PayPal Reverses Course, Possibly, Somewhat — Stay Vigilant

The Good News

Banned Writers just posted that PayPal has reversed its earlier decision to prohibit all content with controversial themes in it. This is extremely good news. Smashwords has a site update about it as well:

March 12, 2012 – PayPal update:  I met with PayPal this afternoon at their office in San Jose.  They will soon announce revised content policies that I expect will please the Smashwords community.  Effective immediately, we are returning our Terms of Service to back to its pre-February 24 state.  Beyond that, our friends at PayPal have asked me to hold off sharing additional details until they’ve had a chance to finalize their new policies. Thank you for your patience and support during this crazy last few weeks.

I’m excited that Smashwords is reverting its ToS to pre-February 24th terms and that Mark Coker actually went and visited PayPal’s headquarters to speak with them off the record about the impact of their decision, only to discover that they were, in fact, going to back down. I’m breathing a sigh of relief that one of the future imprints at my author collective will be able to publish dark literary erotica without limiting its offerings only to Amazon and B&N or encouraging me or anyone else to self-censor any more than we already subconsciously do. I’m glad that I no longer feel completely ethically obligated to shut down my eBay side business in order to take a stand (not that I make much money there anymore anyway).

Do I feel secure? Do I have any assurances that this issue won’t rear its ugly head again at a later date, when a company thinks no one will be paying attention?


…And the Bad

1. Our allies are each other, some other genre writers, and our readers. Self-publishers on the whole are not willing to stick their necks out for us, and certainly most independent distributors won’t unless they think they can win the argument.

In my previous post on the specious arguments critics made against taking a stand on erotica censorship, I explored, among several issues, why it behooves us to be vocal on issues that only affect us indirectly in the beginning. (I can’t believe I just used the word “behoove.” Wow.) There was a not-so-brief explanation of why I find the so-called free-market worship running rampant among self-publishers both annoying and unhelpful. The post also went on to dissect and repudiate many of the arguments that those outside of the kinkier erotica subgenres were clinging to as excuses for not speaking out against PayPal.

One of the more ironic parts in all of this was that some of the more rabid free-market advocates were excoriating erotica writers for blaming PayPal instead of the credit card companies, or instead of themselves. Then we found out from Visa that Visa, for its part, denied putting ANY pressure on PayPal to crack down on erotica.

Basically, it was as I and many others suspected: PayPal was instituting this policy for reasons unknown, entirely independent of the cc companies. This brings me to another important point to be made:

2. We still have no idea what started this whole imbroglio. No idea whatsoever.

Now we know what Visa didn’t do. We still have no idea how it or any other credit card company decides which kinds of entertainment merit higher handling fees, or if the banks are exerting pressure on them or PayPal, or what the heck’s going on on their end.

PayPal decided to impose censorship on its own. Fine. What do we make of all of the alternative payment processors who supposedly told Selena Kitt “NO” when she asked if they would process payments for the kind of erotica that was going to be banned by PayPal? If Visa thinks the default is “all fiction is fiction and therefore legal in the U.S.,” why did Kitt run into a unified wall of resistance to processing payments for her banned books?

While I can see some of these processors erring on the side of legal caution if they operate out of foreign countries, it is unlikely that ALL of them are foreign-owned or operated entities. Some payments processors still exist that cater to h@rdcore adult films. So what gives?

[I had a section here on the shifting definition of erotica, but that’s another post for another day.]

Yes, You DO Make Waves

Whatever your feelings on censorship and business practice, most would agree this is a good day for independent authors and small business owners alike. Due to the nature of corporate bureaucracy, it is rare for any large company to reverse a decision like this. It isn’t the only time this has happened, though — witness the Netflix/Quikster fiasco last year and Bank of America’s reversal on debit card fees. The backlashes on Twitter and Facebook were swift and brutal. SOPA/PIPA are effectively dead because of massive protests on social media.

This was the same process on a smaller scale. Social media activity gave the movement the critical mass it needed to reach the ears of people who command respect and fear from corporations.

Let me excerpt a quote from Mark Coker’s latest email to Smashwords authors (emphasis mine):

Smashwords authors, publishers and customers mobilized. You made telephone calls, wrote emails and letters, started and signed petitions, blogged, tweeted, Facebooked and drove the conversation. You made the difference.  Without you, no one would have paid attention. I would also like to thank the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). These three advocacy groups were the first to stand up for our authors, publishers and customers. Their contribution cannot be overstated.  We collaborated with them to build a coalition of like-minded organizations to support our mutual cause. Special kudos to Rainey Reitman of EFF for her energy, enthusiasm and leadership.

I would also like to thank all the bloggers and journalists out there who helped carry our story forward by lending their platforms to get the story out.  Special thanks to TechCrunch, Slashdot, TechDirt, The Independent (UK), Reuters, Publishers Weekly, Dow Jones, The Digital Reader, CNET, Forbes, GalleyCat & EbookNewser and dozens of others too numerous to mention.

In order for organizations and blogs with large readerships and general news crossover to notice an issue in the first place, THERE HAS TO BE NOISE. That’s why I so vehemently disagreed with Sarah Hoyt, Kris Rusch, and others in my last post: signal boosting — tweeting and reblogging and facebook posting — does make a difference.

Not to harp on Kris Rusch (and whoever is sending her nasty emails rather than disagreeing with her publicly in a respectful manner, seriously, you need to STOP, that shit is Not Cool), but when she says this:

“Rather than shouting on various blogs, Mark Coker and others took action. And they won. This is how it’s done, folks. It’s a textbook example of fighting a bad business decision with a strong business-oriented response.”

I have to re-iterate, that action is a reaction to the outcry. First, as another commenter stated and Rusch admits, much of the “action” taken beyond simply calling out the corporate censorship came from the writers themselves. The letter back from Visa, which provided Coker and everyone else with a challenge from Visa to PayPal — business to business, no less — on the credulity of PayPal’s claims of outside pressure. Second, all of that “noise” that has received undeserved scorn was the reason news blogs and free speech advocates and privacy advocates noticed the problem in the first place and undertook direct “action.”

Set aside social justice definitions of “direct action.” We’ll call the tweeting and blogging and facebook posting indirect action. This indirect action either led people in the larger, more respected institutions to either notice the issue themselves or cause someone else to notify them. The end result is the same.

But let’s play devil’s advocate for a second.

