Advent of the Insurgent Creative, Day Fourteen: Gettin’ PAID.

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.

Advent of the Insurgent Creative, Day Thirteen – Wreckamovie

Sorry that today’s entry is a bit late — I had a lot on my plate today, while also fighting off a cold. Ah, the holiday season.

We’ve looked at tools for writers, for textile designers, for musicians and for game designers — and now we look at a crowd-sourcing tool for Insurgent Creative filmmakers: Wreckamovie.

Wreckamovie was created by Star Wreck Studios Oy Ltd., a group of filmmakers from Finland who had joined with a community of enthusiasts over the internet and released a freely-downloadable Star Trek parody film called “Star Wreck.” The experiences of the group led them to develop a crowdsourcing platform to allow people to share their expertise and help each other make films. The site draws it’s name both from the “Wreck” portion of their original film’s title (and the corresponding name of their production company), but also from their belief that what they are doing is wrecking the traditional model of filmmaking by destroying the barriers and bottlenecks between “Professionals” and “Amateurs”. (In other words, true Insurgent Creativity.)

Film productions (or any form of audiovisual project) are set up on the site, and broken down into Tasks (individual jobs that you need for your film) — for example, maybe you’re not particularly experienced with 3D Computer Graphics, and need some shots of Starships in your proposed science fiction epic. You’d create the design of those ships as a Task, and the particular SFX shots you need as another. Members of the site who possess that expertise then offer their Shots (attempts) at your Task. In addition, you can offer your expertise in Shots at other filmmakers’ Tasks (and are encouraged to do so — the site is a community, with members helping each other out). Whatever the Task is, if you feel like you have something to contribute to it – whether it’s just a small idea or a full attempt, you’re encouraged to give it a shot. Other members can comment on the shot, maybe adding to it, or offering revisions, or just give it a thumbs-up. If the production leader decides to use a Shot in the final film, you get credited. Creatives helping each other.

You can participate on the site as a member, offering your expertise to film productions, or can decide to launch your own production, or both. The site is free. A list of current productions can be seen here, and a list of current Tasks is here.

The biggest success from the site (and still actively posting Tasks) is the movie Iron Sky, a sci-fi film about the Nazis re-invading the Earth from their secret enclave on the Dark Side of the Moon. The picture accompanying this entry is a still from the film, and you can view the latest teaser here:

Anyone interested in audiovisual production should take a look at the Wreckamovie site — when we function without gatekeepers, networking among fellow creatives becomes more important than ever. Sites that build community between like-minded folks and encourage them to assist each other are a valuable resource to any Insurgent Creative.

Storm the gates!

Advent of the Insurgent Creative, Day Twelve – OneBookShelf

We’re now about halfway through our series, and I figured it was time to talk about the resource that has allowed me to make a living for the past eight years: The various sites operated by OneBookShelf.

OneBookShelf began operations in 2001 as RPGNow — a site dedicated to the digital delivery of tabletop role-playing game products. Coinciding with the industry expansion brought about by the Open Game License, which allowed publishers to utilize the rules system for the market-leading Dungeons and Dragons in their own products, RPGnow ushered in the viability of digital delivery as a business model. In 2006, a merger occurred between RPGNow and their largest competitor, DriveThruRPG, forming OneBookShelf. The two sites were maintained as individual storefronts (both a result of brand loyalty on the part of customers, and also in product focus — RPGNow was viewed as more “Indie” than the “Mainstream” DriveThru), although both now operate on the same back-end. Since the merger, OneBookShelf has expanded with additional digital marketplaces: Wargame Vault (devoted to products supporting tabletop wargaming), DriveThruComics (the first digital comics shop online) and DriveThru Fiction (concentrating on genre fiction – specifically fantasy, sci-fi and horror).

The back-end process on these sites are the same — a creator signs up, provides payment information, uploads product, and it becomes available on the marketplace. Creators have full control over every aspect — from descriptive texts, to footers on the page, to cover image uploads, even to activation of the product for sale. The following two-part video offers an overview of the process for new creators:


The OneBookShelf sites have, in the past, focused on the PDF format for delivery: Flash-based product previews, for example, require the original to be in PDF. OneBookShelf also offers digital watermarking for those creators who wish to use it, where a file is imprinted with the name of the customer ordering it, and I believe that function also requires the file to be PDF. However, there are no restrictions on file formats — anything that can be delivered digitally is an option: Video, audio, and more. In addition, over the past year, they have also gone live with a Print-On-Demand program (production services provided by Lightning Source) where a customer has the option of ordering a digital file, a print copy via mail, or both.

The marketplace code that runs the sites offers creators dozens of tools: real-time sales and royalty reporting, freelancer royalty management, complete control over product listings, marketing tools to promote your products and more, including instant royalty pay-out (I can’t rave about this one enough — I have this linked to Paypal, and Paypal linked to a debit card. Need some cash while I’m out somewhere? Fire up the phone, browser to RPGNow, dump earnings to Paypal. Use card.). In addition, OneBookShelf can also create self-branded digital download stores dedicated to a creator’s product lines, able to be embedded on your own site. They are a full-service back-end service provider, and their staff is great at offering solutions for anything that comes up.

Perhaps the best part of my business relationship with the OneBookShelf sites since 2003 is that it allowed me to be an early adopter of the digital delivery business model. Now that the model is going mainstream, and as new tools are rolled out every week by services like Amazon and others, they’re often just larger implementations of concepts that I’m already familiar with via OneBookShelf — which means that I’m better placed to exploit these tools; able to jump right into a plan of action rather than having to spend time on a learning curve.

In a very real sense, OneBookShelf allowed me to become what I now refer to as an Insurgent Creative. I’m glad that this blog series has allowed me the opportunity to publicly thank them for that. They gave me the tools and the experience that allow me to storm those gates.