Over the past few days, I've seen a number of blog entries and articles regarding PayPal and their directive toward Smashwords, and I'll get to that in a moment. For those who are unfamiliar with the parties involved, PayPal is a company that allows payments and money transfers to be made through the internet. They act as a third party so that the online merchant never sees your credit card or other payment information. Most people associate it with eBay; obviously if you're buying something from an online auction, you don't want to give strangers your credit card information. Many (if not most) other online retailers now accept PayPal as a system of payment, or even use it as their sole method of accepting payments. Smashwords is a self-publishing service. Authors upload their manuscripts to Smashwords, which converts the files into multiple e-book formats for reading on different devices, i.e. a Kindle, Nook, etc. at a price set by the author.
How are these two things related, and what's the hubbub about? Well, Smashwords uses PayPal as a payment system for purchasing e-books from the website. Not unusual. But, in mid-February, PayPal gave Smashwords an ultimatum: Remove the "edgy" erotica, or face deactivation of their PayPal account. Since PayPal is integrated into the Smashwords website, Smashwords had no choice but to comply. That's a quote from a Huffington Post article, and you can read the whole thing on the above link. A lot of what's featured on Smashwords could be classified as "erotica" in some way or another (see my entry on erotica definitions for more clarification...the definition encompasses a lot more than you'd think!), and though Smashwords already has rules against authors featuring underage characters in sexual situations, PayPal insisted on more regulations, and "they [Smashwords] had to implement new guidelines for bestiality, rape, and incest in order to comply with PayPal's ultimatum. Smashwords will no longer allow authors to sell erotica featuring 'pseudo-incest' (between stepchildren and step-parents, for instance) or 'shape-shifters in paranormal romance' engaging in sex while in 'were-creature' form. Smashwords' new guidelines apply only to works labelled as 'erotica,' so other genres (including your Woody Allen biography) are okay. For now." The italics are mine because it was such a long quote and I didn't want it to get lost, but again, they're not my words...they're from the article. It's also worth mentioning that Smashwords isn't the only online e-book retailer being sent these letters and demands by PayPal.
Because I don't claim to understand any of the legalese, I'm going to send you to an article written by published author Stephanie Draven (a fellow MRW member), who has explained some of the terms being thrown around (both accurately and inaccurately) and what the issues are with this odd ultimatum. Check out her article here.
You might be sitting there saying, "Okay...what's the big deal? I don't want to read about (furry werewolves/consenting but not biologically related step-siblings who didn't grow up together/teenage couples in an arranged marriage in Medieval Europe, etc) doing it anyway!"
I'll tell you why it matters...at least to me.
Most of what I've read gives the impression that PayPal is attempting to push its own moral standards on Smashwords, one of their business partners. Why? I'm not sure, and I won't even pretend to have good guesses. Concern about possible government (ours or maybe another global government?) regulation or censorship and they don't want to be held accountable for anything they don't agree with on Smashwords, as Stephanie Draven mentions? Aliens who might invade and question our reading material? Who knows. My concern would be that, if an company is allowed to dictate what a publisher can or cannot publish--whether it personally floats your boat or not--what's to stop them from issuing more ultimatums...maybe next time, saying Smashwords can't publish anything with other "outside the box" content. Like gay or lesbian sexual content. Or interracial sexual content. Or male/female missionary-with-the-lights-off sexual content. I've probably exaggerated a bit, but still... The phrase "give them an inch, they take a mile" comes to mind. While this doesn't concern me specifically (I don't have any stories that feature PayPal's (current) "banned list" of content in the works, and I don't have anything published at the moment anyway), my hackles as an author go up. I'll be watching this closely as more information comes out.
On another note, a lot of this reminds me of every single "banned book" situation I've heard of, from Harry Potter (witchcraft) to Tropic of Cancer (sexual content).
Please take some time to read the articles, and form your own conclusions.
What are your thoughts on the issues?