The Paypal Fiction Crackdown Roundup
Back in 2007, Jayne and I reviewed ebookstores. There seemed to be new ones that were announced everyday. When All Romance eBooks launched in 2007, it lacked the Paypal option. It would later add Paypal in October of 2007. Commenters informed us that Paypal had content restrictions. One reason that Loose Id does not partner with Paypal is because of Paypal’s content restrictions.
Paypal had a “Mature Audiences” definition.
PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy prohibits the sale of items for mature audiences. After a review of your site/account, you have either received payments via PayPal, or have PayPal referenced on your site. Due to the violation of the Acceptable Use Policy your account will be closed and the remaining balance will be sent to you by check. Please be sure that your account information is accurate, as we cannot be held responsible for checks issued to an incorrect address. We do ask that you please remove reference(s) to PayPal from your site.
But according to another commenter, there was an exception:
Most websites sell both printed and eBook format which puts them into the Physical Goods clause above the Digital Goods category…
Notice where it reads…
PayPal may consider some or all of the following factors:
Literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
This policy no longer appears on Paypal’s website. Their policies have been changing. According to this comment here at Dear Author by Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, Paypal has changed because of new business partners:
I think the folks at PayPal are honest, honorable people, and I take what they tell me in that spirit. It doesn’t mean I agree with their policies. This is what they told me, in their words, unedited: “We work with a number of acquiring banks and credit card associations as part of our business. Many of the items contained in our AUP are restricted by our banking partners, particularly rape, bestiality and incest related content. Our banking partners and credit card associations have taken a very strict stance on this subject matter. Our relationships with the banking partners are absolutely critical in order to provide the online and mobile services we do to our customers. Therefore, we have to remain in compliance with their rules, which prohibit content involving rape, bestiality or incest.”
Emily referred us to the case of Belhue Pres and ebookad who had frozen accounts and lost money as early as 2003:
Paypal has not accepted erotica since 2003, they are just slow and arbitrary in who they close down, but talk to ebookad, Belhue Press and any one of a score of erotic romance writers and artists many of whom lost not only their accounts but their money. Using paypal with erotic content including normal romance is gambling with your customers money.
In August of 2007, Paypal amended its Acceptable Use Policy in the following fashion:
Amendment to Section 10 of the PayPal User AgreementEffective Date: Aug 23, 2007
- Amendment to Section 10 of the PayPal User Agreement
Beginning August 23, 2007, section 10.5 of the PayPal User Agreement is being amended to allow PayPal to hold your funds for up to 180 days and fine you up to $2,500 (increased from $500) for the following violations of the Acceptable Use Policy:
- Using the Service to receive payments for any sexually oriented or obscene materials or services in violation of the Acceptable Use Policy; or
- Using the Service to receive payments for any narcotics, other controlled substances, steroids or prescription drugs in violation of the Acceptable Use Policy; or
- Using the Service to receive payments for wagers, gambling debts or gambling winnings, regardless of the location or type of gambling activity in violation of the Acceptable Use Policy; or
- Using the service to receive payments for tobacco products in violation of the Acceptable Use Policy.
The Paypal crackdown first came to my notice a couple of weeks ago when Bookstrand sent out this notice:
Dear Indie Author,
We have made a decision to no longer maintain most indie author accounts at BookStrand.com. Therefore, we are deactivating all titles associated with your account and no new uploads will be accepted. Your final distribution payment will be disbursed to you within 30 days and your account will be closed. During this time you will still be able to access your sales report from your account.
BookStrand will focus on its core business by servicing accounts of publishers with clear submission and publishing guidelines that best serve our targeted audience. Our customer base was successfully built on this premise, and it’s time to go back to our roots.
While we understand you may be disappointed in losing a distribution outlet for your work, there are still several outlets that currently accept self-published titles. We wish you the best in your endeavors.
Bookstrand wanted me to make sure that we knew that it didn’t publish beastility, incest or pseudo incest:
Kindly get your facts straight.
Siren-BookStrand Publishing NEVER has and NEVER will publish books with the disgusting themes of incest, pseudo incest, rape for sexual titillation, or bestiality with naturally occurring animals. ALL of these incest, pseudo-incest, rape, and bestiality titles were uploaded to the e-book store, BookStrand.com, mainly by self-pubbed authors who don’t know where to draw the line when it comes to obscenity. We have deactivated those self-pubbed titles from BookStrand as per PayPal’s specific request. Currently, these are the same titles still offered for sale by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and All Romance Ebooks.
As for rape, we carry about a small handful of titles (out of the 2,000 we have published) where rape was portrayed as a criminal act of sexual assault that left our heroines psychologically damaged as they struggled to rebuild their lives and found love and trust again with the heroes. As for bestiality, hopefully you aren’t mistaking this filthy act with a family dog or a pet goat for an HEA romance and sex with shape-shifting sentient beings such as wolf-shifters, dragon-shifters, etc., in their human or partial human form.
I don’t know what your agenda is, but it is irresponsible of you for not checking your facts before making such an outlandish and false statement.
I demand that you remove such blatant inaccuracy that stems from your ignorance about what we publish.
All Romance eBooks
AllRomance eBooks sent out this email to its clients:
All Romance reserves the right not to accept any particular Work submitted by Publisher at All Romance’s sole discretion, and may remove any particular Work from sale at any time and for any or no reason. Pornographic and obscene Works are restricted and not allowable for upload on the All Romance site, including without limitation, Works depicting sexual acts involving persons under eighteen years of age (exceptions may be made for certain works of literary fiction involving time periods wherein the age of consent was less than 18 and the purpose of the depiction is not for sexual titillation), Works involving any exploitation of minors, sexual or otherwise, Erotic Works which contain incest or pseudo-incest themes, Works that are written for or being marketed to the barely legal market, rape for the purposes of titillation, scenes of non-consensual bondage or non-consensual sado-masochistic practices, bestiality with naturally occurring animals, sex with non-animated corpses, snuff or scat play.
and then answered some questions for me:
1. You are creating a new area for certain types of books. How will readers access those books?
We’re currently in the process of concluding a project that was initiated several months ago. What we are actually doing is splitting the current Erotica category into “Erotica” and “Erotica Romance” so that readers will be able to more easily find the types of books they most like to read. The goal is not to create a new area that will house a new type of book. We are not looking to expand into a new market. In fact, we are working to stay true to the original vision of our company.
