Pay the Writer, But…

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 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.

About K. Allen Wood

K. Allen Wood is the editor/publisher of Shock Totem. For more info, visit his website at
This entry was posted in Blog, Market News, Publishing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Pay the Writer, But…

  1. Carrie Cuinn says:

    The problem isn’t that Duotrope wants to charge. The problems are:

    a) Because they are charging, fewer people will use the service, and then there will be fewer of the stats that they’re charging for. Essentially they’re going to offer less for more money.

    b) They made a public statement that they’ve made their decision, they’re not going to discuss it, or change it, or share any information about how much they’ve raised before or how much they spend on their site or anything else. This means that though people were willing to do more to keep the site free for most (including different levels of paid, a fundraiser/Kickstarter type event, and so on) Duotrope isn’t interested in working with the writing community.

    c) Most writers don’t make enough from the sales they track via Duotrope to cover $50 or $60 a year. They’re asking you to pay more than you’re getting for the service.

    Suggesting that people should pay more than they make writing (or even more than 10% of what they make writing) for less data, by painting those who can’t afford it or choose not to spend their money that way as having “lost their minds” is, in my opinion, dismissive. Not everyone can afford to toss money at a service which is refusing to hear their concerns and we can all admit will be less useful than before.

  2. The stats will change, but I’m not sure if they’ll be any less accurate. They aren’t definitive as it is. No one will know how this aspect of the site will change until next year. But I think, if anything, the stats will be better and more reliable.

    As for Duotrope not being willing to work with the writing community, I haven’t see indication of that. They’ve said on Facebook that they are discussing ways to work with academic groups, though it’s not something that could be made available by the new year. They’ve also stated that many of the ideas presented by users had previously been considered by the staff, and that while they aren’t inflexible they need to let the subscription process play out before reevaluating. I don’t see how that’s a problem.

    And honestly, I’m not impressed by authors saying they’d be willing to donate money now when they could have been doing it all along. Hindsight on their part doesn’t work for me here. Can a business even trust that? We have a Donate button here on our page. I added that button after dozens of people said they wanted to donate to us. Many of whom have plenty of money to do so. The button has been on the site for almost two years. Four people have donated to us, and none were people who previously said they wanted to donate.

    Put simply, talk is cheap.

    As for being dismissive with my “lost their minds” comment, I’m not sure you’re being very charitable. I am not blanket smearing every writer who refuses to pay or even can’t pay. I wasn’t trying to be offensive. =)

  3. Dora Badger says:

    Wonderful post, K. I’ve been a web designer for years, and keeping a site as massive and complex as Duotrope up-to-date and running smoothly is an insanely major enterprise. I give them credit for providing a free service for as long as they did…and massive credit for waiting until the economy began to turn around to move to a paid service. I’m certain they, like many other donation-driven services, saw their funds torpedoed when everything went to hell.

    Carrie: I may be wrong, but I believe most people use Duotrope as a central repository of current market information. I suspect response stats will be more diligently completed by people who have paid subscriptions (although since they’re based on self-reporting their response stats aren’t worth much more than as a very general guide anyway, imho). Their market listings may actually improve as the programmers, data entry folks, and other staff members don’t have to work twice as hard at their paying jobs to cover what until now has largely been a labor of love — thereby freeing up more time to work on the site.

    Kickstarter and other fundraising events can raise funds in the short term, but are not reliable sources of income. The monthly donation option they set up – I can’t remember, a year? two years? ago is effectively a way for people to pay different levels for the service. It is apparent that not enough people would voluntarily pay even $2/month (their lowest monthly donation rate) to cover their expenses. In fact, they couldn’t even get $5/year despite the fact that their little “what we need” gauge has been on the low end for years.

