I used to be a big fan of Flatmancrooked. They were one of the first literary sites I started reading regularly once I decided in earnest to begin a writing career. I've submitted work to them twice (rejected both times). But I don't plan on submitting with them again. Because they've now decided to offer expedited publishing for a $5 reading fee. And I'm not okay with that.
First off, I have problems enough with contests charging entry fees - and I'll occasionally pay to enter those, if I have the funds, and if it's a contest I want to support. Although I'm not a fan of contests charging money, intellectually, I understand why you need to collect funds to support the contest, especially if you're a struggling publication trying to keep your regular business practices going as well. So while I'm not a huge fan of them, contest entry fees are not a major crime against writers. But charging submission fees for regular publication? I'm not okay with that. Even if it's just $5, because $5 can really add up for struggling writers. We're struggling enough as it is; we shouldn't have to pay just to have our work considered for regular publication. We may little enough on our work as it is; if we pay for regular submissions, we'll barely break even.
But I think what bothers me the most about all this is that Flatmancrooked is willing to take your money to respond to your submission faster - but they don't pay their writers. They will pay writers semi-pro rates for the special anthologies, but for the regular website? Nope. Not one cent. They want you to pay them for expedited response time, but if your work is accepted, you don't get any money. You've been published at a loss. At least with most contests that charge entry fees, there's enough prize money to make a tiny profit or at least break even (and if there isn't, that's a contest I would never consider submitting to). I refuse to be published at a loss. That's just exploitation. A minor form of exploitation, to be sure, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a crappy business practice.
Granted, I could continue to submit to Flatmancrooked and not pay, and wait the 4-5 months (rather than 14 working days) to hear back. But I don't think I want to offer my work to any site or publication that would exploit writers in this way. And I don't think I want to pay for their anthologies, either. If they're going to charge for submissions, even an optional charge, they need to pay writers enough to at least break even (though they really should offer semi-pro rates). I will probably still read the free content online, because it's quite good, but if they want my dollars, they're going to have to treat writers better.