Monday 12 March 2012

The Strange Case Of The Doctor Who Book

Via The Radio Times, it would appear that a bit of a Twitter storm has erupted today over a Doctor Who book and the author's account being frozen by PayPal.
Behind the Sofa, a limited-edition charity book full of celebrities' reminiscences about Doctor Who, may not now be published following the decision of online payments service PayPal to freeze the account of the project's organiser.

All profits from the 200-page book were to be given to Alzheimer's Research UK. But payments for pre-orders – which were to be used by editor Steve Berry to fund the manufacture and distribution of the book – have today been frozen by PayPal.

PayPal had been taking payments directly by credit and debit card, as well as from customers with PayPal accounts. Berry may now have to fund the book himself.
Ooh, how very mean!
The book was to feature contributions from, among many others: Paul Whitehouse, Michael Grade, Rufus Hound, Stephen Merchant, Charlie Brooker, Hugh Bonneville, Al Murray, Bill Oddie, Chris Chibnall, Jeremy Dyson, Jonathan Ross, Josie Long, Terrance Dicks, Martina Cole, Mitch Benn, Neil Gaiman, Nicholas Parsons, Paul Cornell, Toyah Willcox and Tracy Ann Oberman.
In fact, according to the author's blog, these just scratch the surface.
Over 100 celebrities have given their time and contributed memories to the book
Now, as the boy and myself are both Doctor Who fans, that is a book I/we would most definitely like to read.

I'm absolutely sure the author has the very best of intentions too, and will feel rather pissed off right now ... BUT.

Why is he resorting to using pre-orders as a way of funding the book? The profits are going to Alzheimer's Research UK, and they're certainly not short of a few bob. Their last submitted accounts show income of £6.5m and they employ 22 full time staff running an 'advertising and fundraising' budget of nearly £300k. A book like this will sell extremely well, surely, and any employee of the charity who refused to fund its production would have to be certifiably insane, especially considering the slebs listed above.

The author says he was forced to go the PayPal route for funding the book's publication because ...
"I set up this site as an experiment in 'crowdfunding' after I couldn't find a satisfactory solution elsewhere."
Now, there are two options to consider here. Why didn't he go to Alzheimer's Research UK? Or, if he did, why did they refuse?
"Had the book failed to generate enough money to fund the book, I was prepared to do so out of my own pocket. It seems that I will now have to do that."
Personally, I don't think there was any chance that such a book would fail to make a profit and the author had offered a guarantee that he would make up the shortfall if need be.

Again, that would be a fairly safe gamble for Alzheimer's Research UK to take if they were asked.

Of course, such a verbal guarantee would not be as easily accepted by an organisation like PayPal which, to all extents and purposes, must act like a bank handling other people's money.

There is obviously no suggestion whatsoever that Berry was going to run off with the money if he couldn't finance the book, but if PayPal had already released it prior to any book being produced and something like that did happen, it was going to be PayPal getting it in the neck from angry 'investors'. It probably explains why they are still keeping the money until certain guarantees are met. They do, after all, have an obligation to consider their assurances to those who send payment via PayPal.

The Radio Times continues.
No monies paid by Doctor Who fans thus far have been lost – PayPal is retaining the project's funds until the situation is resolved. Berry is currently deciding whether to seek alternative means of taking payments for the book.
Or - forgive me for keep saying it - he could go to Alzheimer's Research UK to help him out. They're getting the profit, for crying out loud, what's the problem? There is even the weight of BBC publicity behind it, how can they possibly lose?

So, before a knee should jerk on this, we need to ask some questions. Were Alzheimer's Research UK approached? If not, it would seem to be a silly error. If they were, and refused, they are as much to 'blame' for the possibility of the book not being published as PayPal.

And, if Alzheimer's Research UK did refuse, then surely PayPal are entitled to hold the same reservations. In fact, even more so since they are dealing with other people's money, whereas Alzheimer's Research UK's cash - they being a charity, and all - is donated without the requirement of anything in return.

Of course, in modern discourse, banks are staffed by Cybermen and charities by Adipose so I can understand the over-reaction.


woodsy42 said...

I suspect Paypay are trying to be too clever here. I know of some independent musicians making albums by a similar arrangement. Fans make a donation, the album gets made, the donors then get a special or signed advance copy, it then goes on sale to other people at a regular price.  Maybe it depends on the 'promises' in the wording?

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Like you, I'm interested to know the pre-story. If it's a regular arrangement which has been done before, that's great. But, just me being cynical, perhaps PayPal were spooked by such a large liability without an imminent end product. The RT article spoke of "
the problem lay in the gap between the acceptance of payment and the publication of the book".

In that case, again, why isn't ARUK shouldering the liability? It's precisely what their fundraising budget is for, surely? 

Legiron said...

You can put a print book on CreateSpace, which would then be listed on Amazon, for no outlay at all.  For a very small outlay they'll distribute it to other retailers. Same for and several other printers. Both are print on demand so there's no stock to invest in.

It would be expensive if it had colour pictures inside, but otherwise, that method is easy and cheap.

If he made it an Ebook he could get it distributed all over the place with a budget of zero.

There's no need for any pre-ordering these days. The book could be available in a matter of hours at no cost to the author.

That's how I do it, anyway.

Mr Frost said...

"So, before a knee should jerk on this, we need to ask some questions. Were Alzheimer's Research UK approached?"

And if they were, do they remember?

Henry Crun said...

"Were Alzheimer's Research UK approached?"

Dunno, maybe he forgot.

Sad But Mad Lad said...

Story up on The Register -

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Ta for the heads up, SBML :)

Sam Duncan said...

And its final sentence sums it up perfectly:

“While El Reg is inclined to sympathise with a charitable effort,
the incident underlines, once again, that anyone planning to accept
PayPal payments needs to understand all of its terms and conditions
before they start.”

You see it so often: people saying, “Ah, I know all about this new Interweb thingy, with all that Twitface and PaySpace and all that. It's dead easy.”, only to find later that, actually, they don't and it isn't.

Honestly, best of luck to the bloke, but I can't work up any indignation for him.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Yep, and here's the page he contravened. Looks clear cut to me.

Does PayPal permit transactions for pre-sale items?Pre-sale items are advertised for sale before the seller has the items. Often, these items are sold before they are available to the general public. Or, the seller uses the funds from the sale to purchase the item that has already been sold. 
PayPal permits pre-sales on a limited basis, only if the seller guarantees shipment within 20 days from the date of purchase and clearly identifies the item as a pre-sale. PayPal may apply additional conditions, such as proof of the seller's ability to successfully deliver the product: supplier information, purchase invoices, shipping information, or proof of delivery.;jsessionid=fbB4LjBJGdVt0QQ9Bk2yJHdpMnVzyjn2TDFDCm6TY7jcDjpHwz2y!78253683?t=solutionTab&ft=homeTab&ps=&solutionId=39067&locale=en_US&_dyncharset=UTF-8&countrycode=LV&cmd=_help&serverInstance=9020 

nemesis said...

O/T Any comment on this:

Steve said...

Reference the Stacey Solomon affair ... Just how did the human race manage to survive as long as it has without the benefit of the bansturbators and interfering pecksniffs who infest our lives today?
I agree with the observations in the Spiked article. The busy-bodies have turned Stacey into naught but a publicly owned incubator incapable of making any decisions about her own life.