Even if I were to view all of the “noise” in the blogosphere and social media networks as unprofessional and a waste of time when concerned with direct communication with PayPal et al., it bolsters your position significantly when you can point to a large amount of consumer and client interest in the outcome of a dispute. I personally don’t sign internet petitions, because they’re rarely verifiable, and I don’t want to give out my personal info on them. However, they can be decent gauges of public interest in a cause. The personal outcries, however, are far more important.

Furthermore, as a business person, I employ marketing techniques to reach the most people and at least expose them to my products if not influence them to buy my products. The more people who click on my links, the more people will buy my products and the more people will talk about my products.

What tools do we use in this new digital word to cheaply reach vast numbers of people and spread our message? Social media. It’s about exposure, persuasion, and amplification.

As a business person, I want a favorable outcome in this dispute. Therefore, I use social media to reach large groups of people and to influence them, or to persuade them to amplify my opinion into speaking out.

The only difference here is I am substituting opinions for products.

Yes, this is always a higher-risk proposition that simply marketing a product that may be imperfect, because ideas are usually more controversial than products. However, as long as you are informed on the subject, you are empowered to make a difference. Give waves enough time and space on the ocean, and they will become tidal waves.

In this case, “noise” was more than just noise. It was a demand for respect and a fair shot. Noise tipped the scales. Noise was power.

You did make a difference.

I think that’s a good message to take away from all of this.




Book Banning, Business, Civil Liberties, Corporations Behaving Badly, Independent Publishing, Problems, Publishing Industry , , , , , , , , ,

Shilling for Traffic – “Rebuttals” Against Speaking Out Against Censorship Ring Hollow

Warning — the inevitable mix of politics into this discussion will occur.

For two weeks or so, writers, many of them not even involved in erotic writing, have spoken out against the decision by PayPal to enforce, supposedly at the behest of Visa and Master Card (Discovery, too? Who knows?), a ban on all credit transactions for the purchase of erotica. Not just any erotica, though — vanilla, missionary position sex is okay. It’s just the ince$t*, pseudo-ince$t, besti@lity, rape for titillation and underage / b@rely legal sex. The consequences of this, while immediate for erotica writers, will have long-term, more insidious effects on indie writers of all genres.

About a week after the outcry started to reach critical mass, a few of the more (or less) influential blogger/writers started weighing in. Surprise, surprise! They all pulled the Sit Down and Shut Up Card, or as Selena Kitt has appropriately renamed it, the Sit Up and Shut Down Card.

Now, if I were being cynical, I would say that it looks pretty damn bad when some of your friends are rightly concerned about the future of online reading and say so and you’re sitting there, silent, not doing anything. I would posit that being contrarian and disagreeing with an opinion with which most others agree DRIVES TRAFFIC, and along the lines of “All Publicity Is Good Publicity,” more traffic drives more sales. Or PayPal donations, which is how Rusch asks her readers to pay for her blog posts each week. AWKWARD!

Also, who wants to be late to the party? After observing years of social justice and fandom interactions online, I am convinced that the longer you stay out of the loop on a big controversy, the more you will try to convince yourself that said controversy is stupid or flawed or not worth your energy, because it’s a massive ego blow to be out of touch, or to find yourself on the opposite side of your friends, or to discover personal flaws you never knew you had. John Scalzi has demonstrated this phenomenon repeatedly.

I really should name this concept Rowle’s Law of Contrarianism or something cool like that. Free advertising forEVAH!

Now, all of these people usually give invaluable business advice on how writers can stand up for themselves, and I’m not going to diss them as people or stop following their blogs or recommending their articles simply because we obviously have big philosophical differences. I like challenging my own beliefs; what are they worth if they can’t stand up to criticism?

Go back through my blog posts; you’ll find a number of times I’ve linked to Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blogs. They’ve said a lot of valuable things about the industry, and they will long after this issue fades from memory.

But no one is right all of the time. In this case, they’re all wrong to varying degrees.

I also think it’s because independent writers and publishers have to function as small business owners to survive in this new digital era, and as a result, there is a constant undercurrent of libertarianism that runs throughout the self-publishing area of the blogosphere.

That’s fine when it comes to privacy issues. I think most people need to wake up and pay more attention to the slow and constant erosion of privacy, both online and off. (Voter ID just passed in Pennsylvania. I’m moving  as soon as possible anyway.) When Jeff Jarvis says people have always whined about the death of privacy and we’re all here and nothing happened, he forgets that people in the 1950s didn’t store people’s social security numbers and shopping habits and addresses in giant databases and sell them to everyone except the people who should own the control of that information, because they didn’t have the Internet in the fifties. NOTHING RELEASED ON THE INTERNET EVER REALLY DISAPPEARS. NOTHING. Jeff Jarvis is willfully obtuse, and that’s why Google and Facebook pay him to promote his “openness for everyone” meme all over Teh Intarwebz.

When it comes to the “free market RULES!” theories and “regulations are bad” and “the government is evil” and “corporations are people, too” ideas, however, I have to stop and call bullshit.

Libertarian economics had its time. Clinton de-regulated a huge chunk of the financial markets and expected everyone to play nicely, so then came the advent of or increase in derivatives, credit default swaps and high-frequency trading. Ten years of unfettered stock exploitation, coupled with predatory lending by large banks and mortgage brokers, almost brought down the entire worldwide financial system.

We tried a laissez-faire approach in affiliate marketing. I say this as a former affiliate marketer. Ninety percent of the people I worked around were R** P*** supporters, raging misogynists, and not-so-closeted racist douchebags. Doing white hat SEO didn’t make enough people enough money at a fast enough speed, and the environment morphed into a constant game of one-upmanship between marketers and Google. So many people gamed AdSense and AdWords that Google clamped down. Marketers then ruined selling digital goods for everyone on eBay with Public Label Rights crap, and now I can’t sell ebooks there unless they’re on CD-ROM. Yeay, because everyone wants to party like it’s 1995!

Then scrapers pulled content from websites and created garbled text to fool Google and game its system with spammy sites and reposted blog excerpts to such an extent that Google had to drastically change its algorithms. The result? Devastation in the freelance content business. Good job, a$$holes!

People and corporations — especially corporations — DO NOT AND WILL NOT SELF-REGULATE. The fox cannot guard the henhouse. It just doesn’t work. People are greedy and will exploit loopholes and cut corners and hire cheap unsafe labor and lie and defraud, and the only way that’s going to be kept in check is if a third party monitors commerce and imposes consequences for breaking the rules.

