Sunday, January 26, 2020

How the Meson manual sales pipeline is set up and how to set your own

Setting up all the pieces to get the Meson manual sales page up and running was a fair bit of work. Since othe people might be interested in setting up something similar for their projects, here are some random notes of things that I had to do. All of this comes with the usual disclaimer that this is not accounting or legal advice, speak to an actual professional before embarking on your own venture.

A company

The first thing you need is a company. IIRC credit card processors either only deal with corporations or they charge a lot more in processing fees for individuals. The choice of corporation type depends on the country you live in.

A sales platform

This is the platform that provides the "web store", manages product downloads and so on. The Meson manual uses SendOwl, but there are other providers as well. In theory you could write this yourself, it is only a web shop after all, but then you get the headache of ops, backups, storing user data in a GDPR compliant manner and all that jazz. Using an existing store is fairly cheap and saves you a ton of work.

A credit card processor

This operator takes care of charging money from users' credit cards and delivering it to you. Your choices are limited to those supported by your sales platform. SendOwl supports PayPal and Stripe and Meson uses the latter because their fees were noticeably lower. Interestingly Stripe requires a "proof of location" via a utility bill. This is an interesting challenge in countries like Finland where this is a completely foreign concept.

Web site hosting

The requirements here depend on how fancy a web site you want to have. Meson's is a single static page with a link to the sales platform. 


This is a very complicated topic. In fact even more complicated than that page implies. The crux is that a seller of digital goods may have the responsibility to gather and pay VAT and/or sales tax to the countries they sell to, not just their own country. Most countries have a minimum threshold (such as 100 000 dollars) of sales before a foreign operator needs to register and gather tax. Some don't (meaning the threshold is zero).

The EU is quite simple if you are within the EU. You need to register to a special VAT MOSS program, gather the necessary (country dependent) tax and then report and pay it to the tax authorities of your own country. The sales platform will automatically calculate the correct tax amount and provide a report required by the tax office. For EU residents this is highly convenient. For operators outside of the EU it is a bit more work as you need to register, but only in one EU country of your choice. All bureaucracy is dealt with through this single point.

Countries that have a sufficiently high lower limit you don't have to do anything about. Countries with low limits can be geoblocked in the sales platform.

This leaves the United States, which is special. Each state has their own way of dealing with sales tax and you can't geoblock individual states.

GDPR et al compliance

If you use third party sales platforms and credit card processors, and never store any transaction data on your own servers this is actually fairly simple. Stripe will even autogenerate a compliance document for you automatically.

How many copies of the Meson manual have been sold through the web site by now?


That is about half the amount of people who participated in the failed indiegogo campaign last year.

1 comment:

  1. I'm looking forward to buying the manual, although credit card makes it harder for me (it's a debit card actually, and I have to charge it manually). Depending on the country, credit cards may generally be less used. You say Paypal charges a higher fee, but I wonder if that may be offset by the overall higher number of sales that one can expect.