(+) The Easiest Methods of Selling Information on the Web – Part #2

This is a Part #2 of a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Genealogy societies, companies, and individuals often have reasons to create web sites with protected content. In many cases, material may need to be available only to society members or to those who have paid for access to restricted material. Selling information online is an excellent method of providing online “books” or transcriptions of genealogy-related information, such as family genealogy books, tax lists, local census information, and more. Genealogy societies have long sold such books in printed form; now it is easy to do the same online. Buyers can purchase electronic copies of the material and receive instant access.

Luckily, all of this can be done without much difficulty, using today’s technology.

In Part #1 of this article at http://eogn.com/wp/?p=42401, I described two methods of restricting access to documents, images, sound files, or even video files to those who pay for such access. Best of all, the access is granted immediately when the new customer or member makes a payment. This week, in Part #2, I thought I would explain the most common methods of instantly accepting payments safely and securely on a web site. The funds paid can automatically be deposited into a bank account of choice or held in a separate fund that you or your society can use as you wish.

Almost all buyers of your site’s information will want to pay by credit card. Indeed, such technology is now pervasive on the web; thousands of sites accept credit card payments in a safe and secure manner. For the few who wish to pay by check or cash, you can also manually accept payments.

I will first describe the traditional manner of accepting credit card payments: obtaining what is called a “merchant account.” I will then describe a simpler method, using PayPal, or other, similar services. There are advantages and disadvantages to each method.

When the World Wide Web was first invented, there was no security. A few early merchants started selling products on the web and even accepting credit cards online. In the earliest days of the web, the credit card information was sent across the Internet as plain text. In theory, it was possible in those days for someone else to intercept the credit card information as the data was sent from the buyer to the merchant. Luckily, there are no credible reports of that happening in the last decade or more. The security risk existed only for a few months as programmers scrambled to create a suitable method of encrypting such information before being sent, to insure that all data is kept safe from prying eyes.

For nearly two decades, all web sites that accept credit card payment have used heavy-duty encryption called Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL. SSL protects all data by first encrypting it before it is sent across the Internet. Nobody else can ever view your private information when data is sent via SSL. The name of SSL was changed a while ago to Transport Layer Security, or TLS. However, most people still refer to it as SSL. A detailed description of TLS and SSL is available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secure_Sockets_Layer.

SSL is the same technology used by banks, brokerage houses, and many other financial institutions to transfer billions of dollars every day in a safe and secure manner. In fact, the credit card companies require a security audit of every web site that accepts credit cards before granting a merchant account and TLS/SSL is required to pass the audit. But I am getting ahead of myself; let’s first describe a merchant account and what it can do for you.

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