Censorship spreading to eBookstores?

I got an urgent email from BookStrand (an eBookstore) today saying, among other things:

Dear Publisher,

We were informed by PayPal, without notice, and by our credit card processing company, that we are required to remove all titles at BookStrand.com with content containing incest, pseudo incest, rape, and bestiality, effective immediately.

We request that you immediately log into your account and unpublish all titles that contain the restricted content. If you have uploaded titles containing restricted content and do not unpublish these titles as we are requesting, we will deactivate your entire publisher account, which will remove all your titles from sale.

Now, before you shout "Good for them!", take a look at the rules below and see how general they are. This is currently an issue with BookStrand, but given that they say the people making the rules are PayPal and a credit card provider, could this show up for Smashwords, All Romance eBooks, etc. in the near future?

The "forbidden content" rules include:

- Pedophilia in any size, shape, or form. Good rule

- Any form of sex with minors or any character under eighteen years old. Eliminates a lot of current YA fiction, but OK

- Sex with a young character still in high school or using variations of "teenager" or "barely turned" 18 or 19 for sexual titillation. Because Twilight must be porn, right? This is ridiculous. God forbid that erotica contain "sexual titillation" except among married couple. Adults are adults, and 18 and 19 year olds do actually engage in sex, often for the purpose of sexual titillation, their own and others.

- Hatred for characters based on race/ethnicity or religion. Because hundreds of books including ones assigned to high school students such as Catcher in the Rye must be porn.

- Hatred or bashing of gays/lesbians. I can see restricting books that celebrate such hatred, but ruling out the hatred of gays as a topic wipes out another huge segment of the YA market.

- Titles with covers that show male or female genitalia, butt cracks, or the female nipple. So anything posted for Thong Thursday, that your plumber will use to adorn your kitchen, or that you could wear to the beach anywhere in the U.S. is barred? Ban the nipples and genitalia, but are we children that we cannot see a butt?

- Any combination of incest or sexual acts involving an immediate family member. Good rule

- Pseudo incest or sexual acts with parents or siblings ("step" or "foster") for the purposes of titillation. That eliminated three of my books, but fair enough

- Rape for the purposes of titillation. Good rule

- Scenes of non-consensual bondage or non-consensual sado-masochistic practices. Fairly broad restriction, since a lot of BDSM play involves at least a hint of non-consent as part of the play, but fair rule.

- Bestiality with naturally occurring animals. Sex with werewolves, demons, dragons, etc. OK. Sex with sheep, not OK.

- Sex with non-animated corpses. Even if they're trying to eat your brains while you screw, that's OK.

- Snuff. Good rule

- Scat play (sexual acts involving urination and defecation). Whatever

- Harmful content such as instructions on how to make a bomb, etc. Fair rules, though a bit open-ended
Claude Beaulieu's profile photoJ.S. Wayne's profile photoSophya Rowle's profile photoTessie “effing” L'Amour's profile photo
Talk about ridiculous. This is just someone else trying to force their views on everyone else. If you don't like this stuff then don't buy it, it's as simple as that.
ouch - dubious consent is a big theme for me - it's there (but barely) . . . it's part of BDSM, as you say :( Of course, the problem is (as always) PayPal trying to foist their religious right agenda on the world. I wish that instead of censorship vendors found another pay channel to use that wasn't promoting its own moral agenda!!
Wow. The latter books in the Dune series by Frank Herbert would fall victim to a few of those rules. Your options sound limited :(
The wording on BookStrand is also suspicious, because it suggests that these rules will be applied to indie authors but not publishing houses. I guess somebody pointed out the issues with Twilight, Catcher in the Rye and hundreds of YA titles, but somehow PayPal is dictating this suppression for indie authors.
+Ed Morrison Exactly. The wording is extremely broad, and could be used to ban many, many books, meaning that authors are left subject to the arbitrary dictates of the political view of the credit card company or PayPal.
+Shar Azade At least the incest/pseudo-incest rules have a caveat. Gay bashing or racial hatred (e.g., The Help, both a best-selling book and nominated for Best Picture) have no such caveats.

One could argue that nobody will ban The Help, but exactly where is the line, and who gets to decide? What if a white supremacist group makes an argument that The Help is false and misleading and violates the standards? Will it get pulled?

Censorship is not about what gets banned first. It's about what might get banned next.
I'm not sure how any of these rules are "good rules". I mean, there goes The End of Alice, there goes Maldoror, there goes One Hundred Years of Solitude, there goes Ada or Ardor, there goes GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire. There goes Princess Daisy, there goes The Monk. Hell, incest? There goes the biographies of many historical royal families.

