duotrope, no matter how much you hope that it is.

    January 1, 2013 at 19:19

    • I’d like to start by saying that I do not hope Duotrope fails. I really rarely hope any company will fall apart.

      If you are keeping track of so many submissions, I can only imagine how valuable a product like Duotrope would be to you. I don’t submit anywhere near the volume of writing you talk about. Value is something that people see for themselves. Some might say two tacos for 99 cents is a rip off, while I think it is a great price. Many have said that $50 a year is reasonable. I just don’t see the value from a writer’s stand point.

      Where I do see the value is from a marketing stand point for my company. Plasma Frequency gets a lot of hits and submissions from both Ralan and Duotrope. For that reason, I can’t help but think that charging my company (and yes we are cash strapped) $50 a year to list there, or even more for a premium listing would be an excellent investment for my company.

      I am not completely against the idea of Duotrope charging. I am against the manner in which they undertook this drastic business change. Many regular donators are happy with the new subscription model. I have been on the verge of financial collapse. So I only donated here and there.

      To provide authors with thirty day’s notice, at the holiday season (when most are very stressed and strapped for cash), is a poor choice. The point of the post was that, I feel the entire transition was handled in a way bound to cause the backlash they got. They certainly were prepared for that, and willing to accept that people will leave.

      You are right that no matter how they go forward, the statistics would always be skewed. The stats they show for Plasma Frequency are not near to the actual stats we show. You are also right that anyone using Duotrope for just stats is missing the point. For me the stats were just a fun little bit of insight.

      I suspect the Duotrope will find that they still will not make money or even break even with the subscription model. In fact, expect that you will eventually have to pay to use the site, and see ads when you do so.

      The other point is that any good business, which Duotrope has now become, doesn’t want to say farewell even to the “fair weather users”. It all represents a loss of income potential. They also lost a lot of diehard users, such as me. Seventy five diehard users who decide to spend $50 a year would be $3750 per year. Versus probably 300 fair weather users who would have paid $20 a year. They would have doubled their money.

      Is Duotrope wrong for trying to make a buck? I still say no. Did they handle it wrong? I still say yes.

      Either way, I really appreciate you coming by my blog. And I think you make some great points. I suppose at this point, only time will tell what this does to Duotrope. Perhaps you will be right, and they will become a huge success. For the sake of the owner(s)’s long term investment over the past years, I hope the work out a way to succeed, whatever it may be.

      January 1, 2013 at 20:02

  11. Pingback: The Submission Grinder (A Duotrope Replacement) « The Flores Factor

  12. Mel

    I agree with most of what you said about Duotrope. I’m disappointed that they did this. I donated to them twice, once in 2010 and again in 2011 despite the fact I wasn’t working at the time. I relied on the site’s submission tracker and now I don’t have access to it, even to do a screen capture and/or copy and paste it. Oh Duotrope, what were you thinking?!

    February 5, 2013 at 15:52

    • You can write to them and they will send your a CVS file of your submission data.

      I suggest you check out the Submission Grinder, they have created something great over there. They can even take the CVS file from Duotrope and upload it to their submission system. http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/

      February 5, 2013 at 15:55

  13. As a poet – the other half of Duotrope’s listings – I find the $50 price point appalling. Poets rarely get paid for their work as it is. I wish they had considered the cost-benefit for the poets in their calculations. It’s like we don’t even matter. I would have paid $20 yearly for the service but I just can’t financially justify $50.

    February 5, 2013 at 18:10

    • I honestly don’t think they considered much more than their bottom line in this choice. They then went back and made it seem beneficial to people. I have no proof of that, but as a business owner, that is what is seems like to me.

      February 6, 2013 at 10:21

  14. As some of you might know in the precarious world of writing that the longer you stay away from it the harder it is to get back into it. I took a hiatus (several months) and was recently inspired to once again sit butt in chair. However, I just needed a prompt, something to light the fire. So I opened up Duotrope today to find a themed deadline to match my short story and lo and behold apparently I need to pay.

    I asked the Universe (Google) what happened in my absence and I find their Dec announcement. I’m shocked, to say the least. But more shocked that they only gave a 30-day notice, and in December of all times. Heck, I’m too busy to write in December with or without a block. I never even had a chance to read the announcement. A better time would have been in January and with 90-days advance notice. But what’s done is done. I had a rather substantial file on my submissions and would have liked the convenience of backing it up before they shut me out.

    February 6, 2013 at 16:30

    • I really feel like they needed to plan this whole thing out better. It comes of as a whim of an idea that they acted on.

      February 6, 2013 at 22:19

    • I agree with you. I just logged in as well and I was shocked. I stayed away for over a year, and thank god I found this blog; Now, I have some reliable alternatives to use thanks to the suggestions.

      April 26, 2014 at 06:46

      • I am glad you came by to look. I am really in love with Submission Grinder, and I have focused on using them now. I use them for my own writing, but also to see how my magazine is performing. with our responses. Great site.

        April 28, 2014 at 11:40

  15. dj

    Wow why a shame. They should charge the magazines, not the writers.

    February 7, 2013 at 16:07

  16. Lit mags aren’t going to pay Duotrope. It offers them no advantage. They were flooded with submissions before Duotrope launched and will be again if it ever goes away. They don’t need it. So it is unreasonable to expect magazines to foot the cost of this website. It is a service for writers, not magazines.

    I am a writer, and I don’t like being asked to pay either, but $50 a year is not exactly a “crazy cost”. If you can’t scrape together a fiver once a month, you have bigger problems than your submissions tracker.

    Finally, Duotrope did actually warn users that this could be coming. For several months they posted their donations vs. cost percentage and warned that if users didn’t help with costs they would put up a paywall. I agree with you that they should have sold advertising instead, and I’m not sure why they didn’t, given their popularity. I guess charging users was simpler.

    You may be right that users won’t want to pay for this service long term when they can get similar information in other places. For every writer I know that said they weren’t going to pay, there was another who said they were fine with the cost. If Duotrope suddenly puts up ads in six months, we’ll know people aren’t paying.

    April 19, 2013 at 14:26

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