    While I do agree with your point that more input from the writing community would have been a better way to go, sometimes you just have to make a decision you know will be unpopular. Duotrope has clearly stated for years that they would have to switch to a paid service if donations continued to fall short of their expenses. The fact that so many of their regular users failed to pony up the $5 a year for several years (from their announcement page (emphasis mine): ” Unfortunately, only about 10% of those who have used our services have ever contributed, and we haven’t met any of our monthly goals since 2007.”) means they can make the argument that asking people to pay any amount would create a significant drop in usage, thereby requiring a higher buy-in rate from those who pay for the service. Since they’ve been running this at a loss for so long, I trust that they didn’t make this decision lightly — and that they did their due diligence in determining their actual expenses, needs, and likely subscriber base when deciding upon the figure of $5 a month.

    With a single search, I can review and compare dozens of paying markets in only a few minutes on Duotrope; chasing down the equivalent number of markets myself – even with my own quite impressive Excel spreadsheet – would take much more of my time. Since I am self-employed and have limited free time, the hours I would spend seeking out the same information on my own which I can have at my fingertips through Duotrope would take real cash out of my pocket. I’ve done it both ways, and have paid Duotrope monthly donations for some time now because their service is 100% worth it to me. For others, it may save time that would otherwise be taken from their families or other activities.

    No: I don’t make enough money from my writing to cover the donations I already make. Yes: the $5 a month represents a bit of an increase for me — but I will still be buying a subscription, because I’ve received a kick-ass service for less than the cost of a gallon of gas a month for…well, since they’ve been around.

    To authors in the United States: even if you are not making enough money from your writing to call it a business, according to the IRS you can take a deduction up to the amount of any income for hobby expenses. So if the Duotrope subscription costs you $50/year and you make $10/year through your writing, you can deduct $10 of the $50. Of course, this also means that you must claim the $10, so your benefit after all of the calculations have been done may (in extreme cases) be, I don’t know…let’s say $9. This means your total outlay for Duotrope would effectively be $41 for the year, which indirectly brings the monthly cost down to $3.42. Use Schedule A if you aren’t making a profit from your writing; if you are, then you probably already know about Schedule C.

    Before Duotrope came along, the best source for similar information came from the annual Writers’ Market books, which even in 1999 cost over $20 with fewer market listings than Duotrope has now – not to mention chronic problems with listings being out of date by publication (which wasn’t their fault, but still). Hopeful writers who weren’t receiving any payment at all for their work were willing to pay for each year’s edition; some still are. This doesn’t represent that much of an increase. I understand that many writers simply do not have any spare cash at all, but once Duotrope has some extra (read: enough) cash and therefore additional funds to cover programming expenses I strongly suspect Duotrope will roll out other membership options.

    In the meantime, those of you who have never donated a dime and are not going to use Duotrope once they go to a subscription service shouldn’t forget to hop on over there right now and scoop up all the free market information you can. You also shouldn’t forget to blow off the donate button like you have so many times before.

  4. Dora Badger says:

    K. was far more charitable than I was at the end there…kudos for style & grace :)

    For the record, if people literally can’t pay: I get it. I was in that same place a very short time ago and my final comment wasn’t a slam on those who are not able to come up with monthly or annual payments. If that is your situation, get with me and I’ll pass my login info to you once I have my paid subscription…just promise you’ll pay it forward to somebody, somehow.

    I mean that, btw. As long as Duotrope doesn’t track IPs we should be good ;)

    I am also not slamming people who don’t want to pay for a previously free service. I get that, too . The final paragraph of my comment was directed at those of you who are spewing vitriol all over the webz about people who’ve been working like hell for years and who want to be able to continue to work like hell to provide a VERY valuable service.

    You know who you are.

  5. I hadn’t heard about the complaints people were making regarding this issue. Sometimes, people show astounding ignorance, being incapable of perceiving anything outside the tiny bubble of their own personal concerns.

    I love Duotrope and I really don’t see myself submitting work in the future without it. It just makes the task so much simpler, especially when you have multiple pieces of work that you’re shopping around.

    While I don’t want to have to pay for it, I know it’s worth what they’re asking and more. While it may sound odd for a horror writer, I prefer to look on the bright side of things. Imagine the nifty new features and tools they can add, now that they’re actually able to afford to run the site!

