In general, I am wary of conspiracy theories without a ton of evidence to back them up. (For the record, I do believe there was a conspiracy to kill JFK, mainly because I’ve spent time studying the evidence at college.) There are a lot of theories floating around in the blogosphere, mainly because of the disconnect between probable credit card policies and actions taken to please PayPal:
CC companies: Adult entertainment (pr0n) carries high fraud rates, so they charge more for bank insurance to processors. They may categorize ALL erotica as “pr0n” or only SOME erotica as “pr0n.”
PayPal: The company possibly
a) doesn’t want to pay “pr0n” fees, or
b) does pay adult entertainment fees already.
If a) is the case, then either
1. PP thinks its other adult entertainment can fly under the radar if it culls the edgy titles and prevents complaints, or
2. wants to invoke a morals clause simply to protect its and eBay’s brand.
If b) is the case, then either
1. PP thinks it might have to renegotiate rates with the credit card companies if it doesn’t cull the edgier titles, or
2. PP is in no danger of higher rates and simply wants to invoke a morals clause for brand protection, or
3. The CC companies issue a warning to PP for some arbitrary reason — politics, risk analysis, whatever — that could result in fines or suspension, or
4. Some other reason I haven’t thought of yet, and there are tons of possibilities.
eBook Vendors: They decide either to ban ALL self-published authors and small presses or ban EDGY titles only, or both.
In other words, the possible reasons for the end results differing from what we SUSPECT is going on in corporate headquarters of PP and the CC companies are numerous.
Over on the KindleBoards, speculation has been flying about possible corporate sabotage by Amazon or other competitors who want to consolidate the erotica market. I HIGHLY doubt that’s what is happening here, although almost anything is technically possible. What is far more likely is that people in the CC companies who set policy don’t know or don’t care that the risk of fraud from ebooks is a lot less than from actual pr0n, and PayPal wants to save money and narrow its ToS to avoid paying more money because some titles won’t pass the sniff test.
As many have pointed out, this crackdown by PayPal — or ON PayPal — is not consistent, because Amazon and B&N still sell “pseudo-ince$t” and “barely leg@l” titles, as well as blow-up dolls, adult magazines, bondage equipment etc.
eBay, the parent company of PayPal, currently sells erotica books by individual vendors, as well as fetish equipment and adult magazines that cater to kink, even thought PayPal considers these legal actions to be “rape.”
BookStrand’s Siren line still sells “twince$t” and threesome titles that are incestuous, but they are their own titles. Indies are now banned from selling any books on Bookstrand.
There have been lots of ideas offered up in the past week as to alternative means of processing payments so as not to draw the seizure of accounts threat by PayPal. These ideas work under the assumption that most small presses would not be able to afford to use the alternative adult entertainment payment processors.
1. eBookstores could employ subscription-based services, where payments going to PayPal would be based on a timeframe or a certain number of downloaded stories. The payments, therefore, would in theory be for access to subscription-based services / access to the websites rather than for individual titles, so the individual titles would never be reported to PayPal.
2. eBookstores could simply eat the losses of a return policy on certain titles rather than refusing refunds that would drive chargebacks to PayPal or the cc companies. If a customer had a habit of demanding refunds for everything, a bookstore could simply ban that customer and refund all purchases tied to that credit card and notify PP and the cc companies of the transfer to head off possible revenge chargebacks. I actually like this idea the best, but I have no idea if it’s feasible or not.
3. eBookstores contact PP or the cc companies and try to carve out a compromise or exemption from the adult entertainment category that imposes higher fees, based on hard sales data and risk analysis. They ask to find some sort of workaround where the bookstores would cover possible chargeback costs of kinky titles. Kind of like option 2, but with more official cooperation and permanent, transparent procedures.
Broader Consequences for Independent Presses and Self-Publishers
None of these options guarantee a permanent fix for this problem, but I fear for the long-term harm this may cause to the ebook industry, especially to the independent wing of the publishing industry if people DON’T push back against this de facto, corporate exclusion of uncensored literary content.
While I’m positive that most if not all of the major ebook distributors have indemnity clauses to cover their butts if a self-published author publishes content that results in a lawsuit, it’s not far-fetched to imagine companies taking a closer look at the liability exposure they have acquired by taking on virtually anyone who submits content. Given that independent content doesn’t usually go through the the hands of more than one editor or have to pass even a general infringement or libel sniff test, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that many smaller stores will simply decide it’s not worth the legal or financial risks to publish just anyone. They may turn to forming their own curation systems and take the place of traditional editors, becoming editor-distributors.
What I believe is far more likely to happen, however, is most authors will simply self-censor to stay in business and sell books off of their own websites or in small collectives of a few authors. PayPal or someone else may grab an even larger share of online payment processing. All of the really hardcore kink (and even that label is incredibly subjective as of this week) will end up being centralized in one big new store that can afford to use an adult entertainment processor, and they will have a lock on authors who want to publish those kinds of titles.
The end result will probably be the rise of new gatekeepers, even higher walls around the walled gardens of forbidden entertainment, and more and more writers finding themselves boxed into walled gardens they didn’t even know existed.