January 30, 2013 by Nathaniel Tower
If you have much familiarity with the business of writing and submitting, you know that Duotrope’s Digest, one of the most popular resources for writers, recently switched to a paid subscription model for most of its services. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the Duotrope staff regarding the success of this shift, as well as the initial controversy that surrounded it. Here’s what they had to say.
1. How successful do you think the subscription-based implementation has been so far? Did this meet or exceed your expectations?
It has definitely exceeded expectations, particularly in terms of timeline. Some of the numbers that we have reached we had hoped to reach by spring or summer, but it has happened much faster than anticipated. For example, we had expected to hit our goal of 80% data retention by April at the earliest. We’re already 61.3% retention (138k data points!) due in part to current subscribers entering so many new submission reports. We truly could not be happier with the way things are going.
2. Do you think the overall user base has changed since the subscription-based model kicked in? Is it a more elite group of writers now?
The user base has changed, which was expected, but we would not say it’s a more elite group. The change revolves around just how important Duotrope was and is to any given writer’s submitting process. We expected very few casual Duotrope users would want to subscribe — this is not to say they took their writing lightly or that they were causal writers. It just means Duotrope did not play a significant role for them. What we are seeing is that our subscribers now use the Duotrope service much more thoroughly, taking advantage of most, if not all, of what we have to offer.
3. You report that user numbers so far have exceeded the monthly averages from years past. Why do you think this is?
Our rate of growth has consistently increased since Duotrope began. In 2012 alone, we gained 30,885 new users. While changing to a subscription model slowed the growth a bit, it did not slow it enough to fall behind any year prior to 2012. This means that if things continue to go as they are now, 2013 should fall between 2011 and 2012 in terms of growth. As of this interview, 19% of our subscribers are new users.
4. What was the single biggest reason you decided to switch to the subscription-based model?
Running Duotrope is a full-time job for several people, who are paid staff, not volunteers. There are also accounting costs, legal costs, technology costs and the like. It became imperative to adopt a business model that grew income in proportion to all the other growth at Duotrope. The number of users was increasing, the number of markets was increasing, and as a result so were the number of hours the staff had to work to keep everything up to date, but under the donations model, income was not increasing with the workload and in some months actually decreased.
5. People who’d never used the service before are now paying to use it. How do you think you were able to get so many new subscribers?
Duotrope’s reputation is well-known in the community. Becoming a subscription-based service did not change the fact that we track nearly 5,000 markets in fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. It did not change the fact that listings at Duotrope are the most accurate in the business. It did not change the fact that we add between 30 to 40 new markets every week. For new users, there is no emotional reaction to Duotrope having changed from once being free to now being paid. They simply look at what we offer and make the most basic decision a consumer can make: is it worth it to me?
6. The biggest complaint I’ve heard about Duotrope is that $50 is too much money, especially when there are so many others costs for internet providers and submission fees. I know a lot of people who said they would’ve subscribed at $25 a year. Why did you choose to jump up to $50 as opposed to a more gradual increase?
One undeniable fact for us was that regardless of what the final price was there would be a subset of users who would feel it was too much. There were many factors involved in choosing the price, but the most significant one was the minimal worth of Duotrope as a service. In the end, we felt that $5 per month was, if anything, low considering the amount of development and maintenance work that goes into running Duotrope.
For one thing, we are fanatical about keeping our listings up to date. Duotrope checks every single active market we list at least once a month. We do not rely on third-party sites or wait for editors to let us know that something has changed. We don’t know of any other market resource that does this.
Also, we have to put a value on our intellectual property. Duotrope was developed completely in house and has some highly specialized algorithms and database design. As just one example, our algorithm for determining statistical outliers was developed and refined over several years — this is the type of intellectual property people get paid a great deal for in other industries.
We feel the product we offer is well worth the price.
7. I’m sure you received a lot of backlash when you first made the announcement. How did you handle this? Did you ever think you were making the wrong decision?
The vocal criticism was completely expected. It is the nature of our new social media-driven society. Not for one moment did we second guess our decision. While some were attacking us on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., subscribers were coming in steady numbers. Just because a group is vocal does not mean that it represents the majority viewpoint. We did a basic count during the first 36 hours after the announcement, which was by far the most active period in terms of feedback, and between the comments on Facebook, the Tweets, forum posts, and the blogs (including the comments posted on them) we found, the total number of people vocally against the change was below 1% of the Duotrope user base. We kept monitoring the comments because new ideas are always a good thing, and we did come across some very good suggestions.
8. When you decided to switch to a primarily subscription-based service, did you ever consider having the publications pay to be listed?
The idea was considered and discarded. It simply did not make sense no matter how we looked at it. The most important factor was that Duotrope is not a classifieds service. If we only listed those who paid, Duotrope would become an advertising platform for markets willing to pay, which would seriously reduce the number of markets available to be searched. Our service is for writers, and while many markets, especially new ones, can benefit from a Duotrope listing, we seek to provide an unbiased source of options to our users. Charging markets would have fundamentally altered the nature of what Duotrope is.
9. In the “State of the Stats” you frequently refer to “unreliable data” and how you’ve eliminated much of it. Could you provide some insight on what you mean by “unreliable data” and how the subscription-based model has eliminated it?
Unreliable data comes in many flavors. One example is a report of a pending submission that never gets updated. Other examples are reports from people who only report their acceptances, or people who report all their rejections as withdrawals. These types of unreliable data, though understandable from a psychological viewpoint, are not helpful to the community at large. As we analyzed the data, we found that the bulk of these types of unreliable reports came from people who reported fewer than ten submissions a year and from people who used Duotrope only sporadically.
The current user base has made a financial commitment to Duotrope (57% of them have made an annual commitment) and this tends to motivate them to use the site regularly. Those subscribers who use the submission tracker also tend to be more thorough about entering their submissions information. For example, the average subscriber entered 4 times more submission reports in the past 12 months than the average non-subscriber.
10. What do you think makes Duotrope more valuable than similar sites?
Duotrope is proactive in keeping market listings accurate and adding new markets regularly. It has a staff that works full time. It is not a hobby, a secondary job, or an automated set-it-and-forget-it service. We are constantly using the latest technologies to improve the service. While time consuming, it is actually quite simple to build a list of markets. However, maintaining that list in a consistent and timely manner is an entirely different kettle of fish. Our seven-year history proves that we can meet that challenge. Also, our user base is very large, which makes the statistics we provide more relevant than what is available elsewhere.
11. There has been a lot of speculation that people are working on new services to render Duotrope obsolete. Do you have any concerns regarding this?
Competition is essential to any industry, and Duotrope has always had competitors. We will always be vigilant about keeping Duotrope at the forefront of what we do and also about protecting our intellectual property. However, this is not the same as being concerned. Competitors will come and go, and some may establish themselves in their own right as a valuable alternative to Duotrope, which is a good thing. No one service can be everything to everyone. Writer’s Market, for example, remains a valuable and important part of the industry, even after new services, like Duotrope, entered the scene. Competitors can and do co-exist, especially in a community as varied as this one. It takes a great deal to render a company obsolete, and it does not happen simply because a new competitor comes around. In the end, Duotrope is the main player in determining our success or failure.
12. Do you have any plans or ideas to expand Duotrope’s current services?
Oh yes! There are many, many things we have been wanting to do for some time, and we simply did not have the resources to do them. We are working on mobile device apps and expanding the general services we provide. I can’t say too much about that just yet, but we are going to be very busy in 2013, and you’ll be seeing some new things in the not-so-distant future.
Thanks to the staff at Duotrope for answering my questions. I’m sure all of Duotrope’s users are looking forward to seeing what the future has in store.