One of the most popular Paypal questions I get asked is this – “If I want to sell my ebook/downloadable content using Paypal, how can I ensure that the purchaser can only download it if their purchase completes successfully”.

This is an entirely logical question since the basic Paypal setup works by processing the customer’s payment and then returning them to a nominated page on your website or blog which is coded into the Paypal button. This is all very well when you’re selling physical items and have the luxury of checking the payment status, but not so good for instantly downloadable items. You don’t want to keep your customer waiting for their content do you? What if they’re in a different timezone from you and you’re asleep when they order. They’re not going to be happy when they receive an email from you 5 hours later with instructions on where to download their purchase.

There are also other reasons, apart from customer satisfaction, why when you want your order fulfillment to be automated, that the basic Paypal payment button is not sufficient for your needs. Why is this the case?

Well either of the following can easily occur if you have downloadable content accessible from this page:-

  1. Purchasers can share the address/URL of your page with their friends, or
  2. Anyone can view the source of your web page which reveals the URL (address) if it is included in the button code.

Hardly a foolproof system is it 🙂

So what’s the answer, it’s called Paypal’s Immediate Payment Notification Service or IPN for short. This system enables you to sell but in a way that utilises backend processing on your website or blog, so you can use various methods to secure your valuable content. Yes, it’s more complicated, requiring the use of a scripting language such as PHP, but in my experience it’s excellent.

When the order is finalised, whether it completes successfully or otherwise, Paypal’s systems send information to your script behind the scenes, advising of the outcome. Your script can then do the necessary processing, either fulfilling the order or advising the purchaser of any difficulties/delays etc. I always also ensure that any scripts I develop send the purchaser an email, since a lot of people don’t read what’s in front of them on the screen.

So what do you need to do to activate IPN on your Paypal account?

You can activate it from within your Paypal account and you’ll find further instructions here.

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