As you know, All Romance eBooks was conceived to be a specialty store to cater to the digital romance market. “Gay” on our site has always meant “Gay Romance”. “Vampire/Werewolves” has always meant “Vampire/Werewolves Romance”. And, “Erotica” has until fairly recently meant “Erotic Romance”. In the past few months we’ve noted more and more Erotica without Romance elements appearing in that area. We know that there is a segment of our customer base that is interested in reading Erotica. There are others who wish to read Erotic Romance. Some prefer both and still others neither. We formed a task force to develop a long-term plan for improving the discoverability function that included conceiving of a way to separate the current “Erotica” category into “Erotica” and “Erotic Romance”.
Readers will be able to access these titles the way they currently do with one exception, Erotica titles will only appear to users who are logged in (which requires they be eighteen years of age or older).
2. Will the bestseller list include those books in the Erotica category?
At this time, no changes are occurring to the algorithm of our best-seller list. We’ve merely undertaken a project to split out our current Erotica category.
3. How will ARE be policing those books? By the author’s submission of metadata?
The procedures we’ve had in place since we opened on November of 2006 will continue, as will some new ones.
All publishers are vetted prior to acceptance. Part of the process is a review of their representative catalog of titles. When content we feel may be in violation is discovered upon review, we normally write to the Publisher and reiterate our restrictions and clarify the types of content we intend to sell. Often this results in a mutual decision not to proceed, sometimes a commitment to only a partial submission. In other cases, when the market goals are extremely divergent, we just deny the application.
We reserve the right to deny acceptance of any title for any reason. In the past several months, we’ve received more requests from publishers who wish to sell incest, pseudo-incest, and barely legal erotica and had to deny them. Those restrictions were recently added in an attempt to curtail those applicants. As many publishers and authors have pointed out to us, there is a market for those titles. We just don’t want to be in that market.
You ask about policing and we’ve had to do a considerable amount of that in recent weeks. We have responded to complaints very swiftly, but more importantly we have been pro-actively sweeping our database for tags, titles, and appropriateness of category placement. We’ve also been collecting data to help us size the issue and analyze possible ways of automating some of what we’ve been manually doing (as the manual review takes far longer).
We have approximately 400,000 titles in our inventory. Approximately %.05 are in the current Erotica category. We believe most of those are within acceptable guidelines and are working diligently to inactivate those that are not and contacting those publishers.
4. Is this in response to the Paypal crackdown on epublished books?
As indicated, we’ve been working on this for quite some time. We shelve titles based on a combination of BISAC and our own codes that we’ve created for sub-genres BISAC has yet to recognize. Because of some emails from our customer base wanting “warnings” about particular types of content, we created an enhancement in September that was added to the publisher panel that would alert readers to certain themes. We also clarified image content guidelines at that time and require publishers to provide information about cover content so we can determine if it’s appropriate for general viewing on the home page.
We receive feedback constantly from our customer base and our publishing partners and have an enhancement queue that we work through. These improvements, as well as the split of the Erotica category, are a result of that process.
We are aware of the recent Paypal crackdown and it did prompt another review of our policy on restrictions. At this point we feel that the action plan we have in place is sufficient to meet their guidelines. Our goal has been to complete the steps by March 2, 2012 and we appear to be on target for that date.
5. Will you be revising your policy as to what is placed in the new books section?
We’ve been working for several weeks on guidelines to assist publishers and readers in identifying the types of titles they can expect to find in the new Erotica and Erotic Romance sections. These have been circulated to publishers in advance so that they can begin planning. The guidelines were sent out to a dozen industry publishers and authors, both Erotica, Erotica Romance, Indie, and Big 6 for comment prior to finalization.
We have notified our publishers that those who have current Erotica titles will be asked to re-shelve using those guidelines and we’re testing a streamlined process we’ve created so that they may accomplish this quickly.
These guidelines will appear prominently in the publisher panel so they will easily be accessible and there for viewing every time a title is uploaded.
Here are our guidelines for the split:
Erotic romance is a Romance containing frequent, sexually explicit love scenes. The main plot centers around two or more people falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. The love scenes are a natural part of the romance and described using graphic and frank language. Typically these stories have an HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happy for now) ending.
Erotica is a sexually explicit story, which explores and focuses on a character’s sexual journey rather than an emphasis on a developing romantic relationship. While such an erotic story may have elements of romance, it is the sex that primarily drives the story.
Works that are restricted, as always, will continue to be deleted. We self-monitor these issues and monitor the various social spaces for comments. For the quickest response, offending titles can be reported to [email protected].
Smashwords also sent out a notice:
On Saturday, February 18, PayPal’s enforcement division contacted Smashwords with an ultimatum. As with the other ebook retailers affected by this enforcement, PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal services. I’ve had multiple conversations with PayPal over the last several days to better understand their requirements. Their team has been helpful, forthcoming and supportive of the Smashwords mission. I appreciate their willingness to engage in dialogue. Although they have tried their best to delineate their policies, gray areas remain.
Their hot buttons are bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.
The underage erotica is not a problem for us. We already have some of the industry’s strictest policies prohibiting underage characters (we don’t even allow non-participating minors to appear in erotica), and our vetting team is always on the lookout for “barely legal” content where supposed adults are placed in underage situations.
The other three areas of bestiality, rape and incest were less well-defined in our Terms of Service (https://www.smashwords.com/about/tos) before today. I’ll tackle these one-by-one below, and I’ll provide you a summary of the changes that will go into effect immediately.