[If you want to argue about the merits of libertarianism, please stick to how they relate to publishing. I realize this post will probably piss off people. I don’t care. If you try to troll on here, I will not approve your comment, and you will be banned. You can whine about how evil regulation is on someone else’s blog. It’s a free internet, right? Get it?

I’m welcome to accepting reading recommendations from libertarians via email. For every book I agree to read and review, you have to read one of mine, starting with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. That introduction about the Amerindians at the beginning relates to my people. Yes, Columbus was a mass murderer. Deal.]

How does this relate back to writing and censorship, you say? I’m glad you asked.

The “Corporations Are People, Too!” Argument

Joe Konrath’ said (bolding mine):

‘The Founding Fathers would be appalled at the size and power of these institutions.‘ (Robert Szeles)

So, go forth and prosper, but don’t prosper too much?

That seems silly. We need organizations to limit the growth and subsequent power of organizations?

PayPal isn’t a Ma Bell monopoly. It simply isn’t. It doesn’t control an industry, and the Internet abounds with choice.

It does happen to be an increasingly popular way to pay for things. It worked hard to become that. And it is allowed to decide which goods and services it wants to align itself with.

The whole point of freedom is to protect those with unpopular opinions, and allow all of us to do as we please. So we have certain inalienable rights, but corporate entities don’t? Just by complaining about some perceived injustice we can force retailers to sell things they don’t want to sell? How is that fair?

Let’s parse.

So, go forth and prosper, but don’t prosper too much?

So, as long as a company operates as a corporation and buys whatever legislation it needs through lobbying, it should be able to create a monopoly?

We need organizations to limit the growth and subsequent power of organizations?

Eventually, yes. See above, with the foxes and henhouses. I happen to like my apple juice arsenic-free, my child’s toys devoid of lead, my beef inspected, and the airplane I trust with my life to have to undergo government inspections. Why does PayPal get a free pass, especially if it’s acting like a bank?

PayPal isn’t a Ma Bell monopoly. It simply isn’t. It doesn’t control an industry, and the Internet abounds with choice.

It IS a monopoly. Ask the average consumer what the best alternative company to PayPal is. Go on, I’ll wait.

Still waiting.

It does happen to be an increasingly popular way to pay for things. It worked hard to become that.

You make it sound like PayPal is a scrappy factory worker who pulled himself up by his own bootstraps (don’t get me started on bootstraps), rose through the ranks, and ended up running the company.

In reality, it spawned out of investment from its founders, among them Peter Thiel, who was already successful by that point in time. Thiel sold PayPal to eBay who made it unprofitable to use any service other than PayPal on eBay after eBay had acquired nearly full control of the online auctions market. PayPal has always had lousy customer service and has used shady tactics since its inception, like seizing twice the funds it needed to complete a transaction. (I was once part of a class action lawsuit from 2001, but I never saw any money from a settlement. Since then I’ve been notified of at least two more.) I want to know why it “deserves” more rights to decide what people buy when what people buy is legal.

The whole point of freedom is to protect those with unpopular opinions, and allow all of us to do as we please. So we have certain inalienable rights, but corporate entities don’t?

Herein lies the problem. Most people don’t know that the Supreme Court gave corporations the designation of “entity,” and I imagine if we put it to a popular vote, giving civil rights to faceless corporate entities would be voted out of existence.

Yet here we are, in a day and age where a corporation (or LLC) is, for most intents and purposes, a person. So how come they can’t vote? Answer: they don’t need to; they can just donate money to SuperPACs and pick the nominees for us with millions of negative, lying ads! Thanks, Citizens United! I wonder if the Supreme Court does takebacks?

Seriously, there’s a reason why entities have EINs and people have SSNs. We don’t think companies should be the exact equivalent of people or be able to vote directly, which is in itself an admission that the whole concept of “corporations are people” is crap.

A corporation does not have a conscience. It does not aspire to a system of morality except for the ethics suggested by its employees or owners, and even then, the underlying motivation trumps that: PROFIT.

By definition, incorporated businesses (not necessarily LLCs) are required to issue stock, public or private, and to pursue profit above all else. That’s what the articles of incorporation say in one way or another.

So U.S. law has given incorporated companies, basically pieces of paper, many of the rights and privileges enjoyed by living, breathing human beings (and sometimes more rights and privileges than human beings). I’m not going to act like that hasn’t happened, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

There’s a big difference between understanding how business works and approving of how parts of the economy work. I think LLCs are valuable privacy tools. I still hope that someday they are stripped of their legal mantle of personhood and the “free market” invents new ways of protecting privacy.

Corporations are not people. They do not hate, love, fear, or suffer the way we do. They are amoral by design and answer to no master. When you imply that corporations like PayPal and Visa and Master Card are the victims here for wanting to prevent people from purchasing content that they aren’t even themselves selling through what will become the predominant method of global commerce, the Internet, and blame the people actually harmed, the writers and consumers, for infringing on the rights of corporations? I LAUGH. I laugh at you.

PayPal is not the retailer. If it were just a matter of starting up another ebookstore, it would be a pain in the butt, but it would be doable. PayPal is a payment processor, and there are no affordable alternatives.

I’ll Start My Own Payment Processor If You Give Me 10 Million Dollars and Buy Off Some Congresspeople and Judges

The condescension really rolls off these posts in waves, doesn’t it? Check out this comment from Kris Rusch:

I am not saying take credit cards over the internet. Nor am I telling you to violate the law. Make a catalog that people can access on the internet. Have them fill out a form, print it out, –and (gasp!) mail it to you. With a check. Or a credit card number if you have a credit card reader for your business. After they pay, send them a private link to a website where they can download your story. It’s cumbersome, but it’ll work.

There are ways around things, folks. If it’s important to you, find the way. Sometimes that way is going back to the pre-web way of doing things. So do that until someone invents something better.

Somewhat derisive tone aside, there is a logic flaw here. If the credit card companies are disallowing you from using their cards in connection with fringe erotica online, why would they not audit and ban you offline? You would have to lie or obfuscate what you were selling, and that sounds sketchy if not fraudulent to me.

I suppose you could sell “clean” short stories and offer a paired fringe erotica story for free with each purchase, but automated delivery workarounds aside, I suspect payment processors would catch on and not care what was actually being sold so long as the payment button  was on a website advertising fringe products in any way.

For someone on the cutting edge of digital publishing, Rusch’s suggestion of reverting to print strikes me as patently absurd. We’re trying to advance into the future, not fall back into the past. Erotica is often an impulse purchase. Waiting days for a money order to clear and a book or disc to be mailed is not a viable business solution. Before someone makes the snarky comment that no writer has the right to make a living at this, you’re right. Except writers do have the right, so long as it is legal to read, sell and distribute fringe erotica, to make an attempt to make a living.

