Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Okay, Duotrope, I'll bite

If you're a writer who lives a life that is not trollishly underground, you're probably already aware that Duotrope, the ubiquitous fiction market search tool and submissions tracker, went behind a paywall as of January 1, 2013. Duotrope ran on a donations basis for a long time, but it seems they finally found themselves unable to continue on pure good will.

This is a rather interesting development, and one that has caused no shortage of consternation among writers. Duotrope used to offer everything for free, encouraging but not requiring donations, while it now costs $5 a month, or $50 a year, and offers... well, absolutely nothing to the non-paying user. A lot of people, it seems, think this will drive off the user base, making Duotrope's submission response data useless; and many people also think $5 a month is too much. In general, in the places I've been watching, writers are basically primed to flee Duotrope.

Personally, I don't totally get it - key word, "totally." Free things becoming unfree typically creates furor, and freeness on the Internet is usually taken for granted. A lot of the comments condemning Duotrope make me think of this presentation by Ben Cousins on the subject of the Battlefield: Heroes transition from a nearly entirely free-to-play game to a game that gave advantages to players willing to pay for premium advantages (a development that gives rise to the notion of "freemium" games). In this case, Battlefield: Heroes experienced basically no drop-off in its user base as a consequence of the payment model transition, even though their forums exploded with angry commentary.

This sort of rings true with my personal experience. As I've gotten older - and acquired regular income - I've become pretty satisfied to pay for things I appreciate. I don't pirate music, videos, or videogames anymore, because I don't mind paying for goods and services that I like. In Duotrope's case, I contributed $25 the last two years because it's been such a useful tool for me. And although the cost of use just doubled, I'm still willing to pay, because they're only charging the cost of a tank of gas - which I buy every single week of my life - and, perhaps more analogously, $50 is the value of one semi-pro fiction sale. And Duotrope's amazing market database has been responsible for, well... more or less every single fiction sale I've ever made.

That all said, I'm still skeptical. Duotrope has made some egregious errors: they've got no trial option, so they can't draw in new users. Most people aren't going to want to pay even $5 for something sight-unseen: to draw another parallel to free-to-play/freemium games, those work because players can try before they buy in. There's also the risk that the users who don't manage to sell fiction will flee Duotrope, because they won't see it as an investment like I do. This means that the quality of their data will go down. They also seem to have generally pissed off a lot of their hardcore userbase (who were donors in the first place), which means they might lose so many users that their income actually decreases. It's unlikely, but it's enough of a concern that, for the moment, I'm buying subscriptions to Duotrope month-to-month so that I can observe the developments without committing for the whole of a year that I am absolutely certain will see further changes in Duotrope's business model.

If Duotrope fails, there are plenty of alternatives. (Here's a list for you.) Most interesting, though, is a project to create a viable alternative to Duotrope; something powerful and all-encompassing, but with better subscription options: Submitomancy. Spearheaded by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, it's an ambitious project, and one that could potentially unseat Duotrope's dominance as a writer's submission tool. I'll definitely be watching it to see where it goes.

But for now, I don't particularly want to switch tools. Duotrope has led me to many successes, and I'm happy to divert a little more cash than usual into it to keep using its amazing services. Also, I've never been particularly concerned with their data: I salivate over it from time to time, particularly when I pass the average response time for a market, but my experience has been that acceptances are always anomalous to their data. And, aside from the data situation, I'm mostly in there for the fabulous search tool and unparalleled market listings. I could always use Ralan's List to find similar listings for free, or just troll the Codex boards; but since I also write literary fiction, and in particular because of that absolutely amazing Duotrope search, I'll stick with what I know for now.

What about the rest of you? Is anyone joining me in the Duotrope aristocracy? Are you fleeing to the lands of the free? Or did you never use it to begin with?



  1. I paid $50 for a year. It seemed a little steep, but I really don't want to bother trying to get the info in another way. Duotrope is awesome and they were so clear about the money they were bringing in and needed to bring in. It shouldn't have been surprising. I agree that they should offer a trail option. Maybe they will.

  2. Indeed. I'm sure they'll iron out the kinks as things go along, but the service is excellent as is, so I'm willing to bleed some dollar bills as well.

  3. I think I'm going to buy a month every quarter or so. Then I'll just submit a backlog all at once, and let things pile up if I have no clear place to go next between subscription months. I agree that without a trial period, or having some level of searching remain free, they're not going to attract any new subscribers. I hope everything works out, because as I was looking around at the end of December, I realized I don't want to compile all their different components on my own.

  4. Great post, and thanks for the links to potential alternatives. Right now I think I'm going to hold off on paying. I only really started using the duotrope features (and seriously submitting stories, for that matter) in the last six months or so. Because I joined so recently, I feel much less of an inclination to pay this much for the service (and I'm sure a large part of that is the fact that I hadn't yet fully realized all of the features, for better or for worse at this point). I may choose to pay for a month or two in the near future as sort of a trial period, but at this point I'll content myself with the many alternatives out there and hope for something of a price decrease. I understand why they made the switch, but I think you've nailed a lot of potential issues with how they've going about it; hopefully it works out in the end for both parties.

  5. It's all about what works for you and what you do. For example, Duotrope's considerably less useful - almost useless, actually - if you're more of a novel writer. In my case, I've had between 20 and 40 short stories out on submission at any time for the last two years, which means I exhaust my knowledge of markets very rapidly. Duotrope lets me find new editors at whom I can aim my submission cannon. :)

  6. I was going to hold out, but checking Duotrope had become part of my writer's routine, whether correct or not. So I caved and bought a month when the pay wall went up.

    It'll be interesting to see if Duotrope maintains its usefulness with less users. I imagine a lot of former Duotropers will be "bucking up" when they get an acceptance....

    Also of interest is Submitomancy, which looks like a cool little social network, too.

  7. I happily paid the $50. I love Duotrope, and I see it as another tool in my writer's box, like decent software or good pens. I do think they should have a student discount, though, or a trial subscription, as you mentioned.