*Incest:* Until now, we didn’t have a policy prohibiting incest between consenting adults, or its non-biological variation commonly known as “Pseudo-incest.” Neither did our retailer partners. We’ve noticed a surge of PI books over the last few months, and many of them have “Daddy” in the title. I wouldn’t be surprised if the surge in “Daddy” titles prompted PayPal to pursue this purge (I don’t know). PI usually explores sexual relations between consenting adult stepchildren with their step parents, or between step-siblings. Effectively immediately, we no longer allow incest of any variety in erotica.
Like many writers, censorship of any form greatly concerns me. It is with some reluctance that I have made the decision to prohibit incest-themed erotica at Smashwords. Regardless of your opinion on incest, it’s a slippery slope when we allow others to control what we think and write. Fiction is fantasy. It’s not real. It unfolds in our imagination. I’ve always believed fiction writers and readers should have the freedom to explore diverse topics and situations in the privacy of their own mind. From an imagination perspective, erotica is little different from a literary novel that puts us inside the mind of farm animals (1984), or a thriller novel that puts us inside the mind of a terrorist, or a horror novel that puts us inside the mind of an axe-murderer or their victim. All fiction takes us somewhere. We read fiction to be moved, and to feel. Sometimes we want to feel touched, moved, or disturbed. A reader should have the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved.
Incest, however, carries thorny baggage. The legality of incest is murky. It creates a potential legal liability for Smashwords as our business and our books become more present in more jurisdictions around the world. Anything that threatens Smashwords directly threatens our ability to serve the greater interests of all Smashwords authors, publishers, retailers and customers who rely upon us as the world’s leading distributor of indie ebooks. The business considerations compel me to not fall on the sword for incest. I realize this is an imperfect decision. The slippery slope is dangerous, but I believe this imperfect decision is in the best interest of the community we serve.
*Bestiality:* Until now, we didn’t have a stated policy regarding bestiality. I like animals. Call me old fashioned or hypocritical (I’m not a vegetarian), but I don’t want to be a party to anyone enjoying animals for sexual gratification, for the same reason we’ve never allowed pedophilia books. I don’t want to publish it, sell it, or distribute it. The TOS is now modified to reflect this. Note this does not apply to shape-shifters common in paranormal romance provided the were-creature characters are getting it on in their human form. Sorry I need to clarify it that way, but we don’t want to see bestiality erotica masquerading as paranormal romance.
*Rape:* Although our Terms of Service prohibits books that advocate violence against others, we did not specifically identify rape. This was an oversight on our part. Now we have clarified the policy. We do not want books that contain rape for the purpose of titillation. At Smashwords, rape has no longer has a place in erotica. It has no place anywhere else if the purpose is to titillate. Non-consensual BDSM – or any other form of non-consensual violence against another person – is prohibited.
*NEXT STEPS:* If you have titles at Smashwords that are now expressly forbidden, by the end of day Monday (Feb 27), please click to your Dashboard at https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard and click UNPUBLISH then click ARCHIVE. This will also cause our automated systems to remove the titles from retail distribution.
DO NOT try to hide or obfuscate violating content by changing book titles, book descriptions and tags. If we discover such shenanigans, said authors/publishers will risk account deletion and forfeiture of any accrued earnings, per our Terms of Service.
We take violations of the TOS seriously, because such violations jeopardize the opportunities for your fellow authors.
We do not want to see PayPal clamp down further against erotica. We think our authors should be allowed to publish erotica. Erotica, despite the attacks it faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection. Erotica allows readers to safely explore aspects of sexuality that they might never want to explore in the real world.
The moralists forget that we humans are all sexual creatures, and the biggest sex organ is the brain. If it were not the case, none of us would be here. Erotica authors are facing discrimination, plain and simple. Topics that are perfectly acceptable in mainstream fiction are verboten in erotica. That’s not fair. Our decisions today are imperfect. Please, act responsibly, don’t try to game the system or publish content that pushes the limits of legality. Help us continue to help indie authors around the world to continue to publish and distribute with freedom.
*THINGS TO AVOID:* Avoid using words such as ‘bestiality,’ ‘rape,’ ‘incest,’ ‘underage,’ or ‘barely legal’ in book titles, book descriptions or keyword tags, otherwise Smashwords may conclude you’re violating the Terms of Service, or trying to push the limits. If you’re writing non-erotic works, and any of these words are necessary, then you’re okay.
On Tuesday (Feb 28) we will begin removing content that we deem in violation. When we remove a title, you will receive an email notifying you of such, and that email will append this letter along with instructions on how to notify us if we made an error. I promise you, we will make mistakes, so please work with us, take a deep breath and honor us with your patience.
If you believe we removed something in error, please click “Comments/questions,” mention the title we removed, provide the hyperlink to said title, and provide your *calm* reasoning for why we should reconsider.
Our support team is backlogged, so it may take several days for them to respond. As we mention in the Terms of Service, we reserve the right to remove anything for any reason. That said, we will also try to make our decisions with care and prudence.
You might wonder if Smashwords should simply switch to a different payment provider. It’s not so easy. PayPal is designed into the wiring of the Smashwords platform. They run the credit card processing for our retail store, and they’re how we pay our authors and publishers. PayPal is also an extremely popular, trusted payment option for our customers. It is not feasible for us to simply switch to another provider, should such a suitable provider even exist, especially with so few days notice.
Please note our Terms of Service is subject to additional modifications as we work to bring Smashwords into compliance with PayPal requirements. Let’s hope today’s actions mark the limit of the slippery slope.
Significant gray area remain. Erotica is still permitted, though if authors try to push the limits of what’s permitted, we risk further clamping down. Please be responsible. Don’t go there. If you’re going to push the limits, push the limits of great writing, not the limits of legality.
