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Project Update: An Open-Source Payment Hub for Independent Media

Supporters can pay online or off with the new system.
Supporters can pay online or off with the new system.

A few months ago, we shared the news about our project for building an open-source payment hub for independent news organisations, co-financed by the Google DNI Fund. The project has both short-term and long-term goals. In the short term, the payment hub is being designed to meet the needs of our media partner, German daily newspaper taz, for a better way to manage online transactions with their supporters. The long-term goal is to create a free and open platform that will facilitate reader donations and subscriptions for any publication that would like to use it.

“We designed the whole system as an external micro-service in order to allow easy integration with any system,” said Ana Nedic, project manager from Sourcefabric. “This means we can integrate it with any existing CMS or other website back end.”

Recently the project had its first milestone, which was about creating a prototype version of the payment integration hub. The prototype currently supports Paypal, Stripe and offline payments.

Apart from building the payment hub itself, the other focus of this part of the project was identifying a suitable open-source CRM (customer relationship management) solution. The CRM is a key component as it is integrated with the payment process, recording individual transactions and associated user information. Ideally, this will help news organisations learn more about their readers so that they can tailor new products and services to the interests of their audience.

“We chose OroCRM, as it is very flexible, is in active development and has a large and lively open-source community around it,” said Sourcefabric developer Pawel Mikolaijczuk.

The next step is to bring all of these elements together -- the CRM system, the payment hub and the taz website -- so that it is convenient for readers to pay as well as easy for taz (and any other news organisation) to build and manage a database of digital subscribers.

Why is that important? A recent survey in the US found that nearly 80% of newspapers have introduced paywalls or subscription plans for their digital content. A smaller number takes a similar approach to taz: rather than charging a fee for content, these publications ask readers to make a voluntary contribution. The title of the donations page on the taz website is “taz zahl ich” (I’ll pay for taz). This relatively small Berlin-based newspaper has over 10,000 supporters.

Because a majority of taz’s supporters make recurring payments, the project team is now working to implement the European SEPA standard for direct-debit payment which has this feature built in. The SEPA standard of direct debit is widely used and familiar to users in Germany as well as being cost-effective for taz. Incorporating SEPA will enhance the usefulness and appeal of the payment platform for readers and news organisations around Europe.

The larger goal is for the payment hub to process payments in almost any form, including cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and specialised content payment services like Flattr.

This project is scheduled to run until the end of 2017. At that point, we will release the full system we have developed under a free and open-source licence.

If you’d like to follow our progress in the meantime, you can watch the project on GitHub.

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