Monday, February 27, 2012

PayPal Has Become the Morals Police

Friday night as GK and I were watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, I received an e-mail from Mark Coker, the founder/owner of Smashwords. I can't reprint the e-mail here since I don't have Mark's permission, but needless to say, I wasn't the only one who received it. The news of the contents spread over the internet through the weekend.

Basically, PayPal has issued a warning to Smashwords that certain erotic content must be removed from their website. Otherwise PayPal will deactivate Smashwords' PayPal account. PayPal allegedly gave them only ten days to comply. The content PayPal objects to is erotica having to do with incest/pseudo-incest, bestiality and rape.

I'm of several minds on this development.

Most publishers have limits on what's acceptable in their guidelines. This is nothing new. In fact, Ellora's Cave rejects all three of the items in their submissions guidelines. So the number of publishers who would accept such types of things is limited. That leaves indie publishing.

Obviously there's a market for for this kind of erotica, which is why the indie writers put such types of erotica up on places like Amazon and Smashwords.

On the other hand, retailers don't want to anger customers. When enough customers protest something that disturbs them, retailers often bow to the pressure. A good example is when Amazon removed the 'how-to-commit-pedophilia' title last year.

What's unusual is that this is business-to-business pressure. Rarely does a company object to something that is protected free speech and fills their own coffers. This move was apparently not spawned by customer objections.

PayPal is hardly an innocent party. It has spent millions on lobbying efforts to prevent the company from being classified as a bank. It rarely follows it's own policies and procedures, and often changes those policies and procedures on a whim. So personally, I find their stance on issuing morality ultimatums to another company rather hypocritical.

It also shows a flaw in the design of Smashwords' software in that they can't readily change to a new financial provider.

More than likely another company with no PayPal connections will pick up the ball and provide those people with stories they prefer that PayPal deems objectionable.

But this situation goes to show we ARE a global community. This is not a maybe that will happen someday down the line. GLOBAL IS NOW.

While I can't put words in Mark Coker's mouth, the likely reason he decided to use PayPal is because of its global reach. All the other e-book retailers are limited by the laws in both the U.S. and overseas over sales and the types of merchandise.

Do I object to certain types of materials? Yes, but I can CHOSE NOT TO BUY the materials I object to, just like I don't buy crystal meth. Do I think what PayPal did was right? No, forcing your views on the populace rarely works. That's why Prohibition failed.

But most of all, I don't like seeing anyone bullied. For those of you who object to Amazon's tactics, take a good hard look at PayPal. This is what a real bully looks like.

The bigger problem is what else will PayPal find objectionable down the road?


  1. The people who write this can still get paid with a check from SW, can't they...instead of doing Paypal?

  2. It's not just a question of paying the author, though you are correct that the author can request payment in the form of a paper check.

    If I buy the latest Tess St. John book, Eyes of Jade, though Smashwords, my payment is processed through PayPal.