WritersMarket.com Website Design Review

WritersMarket.com is a Pay-For-Access, Online Database of Incalculable Value to Freelance Writers that Cross-Sells Print Publications and other Products Owned by its Publisher as it Helps Build a Priceless Customer List

Online databases sold by subscription are big business for LexisNexis, R.R. Bowker, Thomson and other traditional publishers of directories.

The idea makes a lot of sense. An online directory is easier to update and keep current, and the costs for manufacturing and delivery are minuscule compared to those of a printed volume. Major directory publishers generally offer both print and online versions and these can be very pricey.

For example, the Co-op Advertising Programs Sourcebook and its online companion are the links between manufacturers who subsidize advertising programs, retailers who need to stretch their advertising dollars and media sales representatives looking to sell more advertising. This extensive directory lists thousands of available co-op programs in 52 product classifications. $625 buys you the two-volume, hard cover set; an online subscription is $795.

But a database need not be huge in order to be desirable and profitable. For instance, access to a directory and database of hard-to-find antique automobile parts is the basis for the free online subscription newsletter ShoeboxFord.com. The business model here profits from online advertisements and auto parts sales.

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An online subscription (access to the database) to WritersMarket.com is $29.99 annually or $3.99 monthly on a till-forbid basis (they bill your credit card monthly until you tell them to stop). That compares with buying the 2006 Writer’s Market paperback book (1,178 pages, 2.8 pounds) for $29.99 ($18.89 on Amazon). The deluxe edition is $49.99.

  • Published since 1921, Writer’s Market offers freelance writers complete, updated contact information and submission guidelines for more than 4,000 markets.
  • The deluxe book version comes with a CD-ROM that will connect you instantly to WritersMarket.com.
  • The website includes 1,500 more listings that wouldn’t fit into the book, including exclusive online sections regarding greeting cards, syndicates, newspapers and online publications.
  • Writer’s Market is produced by F+W Publications of Cincinnati. The company publishes almost 60 magazine titles, has nearly 3,000 books in print under various imprints and owns and operates numerous book clubs.
  • In addition, F+W offers educational programs, conferences and competitions, and maintains free and pay-for-access websites.

Here’s how WritersMarket.com stacks up when measured up against the 14 Mequoda Website Design Guidelines. *Note: No trees were destroyed to bring you the online version of this report.

WritersMarket.com’s Mequoda Scorecard

1. Strategic Intent – C

The strategic intent of WritersMarket.com appears to be to monetize the customer right away by getting you to join the membership website to gain access to its voluminous database. Capturing names and email addresses does not appear to be a priority.

The site does offer casual visitors a free email newsletter, but it’s not obvious—you need to look around the homepage in order to find it.

The Mequoda System Habit #6 requires a willingness to give away valuable content for free, but that does not appear to be a Writer’s Market priority, and while the free email newsletter promises “tips, tricks and insider information you need to market your manuscripts and make the most of your writing talent,” the offer of it is not as prominent as it could be on the homepage.

The top left quadrant works best to attract attention and the resultant signups, but this site ignores that advice.

Important: It is worth noting that there is no published privacy policy on this site. The publishers are free to collect the names of nascent writers and use them to cross-sell as many of their other products as they wish. That might be the real strategic intent, although it is not well executed here.

2. Content Webification – A

The WritersMarket.com Submission Tracker enables freelancers to record each manuscript, where they’ve sent it, what response they’ve received and what follow-up tasks are due. Or create reports and copy the data from the Tracker into a spreadsheet program, where they can calculate yearly income and taxes, or into a word processing program, to print out envelopes and mailing labels.

The site’s Market Watch feature gives writers a window on the constantly changing publishing industry, with the latest news on what magazines are launching or folding, which editors have stepped up or down, what’s developing in the world of e-publishing and freelancers’ rights, and more.

The Writer’s Encyclopedia is another helpful tool and a smart use of indexed content.

3. Relationship Building – B

After a member logs on he is thereafter greeted by name when clicking to Submission Tracker—a nice touch. As detailed in Item #1 (above), Writer’s Market offers a free email newsletter but nothing more. Publication of the email tome appears to be only about twice a month.