Thank you for assisting our compliance efforts on such short notice. We know these decisions will be upsetting to some of our authors and publishers, and for that we apologize. We do believe, however, that these decisions will place us on a stronger footing to represent the best interests all indie authors and publishers from here forward.
Mark Coker Founder Smashwords
P.S. Please contact our support team for inquiries regarding this change in our Terms of Service by clicking the “comments/questions” link at the top of any page at Smashwords. If your inquiry regards a specific title, please include the hyperlink to the book page of that specific title.
Update x1: New email from Mark Coker which came across my inbox:
I’m writing to give you an update on where things stand. We are extending the deadline (previously set for tonight) for Smashwords authors/publishers/agents to voluntarily remove certain content (erotica featuring themes of rape, bestiality, incest) from Smashwords . I’ll communicate the new deadline in a future email once I gain new information.
I had another call with PayPal this morning. Our conversation is continuing with them as I seek to achieve a less onerous, more sensible result.
There’s a sliver of hope that I might be able to obtain a more positive, less restrictive outcome than I communicated on Friday, yet it’s unlikely we’ll achieve the true result I want (no censorship) in the near term. Today, PayPal hinted at a more relaxed definition of prohibited content as, according to them [I’m paraphrasing], “books for which rape, bestiality and incest are the major theme. If rape, bestiality and incest are incidental plot points, then that content might be allowable.”
This represents a significant clarification in our ongoing attempt to delineate the gray areas and push back the onerous, unfair and restrictive definitions as they now stand. It’s an opening, but it’s not the final word from PayPal. Our friends at PayPal are trying their their best to help Smashwords authors and publishers.
This potential relaxation doesn’t solve the broader issue of censorship. I think if a writer wants to write fiction around the theme of [anything], I think they should be able to write it if it’s legal.
Today’s progress, while encouraging, also opens up new gray area. How does one judge whether the taboo subjects are incidental instances or major themes? Where does one draw the line? The PayPal rep and I agreed our discussion will continue, and they assured me our PayPal services will not be cut off as we both work in good faith to advance the discussions.
A lot of people have been attacking Smashwords for my decision to comply with PayPal’s requirements. They’re pointing their arrows at the wrong target, and they’re not helping their cause. We’re working to effect positive long term change for the entire Smashwords community, and that includes all our erotica authors and readers. This change is possible only if we work together toward a common goal. When people spread lies that this is all part of a Smashwords
plot to dispose of “icky books” (their words, not mine), or try to portray our actions as some sexist attack against against women, or worse attacks I won’t repeat here, they’re wrong. Despite the ugliness shown to me and Smashwords
over the weekend, I’m still working to protect these very people who attack us. The attackers don’t understand what we’re doing on their behalf behind the scenes, and even if they did understand I don’t expect them to agree with our approach. I’d rather work with PayPal in good faith than martyr the entire Smashwords community upon the stake of this impending deadline.
This is only the first chapter in this battle. Even if we fail in the short term we survive to fight another day. Regardless of the near term outcome, we will continue to engage to effect positive change with your help.
Over the weekend, many Smashwords authors and publishers demanded we abandon PayPal and find a new payment processor. It’s not so simple, and it doesn’t solve the greater problem hanging over everyone’s head. PayPal is trying to implement the requirements of credit card companies, banks and credit unions. This is where it’s all originating. These same requirements will eventually rain down upon every other payment processor. PayPal is trying to maintain their relationships with the credit card companies and banks, just as we want to maintain our relationship with PayPal. People who argue PayPal is the evil villain and we should drop them are missing the bigger picture. Should we give up on accepting credit cards forever? The answer is no. This goes beyond PayPal. Imagine the implications if credit card companies start going after the major ebook retailers who sell erotica?
My objective is for PayPal and Smashwords to pull the credit card companies into a more open discussion about these issues. I want all financial institutions to reevaluate their policies. I want the banks to change or clarify their policies toward something more enlightened. I want PayPal to loosen their policies. We need financial institutions to get out of the business of telling writers what they can write and what readers can read. Without this much-needed debate, the slippery slope gets more slippery for all indies.
Indie authors are the biggest publishers of erotica. Already, one retailer/distributor, Bookstrand, decided to drop all indies from their store. I can only assume they decided the angry authors were more trouble than they were worth. Our business is all about serving indie authors, so even if some segments of our author community are shooting arrows at us, we still want to help them work through this. The campaign at hand goes beyond erotica authors. It’s an indie issue. Indies are breaking the boundaries previously set by large traditional publishers. This boundary-breaking scares people. We should welcome the debate about what a “good book” should look like. I think a good book is anything legal that readers want to read, even if I don’t want to read it myself.
This campaign represents an incredible long shot. To move this forward, I need your help. Even if you don’t publish in the categories directly impacted by this crackdown, this campaign matters to you.
What can you do to move things forward? First, direct your attention where it matters most. Contact your credit card company or congressperson and tell them you want financial services companies out of the business of censoring what writers and readers are free to imagine with fiction. Blog about it. Tweet about it. Contact your favorite blogger and encourage them to raise awareness. Start petitions and tell financial institutions you want their censors out of your head. Contact the media. The media, with your urging, has the power to shine a bright light on the dangerous slipperly slope of censorship by financial institutions.
If the media (both traditional and social) calls on credit card companies and banks to honestly answer these simple questions, then they’ll either be compelled to acknowledge the absurdity of their policies or they’ll be compelled to rewrite their policies. This troublesome tide can shift if financial institutions are forced to answer why they’re prohibiting legal fiction.
I realize my message to you today cannot possibly answer all the questions you may have. Know that we’re working for all authors, even those likely to suffer from whatever ultimate changes we implement in the near term. We all want censors off our backs and out of our heads, and if that’s not the result we achieve, then we’ll at least work to get you more clearly defined rules. Bear with us.
I will post this message in the Smashwords Press room at http://www.smashwords.com/press so it’s archived.
Thanks for the Roundup, Jane.
