Saturday, 11 June 2016

My PayPal Policy (And Why I Hope You Might Consider Adopting It Too)

If you write short fiction for money, you almost certainly have a PayPal account.  That's a given.  The vast majority of markets will only pay via PayPal, especially if they're in the US and you're not, as it's invariably the cheapest and most straightforward alternative for them.

The point where this becomes problematic, as with so much in life, is charges - specifically, the sizable charges that PayPal places on transmitting and / or receiving funds.  They vary from country to country, but in the UK you're looking at 3.4% of the initial amount, plus 20 pence.  Only, it doesn't stop there.  Because, despite PayPal's grammatically dubious assertion that their fees "...are simple, straight forward with no surprises," the amount of money you actually receive is likely to come as something of a shock if you follow exchange rates even slightly - because PayPal's are lousy.  You can expect to get a couple of points below whatever the actual exchange rate is, which may not seem like a great deal, until you realise that you're effectively being charged another one to two percent.

All of that means that if you regularly sell short fiction, and depending on where you live, you can expect to lose between 3.5% and 5.5% of your income right off the bat.  That's potentially more than a twentieth of your income, charged just for the privilege of being paid.  And, sadly, none of this is likely to change any time soon.  PayPal have huge market dominance, and on the occasions when I've approached publishers with alternatives - on the face of it, Transferwise seems like a far more attractive proposition all round - I've been politely declined.

Which is understandable, of course, because I'm just one person and setting up your bank details with a new service is both a hassle and conceivably a risk.  Still, the fact is that the current situation remains unsatisfactory, and it's hard to imagine it being considered acceptable in any other field.  Just in case you doubt that, here's an imaginary scenario.  You're working in another job - let's say alpaca farming, because why not? - and when payday comes around you notice that your pay packet is light to the tune of five percent.  Let's say you earned two thousand dollars, that means you're short by a whole hundred.  When you question your boss about this, they explain that a cash machine charged them those hundred dollars to withdraw the money and so they've decided to pass that charge on to you.  Would you a) nod and smile or b) completely lose your shit?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Now, to be clear, I'm not blaming this situation on publishers.  They have no choice but to work with the tools they're given, and frankly I suspect that many are simply unaware of how they're disadvantaging writers by relying on PayPal and not taking into account transaction costs.  There is in fact an easy, built-in means for the sender to cover costs, but since for some bizarre reason PayPal describes it as "friends and family", I imagine that many people assume they can't, or shouldn't, use it.

Anyway, here, as promised, is the policy I've decided to instigate, and that I hope very much you'll consider too if you sell short fiction.  From now on, whenever I work with a new publisher and they ask if I'm happy to be paid via PayPal, I'm suggesting that they consider either covering or splitting the charges.  They of course have the option of saying no, and I don't intend to press the point; I'm not in a position to be passing up sales here.  My hope is that it's simply the case that no one has thought to raise this before, and that a little gentle nudging is all that's needed.  And given that I've noticed an upswing in the percentage of markets that do cover costs of late, I think there's some evidence for that theory.

Anyway, it's a safe bet that my doing this alone is going to achieve a great deal of bugger all.  But maybe if a lot of us were to start asking the same question then things might go differently.  So I'm putting this up here in the hope that maybe my fellow writers would be interested in taking up the initiative - or at least sharing this round a little.  For that matter, if publishers who already cover PayPal charges were to state that explicitly in their guidelines, that would be a big positive move, too.  Basically, my hope here is to start a discussion on a topic that I've never seen talked about anywhere else.  So please, discuss!  And just maybe we can make the industry a little bit fairer.

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