    Even as broke as I am, I’m sure I’ll come up with the money somehow. A year’s subscription is less than a couple of cartons of smokes (here in NC). A month is less than the cost of a paperback book.

    Either way, it’s well worth it. Heck, Duotrope is how I found Shock Totem! ;-)

  6. Well, it’s all been said it seems but I’d still like to add my voice to this as it matters a great deal to me.

    I have always donated to Duotropes Digest and always been baffled and disappointed when month after month the basic needs to run the site were not met – baffled by why other writers did not seem to be joyfully donating.

    Duptropes is a thing of great beauty and utility. It’s indispensable. If I have to pay an annual subscription of $50 that’s pretty much what I was donating anyway and to me represents great value.

    I would not relish having to do all that research and collate all that data. I am delighted to have Duotropes do that work for me and I think I can honestly say, it’s about goddam time the guys got paid for it.

    People can be really crap-headed and sadly writers no less than anyone else.

    To me the important thing is that Duotropes goes from strength to strength. I have always paid for that informally and I’ll be happy to formalize that arrangement. :)

  7. Robert says:

    I’ve never used Duotrope so I don’t have any real stance on this thing, but I will say that as a writer, I’m too poor to even consider paying 5 bucks a month to here or there, or send a 15 dollar reading fee to a contest, it’s simply out of the question. Even though I’ve been published before, I never get paid for my creative pursuits, and I don’t think I should either. This website seems to matter to a lot of people so maybe I should check it out, but all together I think both writers and publishers should avoid the idea of making money the best they can. This is not the industry for it. I know it’s expensive to keep a site going though, so I can understand if donations aren’t enough.

  8. Rose Blackthorn says:

    I’ve been using Duotrope regularly (see daily) for almost three years. I’ve been donating to them for about 2 1/2 years. They have been an invaluable tool for me. I have found markets that I would never have found without them, and sold stories to magazines I’d never heard of until I found them through Duotrope.
    Frankly, I’m surprised that so many people are so upset about this. How do they think the people at Duotrope take care of the site and update all that information? Writers don’t want to work for free, but the people behind the scenes at Duotrope shouldn’t be asked to work for free either.
    In any case, here’s my opinion. I love the site, use it all the time, and will continue to do so. For any of those out there who are so upset about this, and vowing never to set virtual foot on their site again? See ya. Have fun finding all that information on your own, and best of luck to you.
    I know a good thing when I see it, and it’s worth $5.00 a month, hands down.

  9. Gabriel Novo says:

    If the writing community would spend as much energy donating to Duotrope as they do bitching and moaning about their shift to subscriptions we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I’m amazed that there haven’t been any “we screwed up and ruined a good thing by failing to support it” comments. No one wants to take responsibility for their actions (or lack of actions), but they freely vilify a business for trying to keep its doors opens. Makes no sense to me and I fail to understand where this sense of entitlement comes from.

  10. Kurt says:

    We have a publication in town called The Shopper’s Guide. It’s a local seller’s tool for listing ads for whatever product/service one might want to provide. I’m sure a lot of you have similar publications circulating in your area. This publication is free. Does it cost money to produce? Damn right. How do they fund this publication? The people/companies who place the ads pay ad rates. Plain and simple. What does this have to do with Duotrope? By moving from a free to a pay subscription for those using Duotrope’s “Shopper’s Guide”, Duotrope is basically asking the writers (buyers) to pay up front for something they may or may not find among their list of markets (sellers). If you’re wondering why so many people are upset by this, it’s because Duotrope’s decision is ass-backward. Shouldn’t the market listers be the ones to foot their bill? Why do the market listers come out of this equation free and clear while the writer has to ante up?

  11. I get what you’re saying, Kurt, but I don’t think that’s quite the same.

    Duotrope incurs cost, essentially, every time someone uses the site. For that to be the same, the Shopper’s Guide would have to pay every time someone viewed their guide.

