“D” is for Duotrope. Starting January 1, you’ll pay $5/month to see it.

Woke up this morning to find that Duotrope Digest, a site offering listings for fiction and poetry markets, is moving to a paid model after being free for 7 years.
According to their post, subscribers will have access to:

  • Its search engine, which puts it above Ralan in my opinion
  • The ability to track one’s submissions
  • Statistics on reply times from markets
  • RSS feeds

Those who use the site for free will only be able to see limited details on markets. The subscription cost is $5/month or $50/year. This new model goes into effect January 1, 2013. The folks at Duotrope are also promising new features, but have not said what they are.

My opinion (since I know you are all dying to hear it)

While I understand the need to make a venture like Duotrope, which is likely a side-project by a few dedicated people, sustainable, I do think giving a month’s notice is not fair. A month may seem like a long time on one side of the glass, but consider it’s the holiday season and a lot of writers are dealing with NaNoWriMo hang-overs. And most part-time writers know a month can sometimes slip by without ever thinking about your writing.

December 1: Thanks God. I can post my final word count and get some sleep.
December 1: Thanks God. I can post my final word count and get some sleep.

Also, writers are generally not the types who have money to spare. While it can be a hobby that some will put more money into than they get out, I try to keep my writing revenue neutral. Unless someone is cracking pro markets every time, a $50 investment might not make returns.
There is also the reality of the Internet. No one likes to pay for stuff they think they are used to getting—or think they deserve to get—for free. Ralan.com lacks the search and tracking features of Duotrope, but with some patience and a spreadsheet one can accomplish the same thing.

Some advice for Duotrope

While I support the freemium model, a paywall might be too much. Perhaps:

  • Allow current users a few months’ grace period with icons indicating what services will be cut off, but new users must subscribe.
  • A scaling model to allow access to different features for different prices. For example, I would gladly pay $10/year to retain access to Duotrope’s search engine. But $50 all-or-almost-nothing gives me pause. (And, full disclosure, I have contributed to Duotrope in the past.)
  • Depending on what number of subscribers is needed to be profitable, reward the first X subscribers with premium content. Perhaps announcements of new markets a day or two in advance on them going live.
  • The announcements says “As Duotrope adds and improves features — and we do have plans!” Tell us what these new features are. I think this is their biggest mistake in the change. Don’t tease us with vague promises. Telling user what is coming might make them more inclined to pay. For example:
    • Tying into the submissions tools some sites have so submission details are automatically tracked in my profile.
    • The ability to be notified when new markets are entered into the system based on my preferences. (For example, I want to know about new horror or science fiction markets paying semi-pro rates or better.)
    • Tell me when markets I have submitted to in the past, or have submissions into currently, close to submissions.

(Caveat: I’ve worked in Web development and know all of these suggestions can represent anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks worth of work.)

Wishing Duotrope a lot of luck

I hope this does not sound overly critical of Duotrope. I use their site and appreciate what they are offering to writers. What’s more, I appreciate the difficulty in running an online business, especially after seven years. What began as a “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” can become a sisyphean chore that one comes to resent as life changes and new demands arise. No doubt server costs are all borne by a small group of people, who might be simmering with resentment at a bunch of freeloaders.
I hope they make it, are able to make a small profit on their efforts, and are around for a good long time.
So what do you think? Is $50 too much or will you sign-up?