The Duotropalypse and Me

Remember the hullabaloo where everybody freaked and and got into a huff because Netflix was splitting up their DVD and streaming services and charging for them separately?  This annoyed me greatly, mostly because people seemed to think they were entitled to free streaming when it had only been free because it started small and limited but Netflix needed to prove to content providers that there was demand for it.  The new Netflix prices were still well below even basic cable, and Netflix had the respect for their customer base to raise the prices up to where they needed to be, rather than slow-cooking them with small hikes the way other companies do.  I was highly, thoroughly irritated with every single person who complained about anything beyond Netflix’s clumsy PR around the change.  (Their PR was very clumsy.)

Well, now here we are, and another previously free service is going paid.  Duotrope, for the non-writers in my audience, is a website that lists magazine markets, with descriptions about what the markets like, what they pay, etc.  Users can report their submissions – I sent a 3,200 word SF story to market X today, got rejected on my submission to market Y after 24 days – and Duotrope uses that data to aggregate statistics about the market response times.  This is how I know, for example, that my submission sitting at market z for over 100 days, despite their usual 60 turn around, is nothing to get excited about: that market hasn’t replied to anybody in months.

Duotrope has, historically, been funded entirely by user donations.  I generally give them about $25 a year, because that’s my basic donation to things I like.  I don’t really need Duotrope tracking my submissions for me.  I’ve been doing that tracking on a spreadsheet since before I turned into a Duotrope junkie, and kept both systems in parallel even after going off the stat-junkie cliff that is staring at Duotrope updates.  But Duotrope organized the data very nicely for me, and being able to see things like, “Clarkesworld has been sitting on this story for ten days, but everybody else is still getting three day rejections!” makes the whole submitting stories thing a lot more fun.

To raise their money, they’ve generally had a bar on the side of the screen showing how far they are from their monthly goals.  They show this, not in actual dollar figures, but in terms of percentage to goal.  I’ve never donated in response to this bar, even when it’s at 14% at the end of the month, because I’ve never had any idea how much money it would take to have an impact.  How much money does Duotrope need to keep offering this service I don’t need but kinda like?  I have no idea.  So, $25 a year it is.

Last week they announced that they’re moving to a subscription model where they’ll be charging $50 for a year’s subscription, or $5 per month for a month-to-month subscription.  Cue the exact same spiral of user discontent you saw with Netflix, except smaller because, hey, niche market.

This time I’m with the users, though, and not just because they’re valuing themselves at twice what I value them for.

Dear Duotrope: You are not providing me content.  You’re providing me structure.  The content you use to provide that structure is not yours, it’s the individual data of the users who kindly give it to you, in exchange for the structure.  There is value to your structure, but only when it has enough content to organize.  Most writers do not make $50 a year on their writing.  Many writers cannot afford to spend $50 a year on their otherwise effectively free hobby.  You’ve destroyed your content pool, rendering your structure no longer valuable to me.

Duotrope has, in response to comments sent to them, claimed that this will actually improve their data pool.  I doubt anybody reading this entry cares about the nitty gritty statistical details of what they claim vs the actual reality of what their data pool looks like, (if you do, let me know and I’ll get pedantic for you) but they’re wrong.  Even without the horde of angry writers going through and nuking their data, or abandoning it incomplete, they’ve destroyed necessary segments of their data pool.

Netflix was giving me everything except the internet connection I needed to do the streaming.  They’d added content and value and proven its worth before raising their prices.  Duotrope has done nothing of the sort.  I don’t expect them to run as a charity.  I do expect them to have a business model that lets them collect enough income to function without gutting what they’re worth.  And, you know, in the age of Kickstarter, how hard can it be to tell people how much money you actually need to keep running?

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