If competition on equal terms means competition through equal opportunity, then by restricting only small businesses and independent writers in what kinds of entertainment and speech they can sell electronically while allowing film companies to market similar kinds of pornography (you can buy Baisez-Moi, a rape to revenge erotic film, on eBay) and Amazon to decide it will sell BDSM toys and all kinds of fiction depicting rape, murder, bestiality, incest, and underage sex but not erotica specifically, the payment processors and the credit card companies are, in my view, exerting unfair trade practices on those businesses and writers.

These kinds of cases have gone to court in the film industry. The problem is that those companies had significant money and backing from several influential sources. Independent authors don’t have that much clout or cash.

People keep bringing up the same ideas as “solutions.” When someone says to me, “Don’t like it? Find another payment processor!” or “Create your own online store!” or “Start your own payment processor” or “Wait until the free market creates a solution,” I have to restrain myself from digitally punching them in the face.

This “free market” is an illusion. The market isn’t free in the ways that it should be free, primarily because those companies who didn’t have enough regulation to keep them from creating monopolies have poured money into politics and sent people from their industries into the regulatory agencies, to such an extent that what little regulation is left has no teeth. It took Amazon a decade to grow into the powerhouse it is today. If there was going to be a viable alternative to PayPal and Visa and Master Card that vendors would accept as payment, don’t you think it would have come along by now? There is a reason why there are, for all intents and purposes, only four major credit card companies.

It calls to mind someone telling a kid of color in 1985, “If you don’t like the fact that all of the stars of children’s TV shows are white, make your own TV show.” Yeah. Because THAT’S going to happen.

[I’m having flashbacks to Mysterious Cities of Gold. Why Nickelodeon put that show on at 6 a.m. before I was ever awake, we’ll never know. *sings the theme song* “Children of the sun, see your your time has just begun…”]

Censorship Isn’t Just a Legal Concept

Some people erroneously believe that if something occurs that falls outside of their pre-conceived, textbook, high school history class definition, it doesn’t merit that definition. Real life is more complicated than that.

What we are discussing when arguing about PayPal, Visa, Master Card, the banks, etc. and their undue influence by threat of monetary loss if companies are not compliant is called corporate censorship.

The end result to the writer and the consumer is the same: no access.

I’m going to repost Selina Kitt’s comment on Joe Konrath’s blog, because it bears repeating:

I’m tired of hearing the “sit up and shut down” comments or the “put up or shut up” ones.

But I do want to make this clear, as I’ve made clear elsewhere – the brilliant “solutions” that people have come up with in light of this turn of events aren’t real solutions at all.

Because while some of you have been spouting off about “solutions” that you haven’t researched yourself – some of us have actually been working on them.

So you can’t sell your stuff on these other sites? Big deal. Create your own store to sell your work…

Already did that back in 2008, thanks for the suggestion though.

Oh stop whining, just go find an alternate payment source!

If you’re honest with the processor about what you’re selling, THERE ISN’T ONE.

That’s right, there’s no viable alternative. And I’ve not been sitting on my ass doing nothing, trust me.

I have had, literally, dozens of conversations with CC processors in the past two weeks and I have a colleague who has talked to at least that many herself and we have both run into the same thing from every single one – NO CC processor will allow anything related to incest, pseudo incest, bestiality or rape for titillation. Period. Including all those processors that normally take extreme adult material like CCBill and Verotel. (Those places that normally process “porn” payments…)

My recent foray into high risk and adult merchant processors (including those offshore – the ones that process the really, really, REALLY hardcore porn stuff) has proven even further that this is the CC processors and not just PP who is behind this, that this is a new mandate, and it’s being enforced and will continue to be enforced across the board.

I was referred, through several channels, to a guy who could get an account for *anyone.* He told me personally that his company dealt with some of the most “fringe” and risky Internet businesses out there.

He turned my application in to his underwriter who came back with an immediate NO due to “illegal activity.”.

That’s right, apparently writing FICTION about sex between two consenting adults is “illegal” now? It’s okay for Woody Allen to DO it… but it’s not okay for an author to write FICTION about it?

As a matter of fact, between you and me – he said that he hadn’t seen a crackdown like this since the one against online gaming (i.e. gambling) and that came, ultimately, from the senate. He told me that, in that case, the CC processors were getting their ducks in a row prior to legislation they knew would be passed. Perhaps they are doing so again?

Fine, then just capitalize on this, see it as an opportunity and create your own payment processor!

Create my own bank. Right. Should I create my own religion too? Maybe I should invent teleportation while I’m at it…

As to the censorship thing – calling it or not calling it “censorship.” Yes, this is a first world problem. No one is shooting us down in the streets for speaking our thoughts or writing manifestos.

So no, it isn’t government censorship (and I’ve acknowledged this elsewhere as well) – but as Robert so brilliantly pointed out, it IS a form of economic censorship, and it’s just as important to stand up against it. Not just important. Imperative.

I would go to the wall for an author’s right to write and sell torture-porn (ala Hostel, Saw etc etc) but when it comes to sex and the edgy subject of incest or pseudoincest, no one wants to stand up for it?

Even Neil Gaiman said we have to defend those things we find reprehensible if we want to protect our rights.

We have to protect icky speech too.

Michele McCleod and Mz. Kitt have made these points repeatedly, and no one has adequately addressed them, because some would prefer to just respond with snippy one-liners that aren’t answers.

Really, if you know someone who will go on the record as taking payments for fringe erotica, why not just SAY SO and prove them wrong? Don’t you think that the people whose livelihoods depend on this are already taking it seriously and have already done their research, and that maybe they have good reason to be concerned about there being NO reasonable, legal alternatives?

Don’t You Have Less Important Issues To Think About?

From “You Asked For My Opinion”:

Why are you spending so much time promoting an agenda that you don’t even understand? Shouldn’t you be working on your own business? Shouldn’t you be writing a novel or a nonfiction book or a short story? Shouldn’t you be promoting yourself and your work instead of screaming about how someone else manages their work?

Is any of this really your business? Will your little blog post or comment on some big corporate website make a difference? Will your Tweet save the world?

This is a rather clever strawman and an inverse of the more social-justice oriented derailing tactic called Don’t You Have More Important Issues To Think About? (Note: I am NOT calling this a social justice issue, merely illustrating a similar, albeit poor, derailing tactic.) Rather than arguing that there are much more important Big Issues in the World than [insert social justice controversy], Rusch’s argument is that if it doesn’t affect you, you shouldn’t care and should just mind your own damn business. Literally.

