Dear Writer, Please Pay in Full

As publisher of Writer’s Digest, I get the tough, make-you-cringe cases for response. Back in March, we received the following
e-mail through our general account. It’s a long message, but important
to convey in its entirety.

Dear Writer, please pay your membership fee in full.
Dear Writer, please pay for your online membership.
Dear Writer, please pay for your print edition of Writers Market.
Dear Writer, please pay for your digital edition of Writers Digest.
Dear Writer, please pay for your webinar.
Dear Writer, please pay for your competition dues.
Dear Writer, please pay for the advice you received on “How to make money as a writer.”
Dear Writers Digest,
I’m a writer, of merit and accomplishment. I read many of the trade
journals, and avoid many of them as well – half of the writers
magazines are written by people that are still in need of a copy of
shrunk & white’s. I’m writing you because this is becoming
ludicrous.  When it comes down to it the majority of us are trying to
do something we love and make money at it. We all strive to break
through with every word, sentence, paragraph and page. We gorge
ourselves on the advice of others, both by way of trade publication and
by our hefty bookstores totals. All of us are looking for a writers
haven, where we can glean from our peers, embrace the craft, and better
ourselves. Unfortunately, that place no longer appears to be Writers
    As a business you’ve forgotten your customer. As
writers, you’ve taken advantage of the craft and the passion with which
people execute it. You can’t possibly think that you can charge readers
for every word. Even Barnes & Noble let’s people read books in the
store without throwing a surcharge on them, or even attend Book Groups
without making them put down a deposit.
    I follow many of your
writers, not just here, but all across the internet. I respect them
tremendously, even when their writing isn’t useful it’s still
uplifting. I was recently disappointed when I read an article, written
by one of your writers, that said you were proud to announce your new
webinars. I was excited, thrilled even, to think that I might get some
tangible advice for the subscription I pay for, I read on eagerly so I
could set the date for the next session. Then I followed a Link that
showed me a price list for your short webinars.
    The small
instruction explains that while originally you wanted to charge $199
dollars you decided that was too much and instead only charge $99
dollars. A $1.50 a minute…TO WRITERS…WHO ALREADY PAY FOR YOUR
SERVICES. How does that equate? Let’s see, a normal person, working
forty hours a week, at $1.50 a minute would make over $14,000.00
dollars a month. Are you taking advice from investment bankers now, or
simply trying to capitalize on the voice you’ve gained because of us
writers who already spend countless dollars of our hard earned money on
market and trade materials.
    It’s really rather simple, charge,
certainly, for some things. First, live up to your end of the contract,
people are already paying, so start providing something to them without
an additional fee. Second, be realistic, don’t be so pretentious,
you’re time isn’t worth $14,000.00 a month, not unless your running a
pyramid scheme or a brothel.

I still haven’t
responded, so this has become my response. What’s interesting about
this particular case is that I’m 99% certain it is from one of my
Facebook friends who is an aspiring writer I haven’t met. (A few of us
Writer’s Digest editors have invited writers to friend us on Facebook;
you’re welcome to do so as well.)

I digress.

What this e-mail says to me:

  1. We’re not doing a very good job letting people know what content we offer for free.
  2. We’re not doing a good job communicating the value of what we offer or
    the diversity of what we offer (whether in terms of media, price point,
    or delivery channel).
  3. Our marketing messages may be too
    numerous. (I can confirm that the frequency of these messages has
    increased dramatically in 2009.)
  4. Whatever it is that we
    provide writers (for free or not), we’re failing if writers feel that
    we’re heartlessly capitalizing on their dreams, and merely exist to
    find more ways to take their money.

When I started at F+W in
1998, the mission of the company was to help creative people fulfill
their dreams. Ten years later (with plenty of time and opportunity for
cynicism to sink in), I’m still with Writer’s Digest because I believe
in that mission.

The problem is, we’re not a nonprofit. (Yes,
sometimes I wish we were.) And just like many writers are trying to
make money at what they love (some of them by working for Writer’s
Digest!), the people in publishing are also trying to make money doing
what they love. Yet I don’t know anyone who goes into this business for the
money. Those people usually migrate over to law, business school, and
Wall Street.

And I think the writer of this message is primarily
and supremely annoyed that he was hooked on a particular
experience/product, and became angry when he realized it came at a cost
that he found both unjustifiable and unaffordable.

Speaking from
a business perspective, we price things at what the market can bear.
And we’ve found that the value of the interaction and information in
the webinars has consistently allowed a price of $79-$99. We could
charge less, and attract more people, but for our efforts, it’s better
to charge a little more, and have fewer people.

