Posts from the Past

Saturday, 1 December 2012

On Duotrope

I love Duotrope. I really love it. So their announcement today did a little break on my heart: https://duotrope.com/notes_current.aspx

They are going to introduce a $50 annual subscription fee from January 1st 2013. All their previously free features--just some of which are comprehensive fiction and non-fiction listings, statistics about your submissions and statistics about other writer's submissions--will now only be available to those that pay.

The justification is understandable. They run an amazing service that relied upon donations, but according to their announcement only 10% of users gave the minimum contribution amount. At times I have scratched my head over how they manage to operate without charging and part of me had a suspicion that all their recent upgrades and updates were moves toward creating a market-ready product.

I totally get it, Duotrope. I sympathise. But I'm hurt you didn't give me more time to adjust. And I'm worried about your future. I'm concerned you might be shooting yourself in the foot. I hope I'm wrong.

I'll probably pay the fee. I feel I should be loyal to them at this time of transition. I would never have had the tools to start submitting my work at the rate I do and I wouldn't have had the confidence to keep going when I started if it weren't for DT's sobering acceptance statistics for given markets. Plus what would I do with the extra few hours in the day that leaving DT would give me?

But I have some worries:

- If only 10% of people donated money, it may be only 10% of peope are hardcore users. If these figures translate to subscription take up then Duotrope will lose one of the things that makes it so brilliant: the accuracy of it's response statistics.

- If the product they are selling is actually going to be worse than its free incarnation, will this possibly put off even hardcore users from subscribing thus lowering that 10% even further. If that happens DT will be even less reliable.
 
- It may be that users can still report their responses, but why would they if they lose access to their submission tracker?

- I'm sure lots of editors get frustrated with the increase in submissions Duotrope has contributed to. But at the same time, I would never have discovered some of the markets I now have subscriptions with had it not been for DT. I certainly think new markets will suffer from these changes as DT is a great way of announcing yourself to writers.

- Why $50? That seems a lot if previously the donation suggestion was around $6. Surely it's in DT's interest to get as many current users over to the privatised model to keep the integrity of the product. And why a deadline so close to Xmas, a time when people's wallets and bank accounts are at their emptiest.

- How are new users meant to discover how good and useful DT is over a long run? I'll pay for it, but I've been using it for 2 years. I wouldn't have paid for it had I not known how good it is. I'm not sure even a trial period could help here. I can't see how DT will attract new customers.

- I'm not sure Stephen King would have had the spare income to pay for DT had he been starting out today. Not to get all class warrior about it, but $50 is definitely a lot for some people to pay. And I don't want to see a fiction landscape dominated by wealthy writers.

It's a sad day, but I do hope that this isn't the death of a brilliant service that I've become addicted to. Perhaps a rival to DT will arrive and make that sub fee a bit more competitive? Perhaps a rich donor will step in and offer to pay for their service? Perhaps they will have a rethink and look at a really concerted donation drive with the threat of sub fees in the background? Maybe an advertising led model might be preferable?

Bottom line is this has ruined my weekend.






11 comments:

  1. The first point you make is the one that really worries me. I'd totally pay the $50/year if Duotrope were going to remain the same tool that it is today. But it will almost certainly lead to far fewer people using it; thus the statistical end of the website will be obsolete. It'll just be used for learning about markets, deadlines, etc. :(

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  2. I think that is definitely the most worrying element for me too. I worry that without the hoped for subscription base, DT could shut down entirely which would obviously be the wc scenario. I think the ideas already being floated about asking listed markets to at least help shoulder the burden might work, they have a fair bit to lose from DT folding. But I can see how that would also penalise smaller market and pose a problem of not every venue being listed. I wouldn't necessarily object to advertising as long as it wasn't video or pop-up based.

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  3. As someone who loves Duotrope for the market listings and not the statistical information, I can say Duotrope should still be awesome without response trackers. I mean, have you ever subscribed to Writer's Market's online market resource? It's piles of hard-to-navigate crap, with many of the active listings long dead or incorrect. Plus, it's more like $25 a month. I'm simply hoping they get enough subscribers to keep operating. Without Duotrope, writers will have to do so much extra work (or pay so much more than $5) to submit their work.

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  4. I'm also a member of Critters, who have an annual fund raising drive. I've been a bit surprised to see the slow response to this, so if its similar with Duotrope, I can understand their problem.

