March 13, 2013 by Nathaniel Tower
When Duotrope’s Digest switched to a subscription-based model at the beginning of the year, requiring users to pay to use the service for the first time since launching in 2005, one of the fears the impact it would have on publishers. Particularly, how would it affect small presses and new literary projects?
The general concern went like this: everyone used Duotrope, so it was a great way for new projects and small presses to get the word out to the writing world. Free advertising to the entire writing community.
How could these markets, without the financial resources to pay for advertising, survive with Duotrope closing its doors to the “common” writer?
In previous posts, I have discussed the worth of Duotrope and touched on some of the concerns from the writing community (read them here: Part I, Part II, Part III). There’s no doubt that Duotrope provides a great service to the writing community–both to the writers and the publishers. As a writer, I would not have anywhere near as many publications without the site’s convenient and comprehensive search and listing features. As the managing editor of Bartleby Snopes, I know that Duotrope has played a role in boosting our submissions and developing our readership. Being on the 25 Swiftest Markets list has no doubt kept our submissions up through the years.
So what about now? Did Duotrope’s switch affect us?
A few weeks ago, an editor from a small literary magazine emailed me asking for help. She said that submissions were way down this year, and she just wasn’t sure how else to get the word out. Her magazine was listed everywhere she could think of, and she did the usual Facebook and Twitter promotional stuff. Paid advertising wasn’t an option. What could she do?
One thing to keep in mind is that the number of submissions, much like success in writing, comes in waves. You know how as a writer you sometimes get a string of acceptances followed by a several month drought? The same thing happens with lit mags. We’ll have weeks with just a few submissions, and other weeks we’ll drown.
So far this year, Bartleby Snopes has received 391 submissions. During the same period last year, a free period for Duotrope, we had 455 submissions. That’s roughly a 14% decrease so far this year. Can we blame Duotrope?
Well, during the same period in 2011, we had only 330 submissions. Duotrope was still free back then. In order to blame them for our decline, we’d have to attribute the 27% increase from 2011 to 2012 to them. While they might be partly responsible, I think it’s more likely that our increased presence on Facebook and Twitter, as well as our appearance on Flavorwire’s Top Ten Lit Mags list, brought us more traffic. We became more respected in the writing community and as a result, received more submissions.
Enough about Bartleby Snopes. One example does not provide any relevant statistical insight.
I recently conducted a survey of about twenty literary projects that accept submissions. Most agreed that submission numbers vary (especially for those projects with irregular publication schedules). On average, the publishers who responded receive fewer than 150 submissions per month and have an average of 500 monthly readers, so we’re not talking about the heavy hitters here. We’re talking about the publications that Duotrope was most likely to effect. Glimmer Train and The New Yorker aren’t going to lose submitters because of Duotrope (and they aren’t likely to complete my survey either).
Forty-seven percent of respondents said they have seen no change in the number of submissions received since Duotrope switched. About twenty-five percent said submissions have gone down a little. Only one respondent suggested that submissions have decreased a lot since the change. The rest said submissions have actually gone up. One publisher informed me that Duotrope has never been much of a factor in referring traffic.
The next question I asked concerned the quality of the submissions. Sixty-five percent of publishers answered that quality has stayed the same. Twenty-five percent claimed to see an increase in quality. One publisher even said the “quality of Duotrope submissions has generally been the weakest.” Perhaps Duotrope in its free mode was making things too easy for amateur writers.
In general, the publishers I surveyed welcomed the Duotrope switch. Forty percent of the responding publishers spend no money on advertising in a given year, so they depend entirely on free services and word of mouth. Some publishers worried at first about staying on the radar without Duotrope freely available to all, but it seems that Duotrope isn’t the primary reason they were on the radar to begin with.
The only logical conclusion from all this is that the Duotrope switch has had very little, if any, negative impact on the literary community. It’s also possible that Duotrope isn’t as valuable to publishers as we once thought. Unfortunately, traffic referred from Duotrope does not appear on the Bartleby Snopes Google Analytics page (I tested several times). Our number one referrer is Facebook, although direct traffic and search traffic often trump that.
Has Duotrope’s switch impacted you in any way, either as a writer or publisher? If so, share your story in the comments.