On March 21, 2006, the WritersMarket.com homepage boasted that there had been 592 updated or new listings in the past 30 days, and that there were 168 updated or new listings today.

With that volume of new content available so frequently, it would not be difficult for Writer’s Market to launch a daily email newsletter. Perhaps if the publishers realized the true lifetime value of an email address, they might do so. But read on. In a sense, they already have.

4. Community Building – F

There are no community involvement devices on this site, but I think I know why.

F+W Publications also owns Writer’s Digest Magazine, and there is a hypertext link to it from Writer’s Market. F+W’s website at WritersDigest.com offers a free email tip of the week that features writing tips and advice from professional word merchants.

That site also includes a Speak Out feature where subscribers can share a writing or marketing tip they’ve used successfully and would like to pass along. Additionally there is an active discussion forum on WritersDigest.com.

So the WritersDigest.com website appears to be where F+W Publications chooses to build its community and target an audience of writers and wannabes.

5. Persistent Navigation – A

The navigation of this site is consistent and intuitive, which is great. But the affordance of the links and buttons could definitely be improved (see #7 below).

6. User Task Depth – A

Log in, subscribe, search and view listings are all easy and intuitive. The Contact Us page is a long, three-part form designed to expedite handling of a question or problem, but it seems a little over the top in its length and detail.

7. Affordance – C

A website button should be used to indicate that an action is to be performed—order, submit, download, etc.

Text links should be used to jump the user to another page and should always be distinguished from other text by being underscored (underlined). The conventional color for hypertext links is blue, which turns red when moused over, and changes to maroon when clicked.

This site’s left navigation panel’s hypertext links are white reversed (dropped out) from a dark blue background. They are unconventional and difficult to read (unnecessarily small).

On most other content pages of WritersMarket.com, the underscored links that change from blue to red to maroon convention is executed perfectly. Go figure.

8. Labeling and Language – A

Good writers know that in most instances, they should write for a reader with a ninth-grade (high school freshman) vocabulary.

WritersMarket.com understands this and, even though its intended audience is articulate wordsmiths, it has wisely chosen to stick with everyday earth-people vocabulary and avoid writer-speak (professional jargon).

9. Readability – B

The overall site page width is wider than it needs to be and that makes it harder to read. A narrower table width of say, 730, would result in pages that are more pleasing to the eye and easier to scan.

However, the typeface and size, except for the left navigation panel hypertext links, are good choices here.

A printer-friendly option would be a welcomed addition.

10. Organization – B

The designer has isolated all the primary links in the left navigation panel and all the object links (gifs) in the right panel. This works well enough and leaves no secondary links on the bottom of any page.

A smaller, more pleasing page width (see #9 above) would require more attention to properly exploiting the marketing quadrants.

11. Content Freshness – B

WritersMarket.com primarily is a members-only searchable database of more than 5,600 writing markets to which writers can submit their work for publication. The listings are updated daily in order to provide subscribers with the most current information available.

12. Load Time – A

WritersMarket.com is nearly all text with very few graphics. As a result, download time was 13.88 seconds at 56K as measured by the Webpage Analyzer.

13. Aesthetics – A

Prettier sites we’ve all seen.

While WritersMarket.com is not beautiful, neither is it unsightly. It’s strength is that it works as it is supposed to work, efficiently delivering information from its database to the user.

Here, as always, form follows function. The site generally conforms to the user’s mental model.

14. Brand Preference – A

WritersMarket.com encourages return visits and renewed subscriptions because it provides a valuable service and performs its function efficiently and economically.

Conclusion

WritersMarket.com is an excellent example of a membership website that was created by repurposing content from a printed directory that launched 85 years ago.

Founded in the early 1900s, F+W is a publisher of special interest magazines and books in a broad variety of consumer enthusiast categories, including antiques and collectibles, art, crafts, genealogy, decorative painting, equestrian, writing reference and woodworking.

The company has become one of the largest special interest publishers in the world. Since 1999, F+W Publications has increased fourfold in revenues, while maintaining consistently strong profitability.

If the rest of its properties are as valuable and well managed as Writer’s Market, we’re not surprised by its success.

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