    I donate to Duotrope, and I don't object to advertising on Duotrope - in fact, I think it would be sensible of them to use it to keep cost to users down. But unfortunately I think most short story writers, including me, make so little from their writing, that $50 per year is hard to justify relative to income received, regardless of the great service.

    Duotrope is extremely convenient and useful to me, but not a necessity. I agree it's very likely that not enough people will pay $50, making the statistics obsolete. The more it costs, the less useful it is likely to be.


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  5. Thing is Lorna, I don't think they will get enough people to keep going. You are the only other writer I've heard of that will pay. Will it even last a year if they don't get the money they ask? I think Fiona is right about $50 just being too much.



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  6. I think I'm more disappointed in the fact that more people didn't donate. All they were asking was five bucks from everyone, which was heck of a deal. But noooo, people were cheap. Now we all have to pay.

    As for statistics: it was never really accurate. Alex has shown for his antho that less than a third of all submitters bothered to report on Duo. Yeah, it's nice to know if there's a wave of rejections going out, but it's not necessary.

    Adverts would be a nice solution to keep costs down; but I'd also imagine it'd slow the site down, especially flash adverts.

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  7. Do you think you will pay Defcon? I'm thinking I might. I couldn't submit the volume I do without DT. Heaven knows how Ray Bradbury ever lived without it!

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  8. Okay, so I asked DT if they minded me posting this and they said they didn't so I hope it you find it interesting. First, my email to them about my concern:

    "I'm considering taking out the required subscription to DT come January
    but I am slightly concerned that the high price will put off other people
    from doing the same and actually diminish the reliability of the
    statistics.

    I am a member of a number of writers groups both online and in-person and
    I haven't yet met anyone else that is planning on paying the required $50, other than myself. Obviously this is worrying as the very strength of your website is its giant usership.

    How do you assess the impact the subscription fee will have on DT as a
    whole? At the moment the potential drop-off rate of users is making me
    think twice about subscribing as I don't want to pay $50 for a product
    that is inferior to the free version."

    Their reply:

    "Based on our internal numbers, we believe that the people who fully report submission data are the primary group that will continue to use Duotrope after January 1st. This is based on the vast submission numbers we see from contributing users (people who donated), consistent users, and the casual user. Also, keep in mind that we always keep 12 months worth of data, so once we go paid, the data does not simply get reset; it is still there, but it should become more and more accurate as we begin getting fewer and fewer orphan entries. i.e. people who report a submission but then never follow up on it, leaving a pending entry that does not get updated at all.

    Basically we looked at who submits what data and what "type" of Duotrope user they are. Based on that, we expect the data not to lose but actually improve its accuracy, even though the raw numbers will decrease. One of the analogies I heard this week was comparing this to a proper political poll; the average poll only uses between 1,000 to 1,500 people and still generates an overall assessment of the bigger picture they are after. Even after we go paid, the Duotrope user base is expected to be well beyond those numbers."

    I hope they are right, but my feeling is a lot of core users won't pay. :(

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  9. Thanks for posting that letter! Very interesting. They're probably right, only hardcore users (those of us who check and use Duo everyday) will most likely pay for the feature. However, I don't know if all hardcore users can make the jump from donations to $50. A lot easier to pay five bucks than fifty.

    In the end, I'll probably pay for the subscription. I may not like the idea, but Duo has been very useful to me, and it means I don't have to waste time searching out markets. There is Ralan, but I find the interface very cluttered and there's no tracker.

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  10. I've already payed for it. I agree that $50.00 is more than I was expecting; when I donated in the past I didn't give that much. But, the service is worth more than $50.00 to me, so there you go. I hope they're right about the increased accuracy. We'll have to wait and see.

    Maybe, this will be a good thing all around. Serious writers will still write and submit and report, and dabblers will fall by the wayside and not clog up submissions queues. (Not that I have anything against dabblers! But, you know, it's a bright side for the truly dedicated.)

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  11. Hi Cassie! I also subscribed for a year as I, like you, can not function without duotrope. I seriously doubt their claim about the stats though as I know so many hardcore users who are dropping out because of the fee. I just hope they get enough subscribers to keep in operation. I wouldn't be able to submit the volume I do without DT.

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