    Now it’s not that simple, of course, because Duotrope doesn’t actually get charged every time someone uses the site, but that does take away from their bandwidth limit, which is where the money comes in. Publishers simply couldn’t cover that cost alone.

  12. Stacey says:

    I am a newcomer to Duotrope and when I first logged on I could see the potential. Suddenly, all these markets opened up to me! I looked at the donate button but I have been (not quite now) one of those people who couldn’t justify the cost. I’m not going to say “couldn’t afford a donation” but honestly poverty sucks and writing can be an expensive undertaking (memberships, subscriptions, competitions, buying books to support friends, etc). I’ve not yet made any money on writing, I have no consistent income, so donating to Duotrope seemed like a luxury feel-good motion. However, when it made the announcement I thought long and hard. There were a few things I thought about.
    1. Finding markets was difficult before Duotrope.
    2. I am looking forward to not being quite so poverty-stricken next year.
    3. I pay a (small) monthly subscription for my daughter to play an online game. If I can support that, surely I can support Duotrope? So I signed up for the monthly sub.

    My main concern is over access. As I mentioned, writing can be expensive. Memberships, subscriptions, competitions, books. I can imagine lower or no income writers deciding not to get a paid subscription because it all adds up. These writers, who are genuinely poor, will have less access than richer writers. Whether this will have an impact on submissions remains to be seen. I know people tend to scoff at the idea of not being able to afford $5 a month but for some people it is genuinely difficult to manage. When you have income that is less than your expenses for a month a $5 subscription is a luxury you have to cut.

    I’m not sure what the answer is. Rich writers sponsoring poor writers? I know there is a gift option, but I do wish Duotrope would enter into a dialogue about concerns like these. Not everyone who ignored the donate button did so because we’re schmucks.

  13. Whoever thinks Duotrope shouldn’t be charging their users for their invaluable service is a fuck#$& douche! Come on, stingy bastards. “$5 a month is way, way, way too much for me, I’m so poor.” Shit, who isn’t poor these days? Every argument I’ve read about why Duotrope should be free is complete B.S. It’s the same as walking into a chiropractor’s office and saying, “Excuse me. Will you please adjust my back for me–for free? I’ve been at my computer, writing all day, and now my back’s killing me, and–huh? No, I haven’t written an best sellers yet, but anyways, I still need an adjustment. And because I’m a writer, and I’m dirt poor, and you probably have a little free time in your schedule, I don’t think you should charge me. Thanks.”


  14. Let’s keep it civil, sir. =)

  15. I just thought I’d pop back and say that I have now paid my annual sub to Duotropes. :)

  16. Masonian says:

    I don’t personally begrudge Duotrope for charging for their services, because that’s what it is: a service.
    However, my wallet begrudged it and complained loudly to me for a full week.

    But at the end of that week I ponied up the $50 for two simple reasons:

    1) The convenience of finding markets and tracking submissions in one place sure beats making new inbox folders, etc, etc.

    2) I spent $&@*#&@ $50 that I could have spent on guitar stuff… yer damn right I’ll stop procrastinating and submit more stories.

    My wallet is still a bit sore, but I’ve come to terms.

  17. Michael Shane Love says:

    I agree with Christian Riley. Anyone who bitches about forking out $5.00 a month is probably living off some woman, owns 2 pairs of pants, one pair of shoes, and 2 t-shirts . Pathetic. Me thinks, mommy complex.

  18. K H Vaughan says:

    There is no question that the stats will be better for people serious about writing as a career. I’ve written about it from a statistical perspective here:

  19. Hi, Michael…I mean, Theresa. =)

  20. Michael says:

    Ken, congrats on your second marriage. I was told from a very close friend of yours that the first one didn’t go so well. Here’s hoping the second one is all that you hope for. Cheers! Here’s to civility and to $5.00 a month for a good, invaluable service.:):):)

  21. Ha! I see what you did there.

Leave a Reply