It’s a great way to go through life, not caring about anything until it actually affects you. Because I’m sure people throughout history have been able to win battles with an army of one!

It sounded like a such a ridiculously self-centered argument that I had to go back and re-read the post. Yes, that is actually what Rusch said. She actually went further than that earlier in the post:

Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me if you hate Amazon or love it; if you think PayPal is screwing you or you think  they’re the best thing since sliced bread.  I really, sincerely, don’t care.

Because your opinion has no impact on my business.

It has an impact if someone decides not to donate to you through your PayPal button.

Just saying.

And Finally, the Biggest Lie of All

The dumbest argument I’ve seen for not protesting PayPal’s censorship had to the comment from Woelf on Konrath’s post:

Anonymous said:
“The last time I checked murder, mutilation and sadistic violence were also illegal acts, yet there’s plenty of fiction depicting those. Joe’s books included.”

Sure, but I did not include those categories as they are part of the plot and not the main focus.

Are so many people THAT NAIVE as to think that people are titillated by the violence and sex in non-erotica books?

CLUEFLASH FOR THE CLUELESS AUTHORS: We readers often buy your books specifically for the subplots. Lots of times, we only buy your books because we know there are parts that we get off on.

I’m going to repeat that for emphasis, because I’m not sure it has sunken in yet:

Lots of times, we only buy your books because we know there are parts that we get off on.

Most women, for example will have at least one rape fantasy in their lifetime. Statistics vary, but the latest one I saw said that 40 percent of women regularly have rape fantasies.

They’re called fantasies for a reason, people. They’re NOT REAL, and they provide sexual release. Stop being so squeamish. These are your wives, sisters, daughters, mothers, and friends. They don’t tell you this because society has taught them to fear and suppress their sexual desires. But those fantasies are there.

I like stories with rape in them. I’ve bought tons of books and movies with rape in them solely because they had sexual violence in parts of them. It has absolutely nothing to do with being an assault survivor. I just enjoy them, full stop. I like them even better if the rapist dies a gruesome death.

Shocking, right? That I would buy your story not for the wonderful characterization and plotting or the meaning of life quandary you set up in chapter seven but because I might dream about the rape scene in chapter nine. OH NOES! WTFBBQ!!!!11!!111

Well, I’ve given you your money, right? Aren’t you just a dispassionate business person? Why should you care? *wankity wankity wank*

HINT: It’s none of anyone’s freaking business what I read or watch or listen to or what I do with my body in the privacy of my own home.

Look. You can take this seriously, or you can sit back and be silent. It’s your choice. But remember that we’re always one midterm election away from conservative religious hypocrites who will introduce forced vaginal probing, 430 anti-choice bills a year in state legislatures, and who will prosecute you for writing fiction they deem obscene if you happen to live in the wrong state.

The more well-known you are, the easier it is for people to remember where you stood on important issues. When your time comes, who will stand up for you?


Book Banning, Business, Civil Liberties, Corporations Behaving Badly, Idiocy, Independent Publishing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Erotica Book Banning Roundup – Part 2, and Smashwords Bows Under Pressure

NEWEST UPDATES (currently 4:45 p.m. March 13th) ARE HIGHLIGHTED IN ORANGE.

For previous info on the erotica book banning imbroglio of this past week, please see my previous posts:

PayPal, eBay, Visa, and MasterCard Equate All Kinky Erotica with Pr0n
Erotica Book Banning Round-Up, Part 1

Key Points in the Erotica Book Banning Hijinks
Shilling for Traffic – “Rebuttals” Against Speaking Out Against Censorship Ring Hollow

Smashwords Caves In, Bans Edgy Erotica Categories

If you haven’t heard the bad news by now, Smashwords received a formal demand from PayPal, which was already a sketchy, under-regulated entity long before this, that they remove all erotica with rape-as-titillation, ince$t and pseudo-ince$t, underage characters having sex, and bestiality. Their announcement covering their immediate changes in policy can be read in full at their website.

[ETA: PayPal forbid X-rated content when eBay bought the company, back in 2003. I’m curious as to why it allows some companies to continue to sell erotica and others have one hell of a time trying to work with them.]

Naturally, this was the other shoe dropping that many independent authors and publishers feared; without alternative distributors, most of them have little recourse but to take down their edgier titles and self-censor in the future, as Amazon and Barnes & Noble already have stricter guidelines in place, and Amazon has banned books on a whim in the past.

One small press has come to rescue temporarily. No Boundaries Press, a small ebookstore that opened just last month, has agreed to accept books that BookStrand, All Romance eBooks, and Smashwords have deemed unacceptable for their stores. Contact information and details are here for authors who are interested.

As I discussed in my last post, the future of independently and un-curated literature is more in flux now that ever before. As new systems of commerce evolve and expand, some growing pains are inevitable, but this is not and should not be an inevitable outcome of the rise of ebook dominance. There have to be better ways of categorizing content to distinguish erotic romance from erotica than to simply ban controversial subjects and exclude independent authors from the negotiating table.

Erotica Book Banning Roundup, Part 2

I’ve tried to combine the old links with links to the tons of new posts that have cropped up in the past few days as the story has gained more widespread attention. If you see something I’ve missed, please let me know in a comment and I will try to add it in a timely manner.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the posts linked to below are not my own, nor do I endorse any of the views contained therein. The point of this roundup is to signal-boost and document the depth and spread of this story. Any of these sites may or may not be NSFW.