Been following the controversy over the last few days and can see valid points by both the anti-censorship folks and those who say a business should be able to operate according to its core principles.
Seems to me this could be a golden opportunity for someone to come up with an alternative to Paypal.
Well, since this started I’m no longer using Paypal…and thank God that most of the publishers I buy from do not use them either.
This is just the beginning of more to come. Unfortunately.
Damn it. And I had just signed up to Smashwords with a view to putting an erotic romance on there. Now I’m completely confused and uneasy. Any other options besides Loose ID you could point us to, Jane?
Love Mike Coker’s (smashwords) response here – honest, professional, fair and composed in the face of this idiocy.
I asked this before, but I think my comment was eaten by a filter: does incest include cousins? It’s yucky to some people but perfectly legal in many states- and countries.
Glad someone figured out the 21st century method to ban books :-/
Legality has nothing to do with this at all. Fictional representations of crimes are not illegal. If they were, there’d be no Thriller section. No Murder Mystery genre. There’s absolutely nothing illegal about writing a book about an incestuous relationship. Robert Grave’s ‘I, Claudius’ contains a couple of them, erotically described, too, I might add.
You need to grasp this, all of you. Fictional representations of crimes are NOT illegal. The only possible exception to this are fictional representations of underage sex. And even THIS is not illegal in as much as there is no law on the books that includes textual depictions. Otherwise, there goes Lolita and The Tin Drum, and The Lover, by Marguerite Duras.
This is about a plutocracy who have decided that they have the power to impose their moral code onto the literature sold under their purview. If they could refuse to process sales of Lolita, or The Lover or Equus, they would. But those texts are sold under Classic or literary fiction. And that would make them look like philistines; the press would screech about it.
But they know that no one is going to stand up in defense of ‘Debbie Does Daddy’. This is not about the law. It is about a moral agenda and the people with the money and the power to push it through.
Different state laws govern marriage between cousins. I believe it depends upon the degree of affinity between them.
@Deb: Last I checked (because I had a reason to do so), 26 states allow first-cousin marriage (Missouri doesn’t). As I understand it, there is no genetic reason to prohibit it.
I feel like this post is incomplete without pointing out the response to Siren’s denials was finding multiple titles with incest or near incest (if you must split hairs). They’ve had to change their book disclaimers at least twice that I know of and I don’t think they have their Paypal account back yet, so it appears Paypal would beg to differ.
Plus, keep in mind Ebay, Paypal’s parent company, is selling some of the very content they’ve banned on other sites.
I know the details of the situation are more fertile than bunnies on fertility drugs, but it’s important to highlight the hypocrisy and uneven enforcement.
Also, TechCrunch has picked up the story with more coverage planned this week.
Beginning August 23, 2007, section 10.5 of the PayPal User Agreement is being amended to allow PayPal to hold your funds for up to 180 days and fine you up to $2,500 (increased from $500) for the following violations of the Acceptable Use Policy:
a.Using the Service to receive payments for any sexually oriented or obscene materials or services in violation of the Acceptable Use Policy;
Anyone who thinks that only the “icky” porn titles are at risk from PayPal’s wrath should pay special attention to the above wording. While today it might be those books that are the target of PayPal’s wrath because they are the ones that are causing it to lose money, there is absolutely no question in my mind that erotica, erotic romance, and even mainstream romance with open-door sex scenes could be deemed in violation and removed from the catalogs of vendors who use PayPal’s services.
PayPal has deliberately constructed this clause with very vague language that essentially allows it to refuse to conduction transactions for anything it deems to be “sexually-oriented,” from book with sexual content to condoms to lingerie. And they are perfectly within their rights to make that choice. The problem is that this vague language allows inconsistent and arbitrary application, entirely up to the discretion of PayPal. Today, they’re applying it “only” to certain topics, but there’s nothing to stop them from broadening the application, and if they feel there’s a monetary benefit to broadening that application, they will.
I just hope Mark Coker severs his relationship with PayPal as soon as possible. He’d be an idiot not to, and I don’t think he’s an idiot.
Of course they can Jackie Barbosa, in fact they did so years ago which is why the epubs don’t deal with them. Thousands of vendors manage to sell erotica and even porn without PP. I’m not sure why these authors insist that this is some type of death knell when as far as I kniw most erotica is sold at Amazon.
@Roslyn Holcomb: Because this shrinks the bookseller market and the last thing any author needs is for Amazon to be the only game in town.
Thank you for continuing to draw attention to this important issue! I hope more authors, booksellers, and those who care about freedom of thought and speech will speak out.
I feel terrible admitting this, but I have to say that, although I strongly support the right of authors to write as they’re inspired and I abhor restriction of literature, it’s much harder for me to rabidly defend “Debbie Does Daddy” than to defend books I personally regard as superior examples of artistic expression and the writer’s craft.
It’s not that I don’t want authors of these types of work denied opportunity to create and market their books. Nor do I wish to see consumers denied opportunity to purchase and enjoy these books. I’m opposed to any effort intended to suppress availability of books to a public who wants those books. But I personally am unlikely to read and enjoy “Debbie Does Daddy” and so I don’t have the relationship with these genres I have with other genres.
I hope I don’t sound snooty, I’m trying to be honest.
But is Amazon the only game in town, or does it have to be? The epubs are selling erotic romance, and I assume they’re making a profit since it seems a new one pops up every minute. Since there are so many people writing and I assume buying the books that PP won’t deal in, I assume there’s a market there as well. I know that most epubs won’t sell it, but what’s to stop people from establishing their own epub that specializes in this type erotica?
@Roslyn Holcomb: There are no payment processors, that’s what will stop them. You can’t innovate your way out of this one–there’s no entrepreneurship that overcomes the Paypal issue. We’re trying and it’s not coming together.
Sex sells. It is very profitable. Now all that money is flowing to Amazon and, possibly, B&N (which may also go afoul of Paypal next). Meanwhile, small competitors that provided a diverse selling environment have had a very large portion of their cash flow frozen for who knows how long. All those consumers who love their raunchy erotica are now at Amazon and once they’re in, there’s no real reason for them to go back to those other sites for anything else, because it’s all on Amazon.
