Duotrope and Alternatives

By now, if you’re at all involved in the short story community, you’ve heard that Duotrope is going paid.

That’s fantastic.  Nothing wrong with someone who provides a service getting paid for said service.  Everyone’s got mouths to feed and bills to pay, and no one should be expected to provide a service at a loss simply because others would prefer it to be free.

That said, anyone who charges for a service really needs to price it practically.  You’ve got to understand what your business is worth to consumers.   No one’s going to pay $35 for a glass of lemonade or $65 for a loaf of bread.

And on that note, I won’t be paying Duotrope’s exorbitant yearly subscription price of $50.  Why?  Because it’s not worth that to me.  And I’d be hard pressed to believe it’s worth that to anyone else, save in entertainment value.  (I also need to point out that you can subscribe on a monthly basis for $5–but who would really use it only a couple of months a year?)

Duotrope is a wonderful convenience to me.  It takes all the things I have at various places (market lists, submission tracker, response times) and puts them all together in one convenient, user-friendly space.

But that’s just it: it doesn’t give me anything I can’t get elsewhere.  Its entire worth to me is based on two-to-ten minutes worth of time saving per submission.  Course, it probably costs me more than that in the time I spend procrastinating using the site to check response times (which does nothing for my own submissions–I’ll hear when I hear).

The convenience of using Duotrope is not worth $50 of my hard earned money.  I would have to sell one flash piece a year just to cover it as an expense, and since it does not make me money (it does no marketing, it does not put me in touch with editors, it does not get a single story of mine in front of anyone who can buy it.  I have to do all that leg work myself), I can’t really justify spending my entire income from one story on the privilege of using it.

It was absolutely worth the $5 they claimed every user needed to pay a year in order to cover their expenses.  I’d hazard it would even be worth $10 or $15 to me.  I know it’s worth $20 to $30 to other people, as that’s what they’ve donated in the past.  I haven’t met anyone who claims to have donated anywhere near $50, so where that price tag comes from, it’s hard saying.  And the anonymous Duotrope staff have been less than transparent about their financial goals.

I think their misguided pricing is based largely on a belief that those who have donated regularly in the past will be more than happy to subscribe now.  Unless they already had a ton of people donating more than $50, they’re going to lose more by charging more. I think they don’t quite understand how differently people perceive a charitable organization vs. a private business.

When it’s on pure charity, people are willing to pay the way of others as well as themselves: “They need $5 per person? Alright, how about I pay for myself and three others who can’t afford it? Spread the love.”

When it becomes a business, the consumer has to go into business mode as well: “How much am I getting out of this service? Is it worth to me what they’re charging?”

Basically, I think they’re over estimating what their product is actually worth. And I think it will be worth even less now, because they’re driving away the source of their worth, which is the large data pool they draw from

I don’t want to see a site like Duotrope disappear. And I’m complaining about the price because I think they’re shooting themselves in the foot. I think they’ll find their business model not only ineffective, but damaging. I can only hope the staff can change directions quickly enough to avoid disaster. I want them to stick around, because I appreciate what they’ve created and the time I’ve spent using their service.

But, at the same time, I can’t justify telling poor writers to spend $5 a month or $50 a year on a service they don’t need.

So, here are a few alternatives to the services provided by Duotrope, should you be unable or unwilling to subscribe come January:

Market lists:




http://www.speculativeliterature.org/Writing/mktlists.php   (This one is a list of market lists.  I have not explored it yet.)

Submission tracking:



ETA: http://www.spacejock.com/Sonar3.html (Suggested by J. Deery Wray)

Submission response times:



It’s also very easy to create an Excel sheet that tracks your subs and also doubles as a market list.  I also have a separate file that matches editors to their market and the market’s physical or digital address–a service which Duotrope does not provide.

If you are part of a large on line writing community, you could also start tracking your response times as a group.

I’ll be leaving this post up on the front page the whole week–so no Wednesday post.  I feel it’s important.

If you’ve got any other link suggestions, or just want to discuss Duotrope’s decision, feel free to comment!


