This week, The Tuesday Serial team is taking a week-long hiatus to celebrate Thanksgiving. In lieu of the collector, however, we have the third guest post in our fall series. Many of our contributors have a combination of fiction for sale and serial fiction available on their sites for free so we thought this analysis from Cecilia Tan would be very useful. We wish everybody a happy Thanksgiving and we will be back next week with our regularly scheduled programming. Welcome, Cecilia!
Paypal “Subscription” Payments versus Patreon
by Cecilia Tan
Heads up to all web content creators who use Paypal to process ongoing “subscription” payments. It looks to me like Paypal made a change in the beginning of October, and now most Paypal accounts are unable to accept these payments.
It used to be that any account, including a personal one like mine, could create payment buttons including ones that said “donate” and let the person giving you money set the amount, and ones that said “Subscribe” and let the person set up what payment amount they wanted as well as how often to automatically repeat the payment.
For the Daron’s Guitar Chronicles web fiction serial I had a normal Paypal button, but on the “Tip Jar” page I had also included some “SUBSCRIBE” buttons. Over the years a handful of supporters had signed up to give anywhere from a dollar a week to ten dollars a month. Some had been supporting me that way for years.
But starting last month, these automatic payments started to fail to go through. The notifications from Paypal were pretty cryptic. “Automatic payments from [name] were suspended” read the subject line.
The body of the message gave little more information: “<B>You didn’t get your money</B>” read the headline, followed by “Automatic payments from [name] have failed 1 times. As a result, we will not try to process these payments again. Please contact your customer to collect the outstanding balance.”
There was no indication if this was because the customer’s credit card bounced, if the customer decided not to subscribe anymore, or if Paypal had cut their (or my) account off for some reason, and I did not see a notice from Paypal about the change in service or policy.
When the first failure notification came, I assumed it was one of the first two reasons, and I felt weird emailing a supporter to say, “Hey, did you mean to keep sending me money? Because it’s totally okay if actually now you entirely regret the experience I’m so sorry…?” Yeah. I just wasn’t sure how to approach it. I assumed the person had just discovered they had been giving me a dollar a week for months and months after they quit reading my serial and finally decided to cut me off. Plausible, right?
Another week went by, and I got another one of those notices, this one on a different customer. Huh. I wondered if maybe a major plot point people had been waiting for had finally arrived and after that people felt like they could stop reading? Or maybe it was that a lot of people didn’t like the way the plot had turned and so they were cutting off their support? I cringed a little but I checked my reading stats on Google Analytics and it certainly didn’t seem like any fewer people were reading! Hm.
Then another one was suspended. A fourth and a fifth I missed, because the notifications went into the junk mail folder. The reason the suspensions were all staggered is because when they happened depended on what day of the month the person originally signed up on.
When the whole month had gone by I finally realized EVERY subscription donor payment had failed. What are the chances that ALL my subscription donors bounced or dropped at the same time? Seems fishy. So I went digging in Paypal to try to figure out if something had changed in either the policies or the settings.
Indeed, that seems to be the case. Trying to search Paypal’s help pages wasn’t getting me anywhere, but Googling brought me to a page in the developer documentation for Paypal on Subscribe Buttons.
Near the beginning of this lengthy section of information it reads:
<b>Important:</b> For your Subscribe buttons to support credit/debit cards, you must be approved for PayPal Payments Standard Enhanced Recurring Payments (ERP). Unless you sign up for ERP, your Subscribe buttons will accept payment from PayPal accounts only.
Well. I certainly didn’t recall ever signing up for “Enhanced Recurring Payments.” Further down was a link to take me to more info about ERP, which took me directly to an “Upgrade Your Account to a Business Account.”
Honestly, I’m not certain I want to upgrade to a Business Account. I’ve heard too many horror stories about fees and problems to want to mess with that. (If anyone has experience with this transition, please comment and let me know how it was.) Leery of upgrading, I did not try to set up Enhanced Recurring Payments. It appears regular one-time payments still work just like they used to, and also receiving regular payments from vendors (i.e. Smashwords) is not a problem as these aren’t considered this flavor of subscription payment. I could have decided to let the matter drop at that point. But much of the common wisdom in the fundraising world is that regular small payments are more effective than periodic requests for lump sums.
Fortunately, there’s another way. One reason I felt free to leave my Paypal account un-upgraded is I just signed up with Patreon. Patreon’s main function is to take regular, recurring micropayments for web creators! Voila!
I’ve heard Patreon described as the Kickstarter for ongoing (instead of one-time) projects. At Patreon, though, people are pledging a recurring amount. You set whether you are asking people to pledge per post? Per week? Per month? And the patron chooses how much they choose to pledge and can also set limits (i.e. if they promise $1 per post and you suddenly post 100 times in a month they can have set a limit of $8/month to prevent being surprised).
Like Kickstarter, you can set rewards for varying levels of support (people who give $5 a month get a sticker! people who give $10 a month get exclusive content! etc…) and also overall goals (if we get $100 a month pledged, everyone gets a free ebook!)
In my case I already do a thing on my web fiction serial where I regularly post twice a week, but I do three posts if donations in the tip jar top a certain amount. I decided it made sense to say if my Patreon pledges reach $75 per week, though, I’ll switch to posting three times a week PERMANENTLY. (Or, well, so long as the support level stays there or above.)
It doesn’t sound like a lot. But if 75 readers each pledged $1 per week (only 50 cents an episode!) by the end of the year that would be $3,900. That is enough to pay my car insurance AND health insurance for the year.
I don’t know if I’ll get 75 readers to make that commitment, and I think it will take time to convince them to and to build it up to that point, but Patreon makes it easy to keep track of them and to send them special content and rewards. So especially in light of the changes with Paypal, the advent of Patreon couldn’t have come at a better time.
On the first day after I set it up I already had $5 pledged. That puts me 15% of the way there, already!
If you’re a reader of Daron’s Guitar Chronicles and are ready to chip in a dollar a week, you can find me over at Patreon.
Cecilia Tan is the award-winning author of many types of fiction, including romance, fantasy, science fiction, and new adult, many with alternative sexuality themes. Her web fiction serial Daron’s Guitar Chronicles has been running since 2009 and still going strong.