So now small sites have frozen cash flow and don’t sell the kink customers want so they are losing business–this is not a dynamic that most small companies can survive unscathed.
In effect, Paypal is crippling the bookselling market in favor of big retailers. It’s not going to collapse overnight, but Amazon will further expand their market share from this point forward. The only question is at what point do they reach a tipping point? It depends on if and when those small retailers recover.
@Michelle McCleod Michelle, there are a number of micropayment processors out there. Paypal is just the biggest and best known. In fact, Amazon itself has a micropayment processor. Many website theme and plugin developers use Google Checkout or w2checkout.com. There are also other micropyament processors. I came across this “review” of them in doing research for another post. There are several ePubs that do not accept paypal or use paypal (Loose Id being one of them).
The retailers can handle credit card payments and there are actually payment processors that are dedicated to adult websites. I’ve come across those in doing research on this issue as well. So the “there are no payment processors” is actually an incorrect statement.
Michelle, that’s not possible. SOMEBODY is processing payments for porn. Up until a few years ago, and hell, for all I know still, porn was the most profitable commodity on the web, chargebacks and all. You can’t swing a dead cat online without running into a porn vendor. How are they processing their payments? I read an article a while back about how the porn vendors are some of the most efficient vendors on the web. They’ve got good fraud control, etc…It would seem to me that if people manage to sell porn, there should be no trouble selling erotica. No innovation is required, the porn purveyors have already done it.
@Roslyn Holcomb: I feel we may be beating a dead horse, here, but as I tried to state above, PayPal isn’t just reserving the right to restrict “that type erotica;” it’s given itself permission to restrict transactions for anything it deems “sexually oriented.” Does this mean no one will ever be able to purchase sexually oriented material anywhere at any time? Of course not. But my liberarian-fu (hat-tip Ridley) dislikes intensely the notion of corporations deciding what adults may and may not purchase. Now, you can say, “It’s ONLY PayPal; there are other choices,” but what’s to stop those other choices from instituting similar restrictions? Nothing, obviously, because we’ve already decided that PayPal is within its rights to do this.
By the way, Amazon has just as vague and thorny a policy regarding content as PayPal does. If I remember the terms of service correctly, it has given itself the right to decline to sell items which it “deems offensive.” That’s pretty much carte blanche to reject anything it decides it doesn’t like. So just because Amazon allows these erotica titles to be sold via its site today doesn’t mean it won’t change its mind tomorrow.
Moreover, becoming a publisher isn’t all that easy. SELF-publishing is relatively easy, but it’s the self-publishers who are most at risk here. Of the primary channels open to self-publishers, two use PayPal (ARe and Smashwords, both of which also distribute to other third party vendors like Apple which are not always directly accessible to self-publishers). For self-publishing authors whose work may violate PayPal’s rules (and I count myself among them, because although I don’t write rape, incest, bestiality or underage sex, I *do* write books with a lot of sex in them), there is a realistic concern that the available distribution channels for their work may be cut in half or even to nothing at all.
I am not saying what PayPal has done is the end of the world. I’m not saying PayPal does not have the right to do it. I *am* saying that I have just as much right to say I think it’s a bad policy that is rife with the potential for capriciousness and abuse. I am also saying I have a right to terminate my business relationship with them as a result of their decision.
And that’s exactly what I plan to do. I hope others who feel similarly will do the same.
@Jane: Everyone says the same thing like we haven’t tried. It’s not doable. Paypal has pooped in the pool and there’s no processor who wants to come in the water.
By the way, Bookstrand got their Paypal back up on the site. So I guess incest is okay if it’s from a publisher, but not indies. The hypocrisy in enforcement supports my opinion that this whole exercise has been a market share grab.
@Roslyn Holcomb: Yeah they are processing payments for porn but when we ask them about erotica, the answer is no. The difference in our research and yours seems to be we’ve actually contacted processors and said ‘we will be selling xyz, what do you think?’ and they say no. Heck you can use Paypal on Ebay to buy BDSM erotica–the same books they’ve banned elsewhere. What gives? I don’t know. The Terms of Service are all the same.
I suspect the competition threw Indies under the buss because I can buy a flogger with Paypal and watch video pron with Paypal, I just can’t read indie erotica.
Michelle, why would they process porn, but refuse erotica? Don’t some porn sites sell erotica? I find it hard to believe that they’d just leave money on the table. Have they given you an explanation?
Is it truly paypal that’s causing this crackdown or the credit card companies and banks that paypal deals with pressuring paypal?
@Roslyn Holcomb: No I don’t other than this was a competitive strike to regain market share on the part of publishers or to gain market share on the part of other booksellers. The uneven enforcement tells me this really isn’t about the content of erotica books.
@maria: Who knows? There have been rumors yes and no. How interesting that we can’t get a clear statement on the situation from the companies taking action.
Sometimes I think one of Paypal’s employees just read the wrong book one day.
And what about those of us whose books were pulled off the Bookstrand shelves and DON’T meet any of the criteria for being pulled?
All of my characters are of legal age – nobody sleeps with anybody that they are related to by blood. I think the only animals are a couple of horses and that’s in my historical – and nobody has sex with the horses. There was no rape scene – all sex was consensual.
Heck, the one story pulled was a twisted fairy tale – Sexy Red Hood – based on Little Red Riding Hood and it was the least hot of all my stories. The wolf was a human – not a werewolf – it was his name that made him the wolf – W. Olf.
And last but not least – no I’m not indie published – I have a publisher and an editor and agreed on paper that in my story was no rape, incest, bestiality etc.
This wasn’t a clean out – it was a purge.
So Michelle, you’re saying that the entire payment processing industry is refusing to process erotica, even though some of them process porn? If that’s the case, then it sounds like an industry issue and not just Paypal.
