Quick and dirty ecommerce

Paul Boag

Not all e-commerce transactions are made from dedicated e-commerce websites. Sometimes you just need a quick and dirty solution to sell from the most basic of websites.

I sell the occasional piece of content on this website. Although I do not normally believe in selling content I will do so when the content is outside of my normal subject matter (e.g. my presentation on 40 better ways to work with clients) or require significant work to produce (e.g. my e-book on building websites for return on investment.)

I’m certainly not alone in wanting to make the occasional sale without building an overly complex e-commerce system. In fact I don’t even need a shopping cart facility so services like Shopify are unnecessarily complicated for me (although admittedly very good).

What then are the options when you don’t wish to sell physical goods but rather access to content?

Enter pulleyapp.com

When I first investigated selling my content online I was attracted to an online service that made the entire process of selling digital content amazingly simple. Best of all it was at beta stage and so was completely free!


There is no doubt that pulleyapp.com is in many ways a superb service. To sell a product online all you need to do is upload the product to their server and set a price. The service will then provide a custom URL which links directly to PayPal.com.

This makes the buying process incredibly easy. The user sees this unique URL either in a tweet, e-mail or as a buy now button on your website. Clicking the link will take them to PayPal where payment is made. They will then receive an e-mail which includes a download link to the product they have ordered.

The drawbacks pulleyapp.com

Although this is an elegant solution, it does come with one major drawback – the pricing model.

Unfortunately they charge a monthly fee based on the amount of data you store rather than the number of transactions performed.

Pulley pricing model

Admittedly for some this is attractive. If you have a relatively large volume of transactions per month selling items that are small in size, then this model is perfect.

However if you are like me, selling items at a low price with periods of time when you sell little, you can have months when you make little profit after their charges have been deducted.

The other drawback of pulleyapp.com is that it only supports downloading content rather than viewing it online. In my case this meant downloading large video files that would be better off streamed. Not only did this damage the user experience it also dramatically increased my monthly fee (which is based on the amount of storage you use).

What then is the alternative for somebody who wishes to occasionally sell content online?

A better way

There are surprisingly few systems that support a pay per post approach. Although there are services that provide a subscription-based model, there was little for people like me that just wanted to sell the occasional piece of content.


I did find a couple of services that looked promising. Magic Members and Cleeng looked like they would do the job and indeed they did. However in both cases the user experience was atrocious. Where users of pulleyapp.com could click a single link and go straight to PayPal, both of these other systems require users to first register and then find their way back to the products before finally making a purchase. This struck me as unnecessarily convoluted.

Eventually I settled on a WordPress plug-in called eStore.

eStore makes the purchase process one click.

What attracted me to this plug-in was that it worked in almost an identical way to pulleyapp.com. However, it also came with a number of advantages:

  • At $49 it cost less than I was paying per month for pulleyapp.com.
  • It was a one-time fee rather than a monthly subscription. This meant every sale was 100% profit.
  • As well as supporting file download it also enabled me to offer pay per post. This meant the user no longer had to download large video files but could play them online.
  • It was self hosted and therefore did not rely on a service that might go off-line.
  • Finally estore offered me the ability to provide more complex e-commerce functionality in future. For example it also offered a shopping cart facility, the ability to sell physical items and a subscription model if I wanted it.

Despite the powerful functionality I was impressed how lightweight the plug-in was. Unlike others that I looked at it did not produce unnecessarily ugly code or put a load on the client with an excessive use of JavaScript.

Lessons to be learnt

Hopefully this blog post will save you some legwork if like me you want to sell content online with minimum fuss and the maximum profit. However, I also think there are some valuable lessons for those of us providing web applications and services like pulleyapp.com. These include:

  • It’s vitally important to get your pricing structure correct.
  • User experience is everything (especially when it comes to ecommerce).
  • If you are going to offer a hosted solution you have to make it as reliable as possible and provide potential customers with some reassurance.
  • If you are messing with the code on some bodies website make sure it is lightweight and does basic things like validate!

What has your experience been of ecommerce solutions and web services generally? Praise and criticise in the comments below :)