There are many internets, and I browse several iterations. But if you’re reading my blog, chances are you frequent the internet that writers know and love, and so you probably know that this particular internet has exploded this weekend. The culprit: Duotrope, who has announced they’re ceasing free operations and are switching to a subscription service starting January 1.
Today, I read an opinion piece on the issue from Missouri Review, in which MR essentially chastises Duotrope for getting greedy and then points readers to other, still free and (MR argues) possibly better magazine listing services. The two main ones, the CLMP directory and the website NewPages (both of which I like, and I link to NewPages on my site), continue to operate for free, and MR suggests that Duotrope’s decision to charge for any aspect of its services, while understandable, will render them moot and lead to their failure.
I love Duotrope and have used them for years. I’m so used to them now that I’ve been wondering for days whether it might be worth it to shell out their brand-new, unexpected, and relatively expensive annual subscription fee. (While $5 a month sounds perfectly reasonable, the annual subscription, even for the discounted $50 a year, is, frankly, too great a burden for writers who almost never get paid for their work.) For years, I mostly used their database, but in the last couple of years, I’ve been getting heavily invested in their submissions tracker. I’d had my own tracker running in an Excel spreadsheet for about a decade; Missouri Review rightly points out that using a spreadsheet amounts to the same thing as Duotrope’s tracker, but Duotrope did a lot of tracking math I didn’t want to write formulas for and added nifty features like reporting stats from other writers for the sake of comparison, data I couldn’t compile on my own. I’ve found a lot of use in those features over the last couple of years, and the thought of giving that up makes me seriously wonder if I can afford another $50 for my writing career.
But I don’t like places that put extra financial burden for writing on the writers. Yes, it’s our career, and we should expect to invest in it. But we do already, in the time away from day jobs, in the time spent researching markets and the money spent printing our own proof pages before sending out submissions. If we got paid for this work — if we got paid even a pitance — I’d have no problem with these costs. But even a cursory glance of the market will tell you how very, very few markets pay. As of this March, I will have published fiction 43 times in 28 different literary magazines, and I have not once been paid. I’m not complaining — the magazines that publish me often lose money in their production, too, so until readers start paying for the fiction they read, I don’t expect the magazines to pay me. But for Duotrope to add more expenses on writers in a world where we make little to nothing as it is seems particularly onerous.
I should point out, though, that this whole post of mine began in response not to the Duotrope announcement but to the Missouri Review‘s response. I have never agreed with the Missouri Review‘s practice of charging fees for electronic submissions. There simply isn’t any excuse for it. I know from experience that whatever costs a magazine incurs by using an online submissions service are more than offset by the savings in time, headaches, and manual labor involved in processing snail-mail submissions, and I honestly don’t understand why every literary magazine on the planet doesn’t switch to online submissions. So for MR to criticize, even obliquely, Duotrope’s decision to begin charging for its service seems ridiculously hypocritical.
Their argument against paying for listings in databases seems disingenuous, too. “Why hasn’t Duotrope charged literary magazines for their listing? Because we’d refuse,” they write. “We receive thousands of submissions every year. We don’t need any more.” By which I suspect they really mean, “We’re mostly just publishing big names we know or solicit, and we’re getting pretty tired of rejecting all you peons out there.” It smacks of gross snobbery, and while I used to lament losing my shot at getting published in MR, now I’m glad I gave up sending them anything when they started charging online submission fees. They don’t want my fiction, anyway. Or yours, apparently. So stop bothering. (I wonder if they also don’t need any more readers. They’ve certainly lost one.)
Sadly, Duotrope does need us as users — they need us to pay for what has been a valuable service, and that’s understandable. But I agree with Missouri Review that what you’re paying for is convenience, and most of what Duotrope does we can do ourselves for free. Yes, we writers are still the ones getting screwed — either we pay more money or we work harder — but I know how to research my own markets and track my own work, so I might as well go back to doing so and save myself the $50.
So goodbye, Duotrope. I’ll miss you. But, as they say, there are plenty of other piranhas in the river.