The webinars so
far have been hosted by our in-house editors (that includes me); we are
not paid additionally for these. There are costs in licensing and using
the Webex platform, based on number of attendees and how long the
sessions run. We have one person running tech support in the background
at all times, plus a customer service rep handling questions/concerns,
and a marketing person who develops messages about the webinars, and an
online editor who updates pages about it, etc. There’s a cost of doing
business; it’s not pure profit.

However, there are other
communities at F+W that charge less than we do. It’s all based on
customer feedback and attendance levels. So it’s good to have this
feedback, and maybe one day we’ll consider lowering the price. But the
wisdom typically with pricing is that it’s much better to start high
and bring it down, rather than start low and jack up the price later.

Digest can survive only by providing writers with valuable and trusted
content that they need and are willing to pay for. The reason you see
newspapers and magazines and even book imprints disappearing is because
many types of content have become plentiful and free online, and no one
is willing to pay for it any longer. Maybe that day will come for us,
if we’re not able to compete with other sources and communities that
provide free or more valuable information. Certainly peer-to-peer
sharing, as well as the sharing that comes directly from the source
(agents/editors), cuts out some of the need for a Writer’s Digest to
give you the authoritative perspective on anything. Only time will
tell, but as soon as we become irrelevant to the writing community,
we’ll go out of business.

That aside, it might be helpful to advise everyone on what we offer for free.

We have blogs focusing on agents, poetry, children’s/YA,
scriptwriting, plus general Q&A. The blogs focus on
prescriptive/how-to information, current events, interviews with people
in the industry, and inspiration (like Robert’s Poem-a-Day challenge).
We also frequently link to other (free/paid) resources that compete
against us, in the name of serving the community. Best Tweets for
and 101 Best Websites (2009 list coming soon!) are good examples of this.
All content here is free, and there is a ton of it (although admittedly
it can sometimes be hard to find). You can find most of of the
magazine’s content here 1-2 months after the issue has released,
as well as book excerpts (click here for a starter list). There is also an active forum where we regularly bring in guests to answer questions.

Your Story. This is a free contest we run every issue of the magazine that offers an opportunity to get published with us.

You can sign-up for our weekly newsletter with tips/prompts at our
homepage, and get a free e-book (on common writing mistakes) while
you’re at it. There’s also a free newsletter associated with

Twitter/Facebook. There are unique opportunities to interact with Writer’s Digest editors through Twitter and
Facebook. I’ve managed to answer some questions in 140 characters or
less, and also learned a lot from the community in the process. It’s a
two-way street.

I do hope that the accessibility of our editors
online (for free) helps alleviate this feeling that we’re only here to
make a buck. It’s also important to us that you find value in the content
that does have a price tag, and that you feel you’ve made a great
investment in your writing and your career.

We work to deliver a good experience. It’s why I get up in the morning.

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3 thoughts on “Dear Writer, Please Pay in Full

  1. fatstagnation

    This is exactly how I feel about WD. I get at least an email a day from you trying to sell me something. How often do you post a new article/blog entry?

    How often do those articles simply reference yet another thing I could pay your for? A lot of the free “content” you offer is really just another marketing piece.

    and yes, the WD webinars are way too expensive. If I’m paying $99 for webinars all the time, how am I supposed to save up and go to a conference where I can actually meet people?

  2. The Writer Mama

    I have to agree with Debra, though admittedly, I’m biased. I’m biased because I respect the historical perspective of service to writers that WD provides. I’m biased b/c I know or have met a lot of the folks who work at the company, and I can vouch for their professionalism and integrity. I’m biased b/c I think that WD should do exactly what every single individual, entrepreneur and company is doing today, which is to leverage everything they have to offer and give clients/readers/customers choices whether or not to pay and how much.

    How could this be perceived as anything but good business at this juncture in the recession?

    I’m happy that WD has weathered the economic downturn and not just because they’ve published my books. I hope they continue serving writers for a long time into the future.

  3. Debra Marrs

    I’ll be the first to say WD and F+W, you’re doing a great job! I am always, always, always willing to pay for rich, new content. Heck, I’m willing to pay for content that isn’t so new, but that is a fresh reminder of proven tactics successful writers ought to know, or can use and benefit from. I’m glad you shared this letter in its entirety because you remind all of us to be great communicators in what we offer and what we expect in return. I support your mission at F+W "to help creative people fulfill their dreams" because that’s what I do too as an editor and coach for writers. Like you, some folks want my content for free. I mean, after all, you just "know" this stuff, don’t you? They forget I have bills just like they do: a mortgage, health insurance premiums, business office expenses, etc. More than ever, the opportunities in free enterprise don’t mean free content, but instead mean we all are free to choose. I choose to stick with WD and F+W as my ‘go-to’ resource for all things writerly because of the strong history and tradition you represent. All the best to you and the rest of the team!


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