February 16th:
PayPal, BookStrand and Censorship (Marlene Sexton) *
Censorship Spreading to Ebookstores? (Tessie L’Amour) *  ***
All Those Angered by Censorship Should Take Notice (Tessie L’Amour) *
Censorship and PayPal: UnConstitutional and WRONG (J. S. Wayne) *  ***

February 17th:
PayPal, BookStrand and Censorship, Part 2 (Marlene Sexton) *
Bookstrand, Paypal and Site Move… Oh My! (Adelaide Cooper) *

February 19th:
Slippery Slope: Erotica Censorship (Selina Kitt) *  ***, Slippery Slope: Erotica Censorship (cross-posted at her personal blog) *
Censorship… Who Has the Right? (One-Handed Writers) *

February 20th:
PayPal Is At It Again! (Marlene Sexton)
Monday News and Deals: Paypal Obscenity Crackdown, Fake Amazon Reviews, & Earnings Roundup (Dear Author) *

February 20th, Part 2:
A Big Erotica Freeze Is A-Coming… (Many-Eyed Hydra)

February 21st:
Tuesday News: New Nook Pricing, Kindle Rumors, Reader Data, and Paypal Clarification (Dear Author) *  ***
BookStrand No More… (Cat Johnson)
BookStrand Axing Indie Publishers? (KindleBoards)
Episode 213 – Publishing Erotica With Selena Kitt (The Dead Robot’s Society) **
The PayPal Fiasco Continues (Adelaide Cooper) *
Indie Authors Now Banned from BookStrand (Adelaide Cooper) *
BookStrand Stops Selling Indie Titles Entirely (Tessie L’Amour) *
All Romance eBooks Has Unilaterally De-listed Some of My Books  (Tessie L’Amour)  *
Putting the World According to PayPal in Perspective (One-Handed Writers)*
BANNED from BookStrand and All Romance eBooks (Katie Cramer) *
Banned by PayPal (Saffron Sands) *
Here’s the Thing… (Rachel Boleyn) *

February 22nd:
All Romance EBooks Clarification (Dear Author) * ***
Where Is My Smut?! (Abbey Kyner)

February 23rd:
Bookstrand Kicks Out “Most” Indie Authors! (Censorship?) (Giselle London)
How I Became a Dirty Writer and Why I Have the Right To Continue… (Sommer Marsden)
PayPal and Censorship (Musclaneous)
Banning Books and Blocking Authors: A Reader Alert (Michelle McCleod)
Erotica Is Not Bad (Rayven York)
S-E-X (Alessia Brio)

February 23rd, Part 2:
Censorship in the Land of the Free (Molly Wens)
In Defense of Erotica (Leighann Phoenix)
About “Barely Legal” (Emily Veinglory, Erotic Romance Publishers)

February 24th:
Slippery Slope Part 2: Why Frogs Boil (Selena Kitt), Slippery Slope Part 2: Why Frogs Boil (Cross-posted at The Self-Publishing Revolution)
To All Smashwords Authors, Publishers, and Literary Authors Who Publish Erotica at Smashwords (Smashwords)
Saturday News: No Deals Just Stupidity and Smashwords Concedes to Paypal Terms (Dear Author) ***
An Open Letter to PayPal (Lauren Gallagher / L. A. Witt)
Paypal Moves Against Smashwords, Mark Coker Responds (MERGED THREAD) (KindleBoards) ***
In Defense of Erotica (Violet Williams)
Smashwords Falls Victim to PayPal (Marlene Sexton)
(Adelaide Cooper)
Censorship and Erotica (Suzi Gorse)
PayPal – The Internet Censor (Maggie Chatterley)
More Censorship (Esmeralda Greene)
CENSORSHIP BE DAMNED! – [Reblog of Rusty Nale’s Post] (Black Door Press)
Don’t Blame Smashwords or Paypal: The Frontier Moved for Indie Authors, It’s Time to Move With It (Dan Holloway)

February 24th, Part 2:
Marketplace Censors (Candace Blevins, Kinky Ever After)
On the Front Lines of Erotica (Jennifer Campbell)
I’m Not 18 Anymore (Giselle Renarde)

Soon You’ll Need To Visit a Back Alley… (Ms. T. Garden)

February 25th:
Saturday News: No Deals Just Stupidity and Smashwords Concedes to Paypal Terms (Dear Author) ***
PayPal Cracks Down on Erotica E-book Sales (TeleRead)
Erotic Censorship and a Home for the Homeless Books (Erica Pike — thanks for the link back, Erica!)
Addressing a “Getting Out There” Question (No Boundaries Press)
Smashwords Succumbs to Censorship (The Digital Reader)
Paypal Enforces Vanilla Sex Only Erotica (Morgan Drake)
IMPORTANT: Smashwords Forced to Censor Books by Paypal: Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Sony Customers Affected (Katie Cramer)
Two Legs Bad: An Open Letter to Mark Coker (Remittance Girl)
Paypal: Taking a Sledgehammer to Artistic Freedom (Alexx Andria)
Smashwords Bans Erotica – Sort Of (Fighting Monkey Press)
Paypal Is a Fascist Librarian and Here’s What To Do About It (Michelle McCleod)
“I Know It When I See It” and Other Random Thoughts (Something More)
And There Goes Another One (Smashwords) (Rayven York)
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS: PayPal and Censorship (Virginia Wade)
PayPal Decides It Is the Morality Police (Ruth Madison)
Workblog for the Week: Awards! Plague! Censorship! (Sin Is Beautiful)
Help! Help! I’m Being Repressed! (Saffron Sands)
Censorship Anyone? (Shauna Klein)
The Changing Dystopian World of Erotica (Aurelia T. Evans)
Censorship of Erotica is Bad and Wrong (Sidonie Spice)
(L. B. Darling)
PayPal Censoring Erotica Writers – Who Will They Censor Next? (Mid-Journey)
An Update on Damaged Goods and the PayPal/Smashwords Fiasco (Lucy Rodgers)
Smashwords and PayPal – Erotica Dispute (Adelaye Hearst)
PayPal – The Morality Dictator (Rae Spencer)
Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do (Amelia James) ***
CENSORED – All Over the Internet (Amanda Charvi)
Censorship – Another Slippery Slope (Steve Perry)
The Missionary Position (Polly J. Adams)
Humans Are Sexual Creatures (S. J. Reiner / Anne O’Connell, The Quadrant)
Do You Want Me Barefoot and Pregnant, Too? An Open Letter to PayPal (Eden Connor) ***
Smashwords Begins to Censor Its Erotica Titles. (Mari Stroud)
PayPal-Imposed Morality (Alessia Brio)
Smashwords to Remove Countless Erotica Titles from Its Store (M.K. Elliott)
A Brief Message from Our Sponsor, Freedom of Speech (Gigglegasm)
An Open Letter to Mark Coker (Jesse V. Coffey)
WELP. SmashWords Has Fallen. (and Other News) (Abbey Kypner)
More Thoughts On PayPal’s Latest Erotica Ban. (Corinna Parr)
Yep, Life Is Getting Harder for the Indie Author (Ruth Ann Nordin, Self-Published Authors Lounge)
Paypal, Smashwords and Bookstrand – Erotic Romance/Erotica and Pr0n (Valerie Douglas)

February 26th:
PayPal As Moral Police?  Forces E-Book Sellers To Remove Certain Erotica Content (Ingrid Lunden, TechCrunch)
Agreements Are Complete–Indie Authors and Publishers — NBP as Vendor (also NBP)
I Wasn’t Raped by a Guy Not My Dad, during which No Children and Animals Were Present (Cherry Allen, One-Handed Writers)

February 26th, Part 2:
I Like My Erotica Uncensored! (C. J. Roberts)
PayPal Censoring Books: Apocalypse to Follow (Renee Miller)
Time for a Confession (Maggie Chatterley)
Smashwords Tightens Up On Permitted Erotica (Ebooks R Us)
The Price of Freedom of Speech (Alt-World)
Smashwords Clamps Down on Bestiality, Rape and Ince$t Erotica (Indie BookSpot)
It’s Obscene: PayPal, Erotica and Censorship (loveyoudivine)

In Other Possibly Related News:
Gingrich, Santorum & Romney Vow to Make Porn Illegal if Elected President (Unicorn Booty)

February 26th, Part 3:
My Thoughts on Censorship (Heather Killough-Walden)
The Censorgasm (J. S. Wayne)
Smashwords & PayPal: Perfect Together (K. H. Koehler)
Dear Smashwords, Why Do You Suck? (John A. Burks, Jr.)

February 26th, Part 4:
PayPal Is Watching You (Jessica Freely)
Reading the Blogs, On Paypal Censorship, Pornography and Erotica (Mid-Journey)
The Paypal Fiction Crackdown Roundup (Dear Author)
Pragmatic Compromises & the Moral Hazard of Expediency (Remittance Girl)
PayPal Knows What’s Best (Lilac Sunday)
Speak Up Against PayPal’s Censorship (Sheri Hart, Hart Times)
PayPal Censorship – Is It Really All About Genre? (Maggie Chatterley)

February 28th, Part 5:
Paypal Decides What Content Is Appropriate, Threatens Ebook Retailers
(Brad’s Reader) (Misogynist, ableist rant, but I’m including it here because some of the rebuttals in the comments are awesome)

February 27th:
PayPal Update #2 – Deadline for ToS Complaince Extended (Smashwords)
Led By PayPal, Smashwords Updates Erotica Rules (MediaBistro)
PayPal Takes Controversial Stance Against Sex (Andrew Shaffer, Huffington Post)
PayPal Strong-Arms Indie Ebook Publishers Over Erotic Content (Violet Blue, ZDNet)
PayPal Launches New Internet Controversy Over Decision to Censor Erotica Content Sold Through Platform (Silicon Valley IP Liscensing Law Blog)
PayPal Tells E-Book Distributor To Remove Sexually Taboo Titles (Consumerist)
Banning Books? The Thin End of the Wedge… (Sessha Batto, Diary of a Desperate Exmoor Woman)
Debit Cards, Definitions and Door Mats (Eden Connor)
Playthings in the Hands of the Arbiters of Decency (Raymond Frazee)
A Call to Action – Help Defeat Censorship! (Marlene Sexton) Thanks for the links, Marlene!

February 27th, Part 2:
PayPal Puts the Screws on Erotica (Walter Jon Williams)

February 27th, Part 3:
Smashwords, “Censorship” and Godwin’s Law (Marion Stein)
Reputation Impacts Sales (One-Handed Writers)

February 28th:
Censorship in Literature (Sooz Says Stuff)
The PayPal “censorship” on [sic] Erotica, and Why Financial Institutions May Win This War. (Dianna Hardy)
PayPal Has Become the Morals Police (Wild, Wicked, & Wacky)
PayPal Censors Smashwords (Karen M. Frontain)
You’re Next. (Annetta Ribken)
PayPal, Credit Cards, Transgressive Fiction, and The New Day (J.R. Wesley, Crimson Melodies Publishing)
Paypal to Loosen Grip on Erotica Ban (Maybe) (The Digital Reader)
Paypal Forces E-Book Publisher To Censor Erotic Content (Slashdot)

February 28th, Part 2:
Splitting Pubic Hairs About Pseudo-Incest (Amber Adams, One-Handed Writers)

February 29th:
Addressing More Questions (No Boundaries Press)
Erotica Writers: Be Passionate But Be Careful With Your Facts (Remittance Girl)
New Development in Erotic Censorship (Erica Pike)
Contest: Stop Censorship, Win a Book (Jessica Freely)
On Paypal, Erotica, and ‘Censorship.’ (Sin Is Beautiful)
An Invitation to the “Banned Writers” Blog (Banned Writers)
Paypal Censorship Spreads to Publishers (Michelle McCleod)

February 29th, Part 2:
Please Spread the Word About Paypal Censoring Ebook Retailers! (naamah_darling@Journal) ***
Self-Righteous Censorship: It’s the New Black (Erica L. Firanc, Forbidden Fiction)
Legal Censorship: PayPal Makes a Habit of Deciding What Users Can Read (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
The Business Rusch: You Asked For My Opinion… (The Business Rusch) ***
More on the PayPal/Smashwords Saga (Suzan Harden)
Golden Rule: He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules (Michael Stackpole)
PayPal Banning Certain E-Books. Really? (Lisa’s Creative Space)
That Charming Bastard, Censorship (Justine Graykin)
Why Mark Coker and Smashwords Are NOT the Enemy (Rachel Boleyn)
Legal Censorship: PayPal Makes a Habit of Deciding What Users Can Read (CK Geek)
PayPal & the Ebook Revolution’s Moral Clause (BitchBuzz)

March 1st:
Corporate Censorship Reborn: PayPal Bans Erotic Fiction (Tech Crunch)
Paypal Does Not Want You To Read Erotica (Melville House Books)

March 2nd:
Books and the Selling of (Talkapedia)
Why Corporate Censorship May Succeed (Write Anything)
[Writing] Signal Boost (RaeRaSama@LiveJournal)
The Pure Idiocy That Is Paypal (FireBird Bloggers)
NCAC, ABFFE Protest PayPal Ban on Erotic Material and ABFFE Protests PayPal Ban (National Coalition Against Censorship / American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression) (via PayPal Censorship Fight Gains Muscle (Hart Times)) – see Original Letter sent to PayPal/eBay [PDF]
Dirty Mind vs. Debit Card – Banned Author Interview (Eden Connor)
Because I Said So… It Wasn’t Good Enough When My Mama Said It, Either. (Michele Bekemeyer)
The Genesis Point (Jayme Whitfield)
Game On, Asshole! (Alchemy of the Word)
Smashwords – Censored. (Sheta Storm)

March 3rd:
The Corporate Censorship of Erotica (Pegasus Pulp)
The PayPal Morality (The Edge of Vanilla)

March 6th:
Balancing Beliefs and Business (Ms. T. Garden) (thanks to Banned Writers for the link)

March 8th:
PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy on Sale of Certain “Erotica” (Official PayPal Blog)

March 10th:
Visa Writes Us Back! “This is Not Our Doing.” (Banned Writers) ***

March 12th:
Censorship and PayPal (The Empiricist) (thanks to Banned Writers for the link)

March 13th:
Paypal’s Clarification of Their Terms of Service (Banned Writers)
UPDATE: PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy (Official PayPal Blog)
Paypal Capitulates – Sort Of (Banned Writers)

* Indicates old links already included in Roundup – Part 1.
** I highly recommend listening to this podcast, as Mz. Kitt discusses in-depth the problems of distribution with payment processors and possible ideas for soldiering on despite the corporate pressure. Her interview starts around the 12 min. mark where Kitt reveals how she started her online writing business, and she begins to talk about Amazon banning incest at around 18 min., and that leads to the latest banning discussion.
*** Have a large amount of comments.

I’m going to keep updating links on THIS PAGE rather than creating another new link roundup. Please leave a comment if you find a link you think should be included here.

Book Banning, Business, Civil Liberties, Idiocy, Independent Publishing, Miscellaneous, Problems, Publishers Behaving Badly, Publishing Industry , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Key Points in the Erotica Book Banning Hijinks

For previous posts on the erotica banning, see this timeline up to before the announcement by Smashwords yesterday and this first round-up link.

Conspiracy Theories

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.

Possible Solutions?

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.

Business, Idiocy, Independent Publishing, Problems, Publishers Behaving Badly, Publishing Industry , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

[SEE NEWER LIST] Erotica Book Banning Round-Up

[ETA 1: For my previous in-depth post on the PayPal / Visa / MasterCard / Siren-BookStrand / All Romance eBooks Book Banning Fiasco, go here.]

[ETA 2: I made a new updated round-up. All of the updates will be on Part 2. Please link there, not here. Thanks!]

Let’s Get Serious

I really don’t think it has hit home to the vast numbers of writers who publish ebooks how tenuous our hold on internet distribution really is. No one in my RSS subscriptions outside of the tech world save Sarah Hoyt and David Gaughran commented when half of the Internet protested SOPA and PIPA. It’s unclear whether most independent authors just didn’t understand how dangerous those bills were or somehow thought they were beneficial (!) to them out of some misguided belief that it’s important to fight “piracy” using a sledgehammer when a scalpel is required.

I realize it’s hard to show sympathy for fiction mixed in with bad fiction (poorly produced content in this case), especially if the writers affected write in subgenres you may find offensive. The problem is that with categories so broadly defined as “rape for titillation,” you’re talking about subjective opinions. I think a lot of people secretly get off on sexual violence in crime novels. So what? Under these terms, any police procedural or SVU-like story with any details whatsoever could run afoul of such guidelines. They’re so broad as to be meaningless, even though what they’re meant to do is shame erotica writers into quitting or writing vanilla sex scenes. Because that’s the ultimate goal here: to make business run as smoothly as possible without customer complaints and payments in danger.

Here’s what I posted to Tessie L’Amour’s first post:

Ah. As you said, good implies a value judgment. Perhaps different labels would have been clearer.

Of course companies have the right to choose what they publish. What concerns me is the tendency of some authors to breathe a sigh of relief because the majority of THEIR work isn’t on the ban list…yet. Instead of calling Visa, MasterCard, and Pay Pal to contest their conflation of erotica with pr0n, Bookstrand caved in right away and starting deleting and quarantining books. This is their right; it doesn’t make it ethical or reasonable or even a good business decision.

PayPal has indicated to Selina Kitt — who, for those who don’t know, runs her own estore for erotica — that it’s not just the step-children and barely legal stories that are unacceptable. Their rep made clear that PayPal (eBay) considers BDSM, an incredibly broad term encompassing everything from silk scarves to dungeon play and beyond, to be rape and therefore in violation of their policies, no matter what Visa and MasterCard may say. While this sounds ridiculous, it should make all writers extremely nervous. The slippery slope of pr0n police ‘creep’ has turned into a full-on series of broad ‘lurches’ and ‘leaps.’

To me, this indicates that they are simply doing keyword searches to find ‘obscene’ titles and are too lazy to actually screen samples and such, meaning that there are likely many, MANY more titles not in compliance with their policies that have slipped through the cracks because authors weren’t as overt in labeling them. All it will take is one irate, prudish customer to complain, and the whole process could start all over again. PayPal may arbitrarily decide that romance bookstores aren’t worth the hassle and simply freeze the accounts anyway and seize the funds without explanation. They do this ALL OF THE TIME.

The bottom line is this: when a few companies with enormous amounts of power suddenly decide to cut out half of your revenue stream (whether or not there is a fundamental misunderstanding of your business), the only option left that will ensure the other half of your revenue stays viable in the future is to fight, and fight publicly.

Link Round-Up

Selina Kitt:
Slippery Slope: Erotica Censorship (Lots of Comments)
Slippery Slope: Erotica Censorship (Personal Website)

Marlene Sexton:
PayPal, BookStrand and Censorship
PayPal, BookStrand and Censorship, Part 2
PayPal Is At It Again!

Dear Author:

Monday News and Deals: Paypal Obscenity Crackdown, Fake Amazon Reviews, & Earnings Roundup

Tuesday News: New Nook Pricing, Kindle Rumors, Reader Data, and Paypal Clarification
All Romance Ebooks Clarification

Adelaide Cooper:
Bookstrand, Paypal and Site Move… Oh My!
The PayPal Fiasco Continues
Indie Authors Now Banned from BookStrand

Tessie L’Amour:
Censorship spreading to eBookstores?
All those angered by censorship should take notice
BookStrand stops selling Indie titles entirely
All Romance eBooks has unilaterally de-listed some of my books

One-Handed Writers:
Censorship… Who Has the Right?

Putting the World According to PayPal in Perspective (Funny)

BANNED from BookStrand and All Romance eBooks (Katie Cramer)
Banned by PayPal (Saffron Sands)
Here’s the Thing… (Rachel Boleyn)
Censorship And PayPal: UnConstitutional and WRONG (J. S. Wayne)

Business, Idiocy, Independent Publishing, Problems, Publishers Behaving Badly, Publishing Industry , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,