Jackie, I’m not suggesting that anyone become an erotica epub, though I’m amazed that no one has, I just don’t understand why someone doesn’t set up a storefront, much like ARe to sell erotica. Actually I’m surprised that ARe hasn’t done it. In this era of self pubbing it seems like a reasonable solution. Though if what Michelle is saying is accurate, that the entire payment processing industry shuns erotica while embracing porn, that might not be possible.
As for breaking any ties with Paypal, I can’t say that I have any, personally. Two of my vendors do, but the bulk of my books aren’t sold through them.
I also know that Amazon has such terms, after all, they’ve taken away the buy button on at least one of my books. Bottom line is, vendors have the right to say who they will do business with. That’s capitalism for you. Amazon is the 800 pound gorilla today, eho knows who will be on top tomorrow.
@Michelle McCleod: I appreciate that this must be frustrating for you but I have a hard time swallowing that Paypal and the major retailers go together to put indies and self pubs out of business. Truly.
I took my books off Smashwords because I can’t swallow their decision to let PayPal decide what’s okay to publish or not. I do agree that PayPal has their TOS and they have every right to uphold it, but I can’t in all good conscience use their system or publish with a company that allows PayPal to determine their standards.
I hope Mark Coker changes his mind because I think he and his company are awesome.
@Jane: I think someone put a birdie in Paypal’s ear, I don’t know who and I certainly can’t prove it, but given that we already have pissing contests between booksellers covered in mainstream media, don’t you find it interesting that Paypal, a company owned by Amazon’s competition, is causing quite a ruckus in ebook distribution for whatever reason?
From what I understand and saw, indies dominated the best seller lists on the smaller retailers. They knocked off established publishers with all their ‘sordid’ incest stories (which were incredibly popular–Woody Allen sex is a big fantasy apparently).
In the larger scheme of things, I believe publishers thought indies were a non issue. I think they believed they had a perfect eye for quality and that indies would be 100% dreck. Much to their amazement, they find they’ve missed many gems and then, on top of that, someone can come in with an explicit title and spank them on the best seller lists. We can also get our own movie deals, thank you very much.
Indies have been incredibly disruptive to business-as-usual and that means we are costing other businesses market share as well as profits. We’re hitting their bottom lines.
If you ask yourself, who benefits here, I think the market dynamics at play become clear. This didn’t just happen, there was a trigger event and there was a reason for it.
The upshot, Indie titles with incest and other banned topics can no longer be sold in multiple outlets, whereas Siren can change a disclaimer making a ludicrous claim that twin brothers having sex with the same woman at the same time isn’t “titillating” and continue to sell.
Who benefits in that picture? It’s not Indies.
@Michelle McCleod None of your suppositions make sense to me. EBay would want to continually disrupt the ebook distribution? That seems to benefit only Amazon, not EBay. Publishers banding together to do anything is kind of a laugh. Three of the largest publishers can’t get their community book site, Bookish, off the ground even though it has been promised since last April. Indies are making money for companies, particularly Smashwords and the like. I don’t doubt that something is going on here, but I highly doubt that it has to do with an eBay + Publisher conspiracy. Indies are, in my opinion, collateral damage in a bigger fight, rather than the target.
I used to be the webmaster of an erotica site.
In 2002 VISA USA imposed rules requiring adult content sites to pay a $750 fee and register financial details about their operation. MasterCard soon followed. For adult-oriented businesses to process those cards, they had to shell out $1500 (per year, if I remember correctly) plus merchant card fees that were much higher than lower-risk businesses. Some banks flat out refused to deal with high-risk (re: adult) businesses. American Express does not process adult. PayPal started cracking down in May 2003.
There are 3rd party processors, sort of like PayPal, that allow businesses to process credit cards without signing up for a merchant account. Rates vary but they take a chunk of each sale (15% – 20% isn’t unheard of) plus monthly fees, a setup fee and, often, the stores needed to keep a reserve amount in the account equal to x amount of monthly sales. And then there are fees for chargebacks by customers. Even if a merchant uses one of the adult processors, they’re still required by Visa to pay the $750 if the merchant wants to accept Visa on their site. Who wants to miss out on that?
There’s considerable cost and roadblocks to operating an adult site. The PayPal purge isn’t new or surprising- there’s history there – and, yes, it’s very likely fueled by Visa and other CC companies.
@Jackie Barbosa: *Blinks*
So, lemme get this straight:
PayPal can hold your funds for six months, during which that money gains interest in their account, and then FINE you two and a half g’s for buying OR selling adult material on a whim? Okay. I thought they were arrogant already, but that’s flat-out hubris.
As much as I dislike the idea of MORE government oversight in any aspect of our lives, I’d say if any company right now needs to be put on their knees on a short leash by their Uncle Sam (yes, the tongue-in-cheek BDSM incest reference was entirely intentional) it’s PayPal.
@Jane: Could be. It’s just a very strange situation with a very strange outcome. Companies that have decided bdsm is rape are now silencing hundreds of authors and further disrupting the market.
At this point, given that Coker has said, as of last night, the genesis of all of this are credit card companies, publishers need to be concerned that this doesn’t spread to affect their product lines.
If it continues to stop at just Indies, then why? You are correct that there’s a bigger agenda at play, I’m not so sure Indies are just collateral damage though.
@Jane: I don’t think this was a move to put self-publishers and small publishing companies out of business. I *am* beginning to have slightly more doubt that it’s all about the chargeback problem.
Someone on the Kindleboards pointed out that it seemed unlikely that the only “adult” books that are subject to high rates of return/chargeback are those involving rape, incest, bestiality, and “barely-legal” protagonists. And after I thought about that for a second, I had to agree that it seems a bit odd. I mean, I find it hard to believe that there’s significantly more buyer’s remorse among those who purchase “Debbie Does Daddy” than among those who get “Anal Sex Stories, Vol. 1” or “Becky’s Bodacious Tatas” (I’ve seen both these titles, or variations on them, out there). That makes me suspect there *is* some moralizing going on here under the guise of financial interest.
