I was recently invited to join a bid for the Eastercon in 2018. This was a pretty standard sort of affair, we were all sitting around in the bar at Novacon and suddenly, almost without warning, we were a bid committee. Sigh, shanghaied again. As a result, a lot of the issues we’ve been looking at as part of the Future of Eastercon initiative are suddenly proving considerably more important to me than they might otherwise have been.
For instance, we want to be able to take credit cards. Everyone has credit cards, most people no longer have cheque books, not enough people are using person to person credit transfer services yet. So, the obvious answer is to take credit cards. In theory, this is trivial. There are applications on the internet like Square (https://squareup.com) and iZettle (https://www.izettle.com/gb) which let you accept a credit card using an iPhone or similar device. No problem, right? Well, no.
I like the look of iZettle, and they give you a free card reader/keypad, so I went through their website. It turns out that they have two basic models, you can have a business account or you can have a personal account and, whichever you pick, they charge you between 2.75% and 1.5% per transaction, depending on monthly sales. Put through £12,000 of business a month and you’re only paying 1.5% which is reasonable for internet transactions. However, if you have a personal account then you are potentially personally liable for refunds and chargebacks. If you have a business account, they want to see two years of accounts filed with Companies House which is kind of hard for a convention that is probably only in existence for two years. It’s also not clear how you do this if you’re a sole trader or similar, but they do suggest that sole traders can get a business account so there must be a way. What they don’t talk about are things like unincorporated societies, members clubs and so on.
I have emailed iZettle, laying out our situation and asking them whether they have a solution that would fit us. I suspect they’ll suggest having a personal account with somebody, perhaps the chair or the treasurer, standing as guarantor. Which may, or may not, work for Eastercons, depending on the committee. I’ll keep you posted.
So, what other options are there? Well, there’s that good old standby, PayPal. Except that PayPal have a very bad reputation, particularly where conventions and similar organisations are concerned. They have a nasty habit of closing your account down without warning, or holding onto the money and refusing to let you withdraw it unless you can show a continuing pattern of similar sales and withdrawals over a period of many months or years. Again, not the sort of model that suits an Eastercon, where your income tends to come in bursts and most of your outgoings are spread over about a month right at the end.
Then there are systems like PayM (http://www.paym.co.uk) that let anyone with a bank account and a mobile phone transfer money to anyone else with a bank account and a phone. This would be promising if (a) it was a bit better known, (b) didn’t require you to sign up for the service in advance, and (c) didn’t require that you only associate one account with one phone. I suppose we could buy a phone just for the convention’s bank account, but that seems a little extreme.