When we talk about Insurgent Creatives, we’re talking about making a living in a creative field without going through the traditional industry gatekeepers — and of course, when we talk about “making a living”, we’re talking about getting paid. Without the money, it’s just a hobby. Thankfully, not only has the internet equipped the Insurgent Creative with tools for production, distribution and marketing, but it’s also provided resources that allow you to accept payment as well.
There are a ton of services available out there, more than I could possibly cover here. So in this entry, I’ll take a look at three in particular. The 800 pound gorilla, the contender, and the game-changer.
The 800 pound gorilla of online payments is Paypal. I doubt you need an introduction — since their acquisition by eBay in 2002, Paypal has pretty much been the leader in online payments. PayPal currently operates in 190 markets, allowing customers to send, receive, and hold funds in 24 currencies worldwide. It currently manages more than 232 million member accounts. It offers tools for accepting payments via your website, via simple generation of html code for insertion, or via integration with third-party shopping cart software packages — the ubiquity of the platform also means that there’s a ton of advice and tutorials out there on how to implement the tools.
It also offers a debit card that is connected to your account, so you can use it for purchases at locations that do not accept Paypal, or for cash withdrawal at ATMs. That fact alone keeps them at the top of the list in my book — I don’t know of any other online payment processor that offers that service (if you know of one, please leave that valuable info in the comments).
Paypal has had problems — more so in their early years than today, to be fair — but the internet’s memory is long. Any individual occurrences that still happen from time to time (dealing with overzealous fraud-protection triggers resulting users being locked out of frozen accounts), even if these things are a statistically-insignificant percentage of users (there are 232 MILLION, after all), tend to keep the meme alive. I’ll come right out and say, however, that I’ve been a member of Paypal since 2003, and literally have never had a problem with the service. Not once. I’ll go even further and recommend the service whole-heartedly, for the sheer volume of tools it provides. For accepting payments via the web, there is no service that is easier or more convenient. Yet.
I say “Yet”, because there’s a contender for the crown on the scene now. Amazon Payments. If anybody has the market reach to challenge Paypal for supremacy, it’s certainly Amazon. Their Payments system launched in 2006, and has gradually been adding tools to its arsenal, including Checkout by Amazon, which allow vendors to accept Amazon account information and utilize Amazon for payment processing, and Simple Pay, a similar tool which handles payments only (rather than including shipping, etc.).
Right now, that’s the biggest drawback to Amazon Payments, in my opinion — as they roll out new developments, they’re often walled-off into separate, similar-yet-different programs — which makes the whole back-end user experience rather disjointed. (Similar to the problem that I mentioned in an earlier entry, with the divide between their print-on-demand service Createspace being walled off from their digital publishing service, KDP) I would much prefer to see everything streamlined and made more intuitive. The potential is there, though — and for people who don’t want to use Paypal for whatever reason, this should probably be the first choice.
The game-changer out there is Square. Square is the latest project from Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter. It allows people to accept credit and debit card payments via their mobile devices, via a card reader that plugs into the headphone jack of the device. If you’ve attended a recent comics or games convention (or anywhere with a large percentage of creator-run businesses, really), you’ve already seen these devices in use. The reader is sent to you for free, and the Square app (available for IOS or Android devices) is also free — Square makes its money by charging you 2.75% of every card transaction. This is slightly higher than most credit card services charge — but unlike those, you don’t need to apply for a merchant account, and with Square you can accept ALL of them — Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express.
There are a few things holding Square back from being the absolute no-brainer choice for all of the payment-processing needs of the Insurgent Creative. The first is that it currently does not handle automated webstore sales processing. It is primarily for in-person, swipe-the-card sales, or via entering the number into the app manually, which I suppose means that you could do over-the-phone transactions, or figure out some sort of secure encrypted method by which customers could send you their card numbers and you run the charge later (which, let’s face it, few customers would do). The great news, however, is that I recently heard from Square Support on Twitter, where they told me that they are working on rolling out that functionality.
The second thing is that Square is currently US-only, requiring a US bank account for processing. Again, however, Square Support says that they will be expanding internationally, although there is currently no ETA for that roll-out. If Square can clear those two hurdles, though, I think it may end up changing the landscape of payments — even more than it already has.
Of course, the best advice for any Insurgent Creative is to use the tools that make things easier for you — even if that means using a patchwork assembly of multiple tools for different jobs. Currently, I have my webstore payments at Adamant Entertainment processed via Paypal. I’ve used Amazon Payments to accept funds from my Kickstarter program. I use Square to handle sales when I’m at a convention. Use what works, in whatever combination works for you. Be small, think big, move fast.
Storm the gates.