This President's Day weekend was a wild one for indie erotica writers. As email notices from two of the biggest independent distributors (All Romance E-books and Bookstrand) delivered some shocking news. Author's e-books had been removed from circulation due to an ultimatum delivered by PayPal. Bookstrand went as far as to take down it's Indie Author's page. What prompted these two book sellers to act so rashly?
Apparently, a threat from PayPal demanding any short-stories or e-books containing offensive material be removed. The problem? Many of the targeted books were perfectly legal by any standard. High on the list were stories that contained Barely Legal and/or Pseudo Incest themes. Most of these works centered on relations between 18-19yo women and older men.
Why in the world should PayPal care about these fictional scenarios? Were they really awful enough to demand they be removed?
For the past year or so the e-book market has been flooded with so called Daddy stories. The rate at which these stories sell, would seem to indicate that there is a hungry market for this scenario. Despite this, ARE and Bookstrand caved into to PayPal's demands and removed as much of the objectionable material as they could.
I for one am made nervous and very skeptical about this weekend's past events. What's next on the list of unacceptable titles? GLBT themes... Or BDSM. In fact one very successful erotica author/publisher was flat out told that BDSM was considered rape, during a phone conversation with PayPal. While this technically isn't an infringement on free speech, it's certainly unsettling.
I don't like the idea of a payment processor being able to determine how a book distributor runs its business. Furthermore, also being able to determine what type of content that a distributor can sell. What if someone with a particular political or social agenda is able to use the power of a behemoth like PayPal to further their goals?
Think about it! Is it really your credit card companies or PayPal’s business what you read? Should they have the power to dictate what you can buy with your hard-earned money??
Frightening times ahead folks, and something all of us should keep an eye on.
P.S. I in fact received a notice from Bookstrand this weekend to remove my books from their service. Most of my work is queer in nature. So it wasn't just younger woman older man.. but also younger man/older man scenarios as well.
Here is a copy of the follow up notice I received, with further explanation.
Dear Publisher/Indie Author,
Firstly, thank you for your support in promptly removing titles that PayPal has identified as "obscene."
We are working diligently to unfreeze our PayPal account, mainly so that our customers can continue paying for their purchases using their preferred method of payment.
Please note that regardless of PayPal's disruption by suspending our vendor account, all sales will be paid out to publishers and indie authors as they become due and payable. The next scheduled distribution is April 30th, 2012. You do have the option of changing your payment method from PayPal to to Direct Deposit to a U.S. bank account in yourBookStrand.com account settings.
We may or may not consider finding an alternative to PayPal in the future. This is not only a PayPal issue. We were told by PayPal they have to comply with Visa/MasterCard regulations so that they do not get fined. We will also comply to all minimal requirements to continue to process online credit card payments through Visa, Mastercard, and American Express.
Secondly, "keyword search" played a major role in PayPal's identifying content on our site as "obscene." Searches for incest or rape or bestiality produced results containing titles considered to be in violation. Without notice, our account was suspended and our PayPal processing gateway disabled, requiring our immediate attention. We were told to remove content containing these themes.
If your book is NOT about incest or rape for sexual titillation, or does not contain sex scenes with a naturally occurring animal that will not shift into a sentient being, we recommend that you go through your titles (including blurbs and excerpts) and remove the words rape, incest, or bestiality and substitute with a more "appropriate" word. Otherwise, it will show up in a keyword search, which may get your book banned.
Your book will be considered for reinstatement if you feel that a title you published has been blocked erroneously, i.e., rape was not for sexual titillation, or your book was mistaken for "bestiality" when it actually is a sentient shape-shifter (i.e., sex involving dragon-shifters, wolf-shifters, etc.).
If you want reinstatement of any of your titles, please submit a ticket at the Contact Us link http://www.bookstrand.com/contact-us. Please include your publisher name, the exact title of your book, and the phrase "For reinstatement" in the body of your message. Do not respond to this email with your requests because it will not go to the right staff member for handling.
Please note that it may take a week or more for reinstatement because we have to process each title one by one.
Thirdly, please review our rules for uploaded content at www.bookstrand.com/suppressed. These rules will be updated in the upcoming days to clarify any vagueness or to remove confusion. PayPal and credit card processing rules influenced some of these criteria as they pertain to the words incest, rape, and bestiality.
However, our criteria on the Suppressed page are not based entirely on what is considered as legal or illegal regarding consenting adults. Our criteria are based on what BookStrand is willing or not willing to sell on our site.
Now that the majority of titles containing these three words have been removed from BookStrand, we will reactivate the Indie Titles page shortly, which was the page that had the most PayPal "violations."
Some other blogs about this subject
Selena Kitt’s blog
J.S. Wayne’s Blog
Marlene Sexton’s Blog
Online Petition To Stop PayPal's Censorship Efforts