For a refresher, here’s Harlan Ellison giving his most famous unintentional PSA:
You go, girl!
Though the bristly curmudgeon is often the punchline to a joke among writers, he is right, and this little video is often cited by proud authors who demand payment for everything they write. Authors are never in low supply when it comes to a Pay-the-Writers protest. Nothing wrong with that, of course, though by the way many writers are reacting to Duotrope’s recent decision to go to a paid subscription service I wonder if they hear much of what else Harlan says in that clip aside from “pay the writer.”
Duotrope’s Digest, the market listing website thousands of writers use daily, has been offering their great service for nine years at no cost to writers and publishers. All they’ve asked for is donations through their Keep It Free campaign. I’ve donated many times, but surely not enough to be comparable to how much I’ve used the site. And so it’s no surprise that after nearly a decade donations are simply not enough. Never have been, in fact. So the folks at Duotrope have just announced they’re going to a paid subscription system in 2013.
And writers have lost their minds over it.
The way people are reacting you’d think Duotrope was asking for their weekly paychecks. In reality, users will be required to pony up either a one-time payment of $50 for the entire year or $5 a month. Either way, the most any writer will have to pay is $60 a year for a service they use all the time. Well worth it, in my opinion. For many, however, this is way too much to ask.
Just look at this Wikipedia entry for the site (which has since been changed):
“Duotrope has announced that it will switch to a subcription-based service beginning January 1, 2013 at a whiplash-inducing rate of $5.00 per month or $50.00 per year.”
A “whiplash-inducing” rate of $5 per month. No doubt written by an author who thinks it’s insane someone would pay $7 a day for a Starbucks coffee but not $5 every now and then for an e-book. But he or she is not the only one with this opinion that $5 a month is too much money. I had thought about quoting some additional comments from people I know, but instead I’ll just point you toward Duotrope’s own Facebook page and you’ll get the idea.
But here’s the gist:
Writers: “PAY THE WRITERS, GODDAMMIT!”
Writers Being Asked to Pay for Someone Else’s Time and Services They Admittedly Use All the Time: “LOL! Fuck you, you greedy, glorified Excel spreadsheet.”
The hypocrisy is delicious.
Now let me be clear: No one has to pay for something they don’t want to pay for. Nor can every author afford to. But I wonder if so many people would be protesting if they understood just how much time and money it takes to maintain a site like Duotrope’s.
I mentioned the comparison between the cost of an e-book and the cost of a cup of coffee. One of the biggest arguments against those unwilling to pay more than a few dollars for an e-book is pointing out how much time it takes an author to write a book. Most readers don’t really grasp that, and I have no doubt that most writers don’t understand what it takes to run a big website.
One of the biggest gripes seems to generate from how their old Keep It Free page was worded:
“If each of Duotrope’s current users and subscribers contributed just $5 this year, we would meet our goal for the year!”
Just $5 a year, while now they’re asking for $5 a month. OMG, ya’ll! But that’s too simple to be a good point of argument.
According to online web-traffic trackers, as a free service Duotrope generates over 6,000 pageviews per day, and between 15,000 to 20,000 unique visitors per month. That number will dramatically decrease in 2013, as evidenced by the countless users vowing to never use them again when it’s no longer free. No one will be getting rich here, that’s for sure.
But go back to the numbers of pageviews and visitors—6,000 per day, between 15,000 and 20,000 per month, respectively. That’s a lot of traffic, a lot of bandwidth, which means a lot of cost for those running Duotrope. More, it’s a hell of a lot of time on their part. Websites don’t maintain themselves; sites such as Duotrope require skilled designers and programmers, content providers, people who update the listings for the nearly 5,000 markets listed on the site, etc. And you know what? They should be paid for their work.
Writers aren’t the only people who deserve to be paid. Crazy concept, huh? And remember this: If Duotrope’s service wasn’t worth $5 a month, no sensible author would be complaining.