It’s not to say there is NO financial interest in blocking certain types of content. It IS to say that the types of content being blocked seem to be a fairly limited subset (at present) of the types of content that would be subject to chargebacks.
Actually Jackie I suspect thay Paypal is trying to thread the needle here, so to speak. They like the profits from erotica, just not the chargebacks, so by eliminating certain categories, they cut the amount of erotica. This might also be a controlled experiment to see if eliminating these categories cut the chargebacks. If it doesn’t they might go further. Also, it’s not impossible they they have done analysis of the types of materials that are more prone to fraud. I know that Amazon, for example specializes in that type analysis, as does Wal Mart for that matter. This would be fairly easy to do, especially if those type books have a title or tags that indicate their category. The same tags we use to help readers find our books, could be used to pull statistical data. I would think it would be fairly easy to do a regression analysis on which books receive the most chargebacks. It might also be a time issue. Did the chargebacks start happening as the self pubs increased? That might explain why Bookstrand simply found it easier to eliminate self pubs.
It appears ARe is beginning to delete indie content now too, with no announcement. Authors who’ve followed the rules ARe laid out are finding works that never violated any rules to begin with are now gone. Consensual BDSM looks to be one of the casualties.
Michelle, did those authors recategorize their books? ARe sent out an email a couple if weeks ago that you had to change your book’s category as they are eliminating the old erotica category. Any books not recategorized will be inactivated.
@Roslyn Holcomb: That is plausible, returns are higher for my erotica–0.5% for my non erotica vs. about 10% for erotica. Although some of my erotica has that lower 0.5% return rate and I suspect pricing plays into that. My erotica returns are from higher price point works–this is all for spanking erotica which would fall under the ‘BDSM is rape’ definition being used by Paypal.
My suggestion to booksellers would be to tighten their return policies because too many readers read erotica, return it and buy the next one and that behavior should be stopped. Tighten that up and you begin to push back on the refund/chargeback issue.
However, why hasn’t this been explained as a chargeback issue? Why has it appeared to be a moral campaign? I would expect to see a sentence somewhere from someone in charge that says ‘Chargebacks are high in the following subgenres and as such we will not service sites carrying this type of product.’ That’s a whole different situation than they way it’s been communicated to date.
@Roslyn Holcomb: As far as I know yes, people jumped through the hoops as instructed. However, I am not a primary source on this, so we’ll have to wait to see what other facts come to the surface.
It’ll be interesting to see if ARe doesn’t take the next logical step and split erotica into a separate storefront. If they don’t they’ll just be leaving money on the table, and that’s never a good plan. The edgy erotica will probably cost more, because the vendor will have to pay higher card fees, but that type material usually does. The fans of it are accustomed to that.
Michelle, unfortunately, the chargeback issues ome from the card companies and the vendor rarely has a choice. When I worked at a card company we routinely had people doing this, and the card company would simply give them their money back. Then they’d demand a refund from the vendor. The vendor, not wanting to lose credit card services would usually comply. Neither thought it was worth the bad blood from a customer.
@Jane: I wondered if Amazon was allowing digital adult downloads paid through Paypal again. But the Adult listing of things people were allow to sell on eBay was about the same as Paypal is requiring of other sites with the addition of digitally delivered adult goods:
@Roslyn Holcomb: Well Iguess I should clarify I am talking returns then, not charge backs. Sites like Amazon likely don’t have a charge back problem compared to the smaller sites. My understanding is chargebacks come from credit card fraud/theft most often and maybe the smaller sites were vulnerable to that more so than Amazon, with it’s more thorough financial infrastructure? Or were there thousands of sixteen year olds buying pron with Mommy’s credit card?
Smashwords lets authors know about chargebacks and the erotica authors I hang with have had notification in other genres, but not for erotica. So ????
@Michelle McCleod: almost no ebook seller offers refunds. People can do chargebacks for defective purchases. We’ve advised it here at Dear Author in the comments when a reader has gotten a defective ebook and not been able to return it. Many self published books are poorly formatted, poorly edited. I can see the chargebacks for indies being disproportionately high for that reason alone, not related to the content.
Just a quick heads-up here, Jane– it looks like you might have replaced the original Paypal-focused roundup with a handful of short book reviews by mistake.
Meep. As my daughter would say. Will fix when I get to a computer. Thanks for the heads up
@Jane: Amazon does, but if the small retailers didn’t then they may have made this mess and it’s going to be tough for them to survive between the frozen paypal accounts and the loss of customers as well as their money.
The question that remains unanswered is this… all Siren had to do was change their disclaimers a couple times, Indies were never given that option. Indies changed content and it still wasn’t good enough. As far as I know, Siren and other publishers didn’t change any content.
To say many self pubbed books are poorly formatted is true, but that doesn’t mean that entire demographic of authors deserves to be deleted. Many self pubbed books were of quality enough to rank on best seller lists on a regular basis.
Lastly, we still haven’t answered the question as to why it’s okay for Paypal and Ebay to sell pron in all forms, but they refuse to allow other sites to do the same. If they had said it was a chargeback issue, it would be understandable, but they have never said that. Is the erotica on ebay immune to chargebacks?
Until the actions taken really do become about the buzzwords ‘incest’ ‘rape’ ‘underage sex’ and ‘bestiality’ across the board, the entire situation is suspect. The rationale given doesn’t hold up under investigation and critical analysis, and it’s something that bears scrutiny as well as exposure on blogs and media outlets.
So all these changes have now occurred. While I don’t usually read these subgenres, I think that they should be available for those that do. It sounds like amazon still sells them, but does anyone know of where these books are now being offered? Normally, the internet routes around censorship so I would expect the books to be offered somewhere. Any ideas? Perhaps there should be a list of books removed from smashwords and where they have gone to.