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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.