If you’re a working writer who actively submits short stories to markets for publication, one of the most useful sites on the Internet for you is Duotrope.com
Duotrope collects and displays information about markets. Let’s say you wrote a 5000 word epic fantasy story and want to sell it for at least 5c a word. Using their search function you can quickly generate a list of markets that accept stories at that length and pay pro rates, and are open to submissions. You can then sort them by average response time, or even by perceived difficulty of the market (i.e. what % of reported submissions has been accepted).
Anyone who follows this blog knows how much I love stats. As such, it’s no surprise that I really enjoy DT. So much so that I have donated money to help defray their costs last year, and was going to donate again in December (when I will be supporting several worthy writing-related sites with my dough).
But this morning I woke up to learn that Duotrope will no longer be a free site. Furthermore, they’re asking for a whopping $50 a year (or $5 a month) for their services. And while I was happy to give them $20 a year when I didn’t have to, I won’t pay $50. Here’s why:
Duotrope does three things that are relevant to me:
1) Track submissions.
I’m able to see all my active submissions at a glance and quickly pull up my submission history for that particular market.
Pro: Ease of use
Con: Only marginally better than an Excel spreadsheet. In fact, I use both. Partly because I want access to my data on my local hard drive and partly because while DT lists MOST markets, it doesn’t list ALL markets I submit to, such as private anthologies, invitation-only projects, etc. There are also other programs and web sites I can use if I ever felt that Excel was’t sufficient.
2) Track new markets.
DT lists dozens of new markets every week. Many of them are useless (to me) no-pay sites read by the editor, his mom, and maybe 15 other people per month. However, it does list all the pro and semi-pro start-ups as well, and makes it easy to find them.
Pro: Ease of use, very thorough.
Con: There are other sites out there that track new markets. Most notably, Ralan.com which has been around longer than Duotrope, specializes in speculative markets, and often posts new market info before DT has it. Their site isn’t pretty to look at, but it gets the job done.
3) Wiki-fy the submission process.
What makes DT really, really good is its volume of users who are willing to report their rejections and acceptances. Say I have a story on submission at Daily Science Fiction. A quick look at DT’s recent reports lets me know where the editors are in their slushing process. Are they responding to submissions in about 2 weeks, or should I expect to wait 3? Hundreds of DT users reporting their subs provides a very useful and relatively accurate snapshot of the slush status at various markets.
Pro: Amazing at helping users track the slush habits of various markets/editors.
Con: Only works if enough users are reporting their data.
And therein lies a problem. With Duotrope being a free service, about 10-20% of all submissions are reported there (as per my experience comparing actual slush numbers at UFO with what’s been reported there, as well as talking to other editors.)
Once DT becomes a paid service, a vast majority of their users will leave. They will no longer report their submissions, which will make the DT system far less accurate. A critical mass of users is needed in order to maintain the usefulness of a Wiki-style site, and I don’t feel that DT will be capable of holding on to nearly enough people at their proposed rates.
I am not mad at the DT folks. It’s their web site and they can do whatever they want. We writers certainly shouldn’t expect them to operate at a loss for our benefit.
However, I feel that they’re making a very poor decision from a business standpoint. $50 is a lot to pay for a web site subscription. And anyway, can you think of many *successful* Wiki-style sites that charge for membership? the only one I can think of that remotely qualifies is Angie’s list.
By charging these rates, DT is likely to cause a downward spiral whereas even those users who’re willing to fork over $50 won’t be happy, because DT will no longer have the critical mass necessary to provide those paid users with a meaningful service.
So what could Duotrope do to raise funds? There’s no silver bullet, but there are a number of options to pursue:
* Lower rates. Personally I’d pay $20/year. Even at the risk of much worse results, I would fork over a $20 bill just to help them with the experiment and see if DT could sustain itself as a useful service. $2 a month or so is an amount a lot of users might actually pay.
* Charge markets a small annual fee to list them. Once again, I wouldn’t fork over $50 as a publisher, but I’d pay $10 a year or something to that tune in order to have UFO Publishing listed on Duotrope. Obviously having too many markets unwilling to pay would ruin the service, but DT could still offer some data about the other listings with “premium” markets offering a greater level of detail.
* Sell advertising. I’m guessing that plenty of fledgling markets would fork over some money in order to have their banner ad appear at the top of the DT listing.
There’s no perfect solution and someone will be unhappy regardless. But I mourn the end of the Duotrope era as we know it and hope that they will either reevaluate their 2013 strategy or someone else will step up and design a free-to-use bare-bone Wiki site to help accurately track response times.