Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Truth About Paypal, censorship, bestiality, and life in general

There is a lot of talk about this whole Paypal thing but I have to say that Paypal isn't the root of the problem. They are just the messenger in the whole debacle. Please read the entire letter, don't piecemeal it. Please keep a level head, this letter does explain some things that other people are making wild accusations about that just isn't true. Yes, some authors will be effected by this but if publishers are calm and work with Paypal they can stay open. It's the knee jerk reaction that is causing the problem. Credit card companies are behind this, not Paypal

As with the first email from Friday (archived here:  ), you're receiving this message because you have previously published erotica content at Smashwords under your account at tied to your email address,  Just because you're receiving this email doesn't mean your book or books are affected.  Read on.

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? (emphasis mine)

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 so it's archived.

Mark Coker

P.S.  Please think carefully before emailing me.  Although I try to reply to everyone and stay accessible, the flood of emails ultimately prevents me from serving your interests.  I will send out additional updates via email as warranted, and will also post interim updates to Site Updates at


ryan field said...

Thanks for directing me to this post. It helped me understand better.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

What??? This is outrageous! If the content is legal, what business is it of the banks? A bank exists to provide payment options, not to condone or otherwise the product being sold. Imagine if a hard-core Catholic with view about contraception ran a bank - would they prohibit the payment of contraception with a credit card? The list of things someone could prohibit based on personal views is endless.

And why are they singling out erotica? Why is it OK for other genres to include themes relating to rape, bestiality and incest? Or will they eventually be targeted as well. And if so, what if your story is TRUE?

I'm interested to know... so they'll stop allowing for the payment of porn using PayPal and credit card as well?

I can't say I'm much of a fan of bestiality, incest or rape but 2 points:

a) there may be a perfectly valid and legitimate reason why such a theme is included and
b) if censorship starts, where does it end???

I wonder do these banks realise that governments TAX illegal income? for perfectly sound reasons, granted, but that being the case, where does a bank get off refusing to fund something that is actually legal? It's not like it's their money - it's the purchaser money which the purchaser choose to keep with a financial institution. So much for the customer is always right...

Rick G said...

I've been following this on Kindle Boards. To think that finance companies are trying to dictate creativity is scary and hypocritical (especially if one looks at the backlash from them whenever the concept of credit card reform comes in in congress).

Personally I would love to see this get class action status either discrimination or first amendment violations.

Sara York said...

Well said Ciara, where does it end. Yes, the act of having sex with a minor is illegal, but writing about it??? Also, it would be very short sighted to think any of this stuff doesn't happen in real life.

And what is next. Porn, the sex toy industry. Movies, because I know quite a few movies that are filled with these themes yet they are allowed to make money.

Rick, I think a class action suit is on it's way. It will take time and the people have to sue the correct organization. Suing PayPal won't do anything. Suing the credit card companies will.

Ryan, glad this helped. Understanding the true problem helps to know where to direct the fight.

Ultimately, I think this came about because someone complained. People have written about all of these subjects for years, yet banks haven't even tried to censor books, now it's a problem--Why?

Charmaine Clancy said...

I find it unbelievable that ANYONE cares what anyone else wants to read or write. It just seems absurd. I don't like Jane Austin, but I don't begrudge other people enjoying it.

Hope this nonsense is sorted soon for the industry.

Wagging Tales

Sara York said...

Charmaine, unfortunately people do. I was in a private group where one person went off because people were writing incest stories. She pitched a fit, almost ruining the group.

Ms. T Garden said...

Ms. York,

Thank you for putting Mark's correspondence on your blog, but this is not the first version erotic authors with books at Smashwords received. The first was sent on the 24th and the one you're posting now was sent on the 27th.

This version is AFTER the on-line conversation began. After Mark's continued correspondence with Paypal and hopefully after they began to see how foolish their position was.

Paypal's original restrictions, which were also conveyed to Selena Kitt, of Excessica Publishing, banned even consensual BDSM as well as shape shifters having intercourse in their animal form.

I don't believe that the reactions of both author's and readers was knee-jerk at all, but rather the beginning of a much-needed push back against currency processors and Credit-card companies not only making obscene sums of money from the erotic book market, but also trying to dictate what that content may contain.

ryan field said...

Oddly, I didn't know much about this until last night. This morning I found out that I've been banned on ARe and I don't even know why. The book in question doesn't contain any of the content that has been targeted. It's very disconcerting to be banned and not even know why.

I posted about it here if you're interested:

gemma parkes said...

Yes, l had the exact same emails from Smashwords and it seems like Mark Coker is handling things very well. As for overreacting, well people always do but with some of our fellow authors (respected ones) in the genre having their work removed from ARe it has to be a concern to us all. All we can do is watch this space very carefully.

Kallypso Masters said...

The original Smashwords e-mail is what has me worried, because in their efforts to comply with PayPal, I think Smashwords went beyond even what the credit-card companies want. (I believe they are governed by an act of Congress, too, so we might all want to contact our legislative leaders too.)

But Smashwords' revised guidelines prohibit ANY minor as a character in an erotic novel, not just participating in sex acts, but appearing anywhere in the novel. That's a problem for erotic romance novelists like me, because I write about realistic adult characters pursuing romances that include kinky BDSM sex. One couple in my series has a 7-year-old daughter (albeit one conceived via hot vanilla sex in a beach cave--not in a BDSM sex scene) and another couple is expecting a baby in June.

I've written to Mark Coker (who I believe is trying to deal with this censorship issue in a level-headed way, which I appreciate). I tried to explain why that guideline might be an extreme that will keep a lot of books off the Smashwords shelves. No response yet, but I know he's flooded with e-mails.

He did respond to my request over the weekend to have an "erotic romance" category added to the options for us, though, and said his development team was going to add it. I haven't checked in the last couple days to see if it's there though. Soon, I hope.

We're just going to have to keep fighting for awareness among authors, readers, and the public, and hope that residents of the United States aren't really content with going down this slippery slope. Sure, I'd love to do away with all daddy/daughter incest and pseudo-incest books (being an incest survivor myself), but then what's next? BDSM? I am making a very nice living writing the stories of my heart in this subgenre and do not want to have to go back to finding another day job.


Morticia Knight said...

Thanks Sara - I had only seen the original comments from Mark Coker. It's nice to know that discussions are continuing, and it isn't just a done deal - which is how it seemed to be portrayed originally. Writing letters, blogging and petitioning as Mark suggested is essential to keep this issue in the foreground until a reasonable resolution is reached. It's up to all of us.

Sara York said...

As I get more information I'll post it. Keeping a level head is the best way to defeat this. A very smart attorney will latch onto this fight and make it a class actions suit, probably someone with political aspirations.

It's ridiculous to think that no one under the age of 18 won't be included in a novel that has erotic content. I'm not saying that sex with minors is okay, but people have kids. Kids exist, they are part of the experience of life. It will take a battle, and I don't think this censorship will hold up in a court of law.