Published by Marina J. Lostetter

Writer and Illustrator of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

15 thoughts on “Duotrope and Alternatives

  1. Boy, look what I miss when I neglect my submissions for (I shudder to say it) three months. Although the announcement on the website is dated 12/1, so I guess I didn’t miss it by too far.

    I agree, I’m not sure I can shell out $50 per year. $20 sure, possibly even $30, but $50? Especially not right now, while money is extremely tight. Their submission statistics will surely suffer for the lack of users. I will miss having everything in one place, though. Really miss it. I wonder if they can be talked down?

    One guess as to their reasoning: you said they needed $5 from every user to cover expenses, and their announcement said only 10% of users ever donated. So if they’re expecting only that 10% to stick around, they’ll need $50 per user (assuming their operating costs remain the same.) However, I think they’ll lose more than they’ll gain at that price tag, so they won’t meet their goals anyway. Someone needs to develop a bell graph to figure out the best price point for them. I’m betting it would be $20.

    1. I think you’re right. In the various conversations I’ve had with other writers, most who said they’d donated (and many had donated $20+) said they would not be subscribing in any way. Of the information pool I have (complied of a variety of demographics from a variety of forums and social networking sites), those who said they would be subscribing do cover those who said they wouldn’t be (if you go by Duotrope’s $5 per person model, one annual subscription covers the user and 9 people who won’t subscribe). But, the amount previously donated by the pool annually is greater than that–they were actually making closer to $10 per user (perhaps more), rather than $5. If my pool is at all indicative of their overall dedicated donator/user base, then they will definitely lose money in this venture.

  2. I think I might have been one of the only people who don’t use it excessively. I’d tracked my stories in the tracking and looked up the next market possibilities. I go on maybe a few times every couple months. For a while it had a tracker that said how much you used it and I was at 20 visits so far for the whole year. I’d go on and do stuff in batches. I did send a small amount when I had a sale. But I don’t use it enough to justify 50$

    Awesome post and a good list of alternatives to the search function which I used the most.

    Thank you!

  3. Marina, I think your point about the difference between donating and paying for a service is a good one. By charging $50, Duotrope is essentially pricing itself out of reach of many writers early in their careers (and more than a few further along as well). And while many people are willing to toss an extra $5-10 in to help subsidize other writers who can’t afford it, I think very few will be looking to give a $50 gift membership that serves just one person.

    Thanks for the list of resources.

  4. I had been paying $20/yr. $50 is too much. I’m undecided yet whether I’ll use it sporadically when I have submissions out or create my own method instead. $50 was unexpected and I think is going to be the death of them if they don’t at least tier the service.

    1. I know– I’m really confused as to why they chose this path, when there seem to be so many better alternatives that would let them keep a larger portion of their current users *and* make more money. Any business that’s alright with losing 75% of its customer base (which they have stated they are) is not in the right head space.

      1. I think they became disillusioned. They knew they had a service worth something to many, but few donated at all. Rather than approaching it rationally, I think they took it personal and lashed out at all of us. If it were my business, I would have also done something like a few months free to the ones who had faithfully been donors for the previous year or more. I think the sweet spot would have been $20/yr.

        I had started doing workshops at writer’s conventions locally about Duotrope. Now I will have to come up with another plan to share with new writers, so I’ll be looking through all those links you provided. Thanks!

  5. Madison, that very well could be. And “reactionary” is not a valid business mode. All of the responses they’ve sent out thus far seem to be along the lines of “it’s working just fine, so there.” So it is possible that they’re taking things personally. I’m afraid they’ll be disillusioned again come January.

    I’m also not too keen on statements from them that seem to indicate that their target audience is people who don’t make money on their writing (they’re glad to be getting rid of all those pesky outliers–you know, acceptances). So, not only do they want to price their service at more than it’s worth, they want to target people who aren’t actually getting any business use out of it.

  6. When you’re battling raging slushpiles and getting rejections handed to you in every direction, it’s easy enough to lose heart. But then somebody somewhere comes out of the woodwork and says the very thing you’ve known all along and have been scouring publishing houses for them to say too. Your work is worth sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: