Is PayPal Censoring eBooks?

Suppose for a moment that, instead of a sparkly vampire, a werewolf made love to a human female, in detail and in werewolf form. If you chose to write that scene for your book, you might not be able to use PayPal to collect sales money for it online because it could be considered “bestiality.” If the means with which you are able to collect money for book sales abruptly dictates what you can and can’t write, we’re really talking about censorship.

Sound ridiculous? It’s happening right now over at the site that hosts my ebooks, As a huge publisher of Indie books that anyone can use to sell their written work online, PayPal has issued an ultimatum for them to remove certain titles or lose their ability to collect payments through their services:

PayPal is asking us to censor legal fiction. Regardless of how one views topics of rape, bestiality and incest, these topics are pervasive in mainstream fiction. We believe this crackdown is really targeting erotica writers. This is unfair, and it marks a slippery slope. We don’t want credit card companies or financial institutions telling our authors what they can write and what readers can read. Fiction is fantasy. It’s not real. It’s legal.

In case you haven’t heard, about two weeks ago, PayPal contacted Smashwords and gave us a surprise ultimatum: Remove all titles containing bestiality, rape or incest, otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal account. We engaged them in discussions and on Monday they gave us a temporary reprieve as we continue to work in good faith to find a suitable solution.

PayPal tells us that their crackdown is necessary so that they can remain in compliance with the requirements of the banks and credit card associations (likely Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, though they didn’t mention them by name).

From a business standpoint, the fear seems to be that anyone who doesn’t like what a credit or debit card service can be used to buy will threaten to stop using their services if that company permits the sale. Really? In America, this is considered a fundamental freedom, to buy whatever you like with the money you earn.

This would be the equivalent of the US government making it a crime to use US currency to purchase Playboy, ruining a legitimate business by making it too risky for the average consumer to engage in. What’s next that you can’t buy because someone else decides “it’s bad for you?” R-rated movies? Red meat? Beverages containing caffeine?

Continue reading “Is PayPal Censoring eBooks?”

Why eBooks (and Readers) Aren’t a Bad Thing

I just read a lament from Gris Grimly concerning the loss of his favorite things, “books” by way of example. His concerns were over electronic media and the gatekeepers who could use it to keep from us only what they wish for the citizenry to see. A fine point, but not the only point of view.

While I understand the text of this rant in principle, it needs to be framed in context. When the spoken word of storytellers was written down and people started learning to read, there were many who likely thought “Those accursed books! If people can read for themselves, why would they listen to me? And the story… it never changes! It cannot be embellished in print! There’s no emotion or flare on a piece of paper! The very idea is inhuman!” Of course, those storytellers have found other mediums because of change.

The Kindle (mention specifically) is no exception; while the makers and supporters CAN limit our experience, people who had no chance of ever being known due to the gatekeepers (editors, publishing houses, censors) can now be read in the way MP3s allowed unsigned bands to be heard (and in both cases, possibly successful). If Kindle won’t allow people to get what they want in the way they want it, people will move on to something else that can (iPads can load PDFs into iBooks as can many other readers such as the Nook). None of us want anything we love to change from the way we remember loving it (people included), but, unfortunately, everything does. You can ignore it or embrace it, but you can’t stop it. Just trust that people will do what they must.