We hope you are as excited as we are that we finally have a new payment processor, Clover, in addition to PayPal. But the fraught process of getting to where we are now, and to our great disappointment and frustration, not being ready at fundraiser launch, despite starting a couple of months ago, is why you are getting a shaggy dog story rather than the hoped for triumphalism.
As you will see at the Tip Jar page, the Clover part of the interface is a rough, and will be made more user friendly hopefully pretty soon. Please give feedback in commments, and we – by “we,” I mean Dave – will make such improvements as we can.
If you have low tolerance for complexity, use PayPal (for instance, the Clover part does not give error messages at the end of the input process like most payment systems do; it balks at a incorrect entry, like a card expiration date before today, and won’t let you move to the next one until you’ve fixed it). We want readers to be happy while donating! Oh, and while you are at it, please remember to be generous, not just on your behalf, but also for readers who have tight budgets and can’t give as much as they’d like right now.
The search for a new payment processor has led us to understand why so many small merchants wind up with PayPal despite its high fees and propensity to deplatform publishers who engage in too much wrongthink.
Our banking industry/bank network expert Clive warned us some time ago that independent payments processors tended to crapify over time:
It’s an awful market. The fundamentals are bad – what’s essentially a low-margin commodity service that’s now in a slow-growth trend that’s beset by too many have-a-go new entrants trying to grab some of PayPal’s (plus maybe the Apple/Google Pay other big kids in town) glory but without having an unique proposition (better tech, more scale, cross-selling opportunities, some sort of lower cost base…) that would help them unseat the incumbents.
So what you’re ending up with is a situation whereby everyone competing in this segment ends up like fresh fish. Even if they start off nice (fair fees, good user support, some passable attempt at ethical business practices) it’s going to go bad, eventually. Plus the usual information asymmetry a.k.a. A Market for Lemons – they might start off with a well-deserved good reputation and a not-too-gouging rate card, but when (and it is a when, not an if) the rot sets in you’re kind-a stuck with your sunk cost of setting up to use them plus the slippery-slope into crapified service or gotcha fees isn’t always immediately apparent.
Best thing to do then is to act like you’re trying to pick out the best crack dealer in the neighbourhood. Eventually, like night follows day, they’ll start adulterating the merchandise and giving you the run-around. But if you can get to them in that sweet spot where they’re still making some sort of attempt at professionalism, you might get 5, hopefully a little longer, years of not-awfulness.
Clive had said back then that a traditional merchant processor would probably be the best of bad options, since the fees would be competitive and they would not be subject to crapification via acquisition. But at that time, their monthly minimums were too high to work for us.1 Apparently due to entry of small fry, they’ve loosened up their structures and Clover had a good one.
But old-fashioned merchant processors are not big on providing easy spiffy customer interfaces. We found the WordPress plugin for Clover to have affirmatively bad features for a donation, as opposed to a product, site. So Dave has had to do a lot of unexpected extras, and heroically worked over Labor Day weekend to deliver this new option to you. So please no whinging about Clover not yet being pretty and easy. (We said feedback, not whinging!)
We are pleased to have finally taken this big step, and hope you are pleased too, even if the look and feel is not yet ideal. An additional payment option beyond PayPal and good old-fashioned checks has been on our plate for a long time, and we can now move forward with a new solution.
1 We had a long discussion with Clive two year ago about a promising candidate that our tech guru Dave spend a lot of cycles examining, but that one proved to be extremely intrusive in the customer qualification process, way beyond normal US KYC standards. We looked at other options that are popular here, like Stripe, and they similarly had off-putting requirements, not for the user, but the merchant.
One example was insisting on 2FA, which is actually a poor approach to security, and allowing for only SMS verification. Without oversharing, our decision to nix anyone who allows only for SMS has been validated. That was not the only problem with Stripe but that alone was a deal killer.