I'm sorry, but any of these topics could genuinely appear with good reason in any book and often do. Censorship is never a good idea.
Might be time to create a new online payment tool...something to rival paypal and market exclusively to authors....
I agree, Charisse, we need a payment portal not ruled by the religious right. PayPal has confiscated the accounts of several erotica authors I know - which means they KEPT the money when they closed the account.
That's strange. I checked my publisher account and I didn't get one of those letters. That would mean every book title with "Daddy" in it and a lot of others currently being sold by BS. Essentially they would lose at least half of their stock and I don't think BS is prepared for that kind of drop in sales. Are you sure this isn't a mean prank someone is playing on you?
Betsy D
Fuck paypal. They're not reliable, have a terrible reputation, and are unregulated. Money "disappears" from their accounts regularly. They're just covering their own asses while screwing ours. Grr. Pisses me off.

May I spread this letter around (sans your comments)? I'd like people to know what asshats they are. I can do it either to a direct few via private email or toss it up on social sites as you did here.
Yeah, I found the letter, plus the follow up letter, in my spam folder. I wrote back to Homie at BS about this. I would be willing to have BS do direct deposit to my bank account if it means moving PP out of the mix. Imagine PP suspending BS's account because of such an issue? That's blackmail. Stupid assinine PP.
This is why as soon as I get money in my PP account I transfer it immediately to my bank account. I don't leave money with PP.
+Betsy Dornbusch Feel free to pass it around. It is frustrating that PayPal seems to have such a lock on things. Even if I want to sell the stuff on my own site with credit cards, the only easy way is PayPal.
If you notice in the second email from BS Howie says that their account has already been suspended by PP and won't be reinstated until they clean out the smut. Can you imagine if PP decided to do this to Smashwords? I can't imagine Mark Coker standing still for this type of blackmail.
Hmmmm, just thinking. PP is owned by eBay, right? Who owns eBay? Are they part of Amazon? Are they affilliated in any way?
the problem, of course, is that we've already consented to it by using PayPal and agreeing to their TOS :( PP is aligned with e-bay, but I don't know if they have the same ownership - and I've never heard either connected to Amazon
BookStrand must be shitting bricks. They can't afford to comply (because so many books from their best sellers would be gone) and they can't afford not to comply (because they aren't getting paid right now).
it's more than not getting paid if they hold money in their account (as many vendors do), this could effectively shut them down completely :( I'm ready to live in the 21st century now and stop this nasty backslide into the 1950s!!
It does raise the question of what precipitated this, and how soon they will demand the same from other vendors. If Smashwords and All Romance eBooks stopped carrying even the three titles I took down from Bookstrand, it would be a real pain in my paystream.
From what I hear they're stepping up their campaign against smut :( We may all soon find ourselves unable to easily sell our wares, because you know it will only get more restrictive if they get away with this.
A payment processor should NOT be in the business of censorship, and they are using their power as THE online payment processor to enforce their agenda.

Also, butt cracks? A book with an appliance repairman on the front would be right out.
Now there's a great title for an erotica book, "Ask an Evangelical". lol
Betsy D
I think it has to be taken down by their "rules". Can you slap another cover on there and put it back up? Sigh. Not that you should have to. UGH. I posted on my blog about it; http://sexscenesatstarbucks.blogspot.com
It probably doesn't matter, because by their rules, at least two of the stories in it tread too close to the line. I have to go read the other collection as well.

It is unconscionable that they can get away with it, but I'm afraid they will by simply focusing on the restrictions on incest and pedophilia. Anybody who dares question the rules can be tarred and feathered for "supporting pedophilia and incest".
Some of those are obviously good rules generally, but others are treading a line they have no ability to walk with any consistency. The BDSM, scat, beastiality rules can be extended no end. Star Wars the porn remake would probably get banned if there was an Ewok in the background. And banning material using watersports? In regards to other fetishes its actually quite a popular one, this is like states banning sodomy. Censorship generally is just something we get very wrong at the moment, in lots of different areas of society.

Half of the works of classic literature I've read involved those topics. And no, I have no wish to burn them.
these guidelines go WAY beyond the norm for the erotica genre. But the larger question is why Paypal and VisaMS even involving themselves in this? Is the liability somehow shared by the point of payment as well as the publisher? That seems odd.
+Sarah Skuseth What people say is that PayPal is controlled by some fairly right wing folks who have decided this is a way to take the culture war to the bookstores. Whether that is true or not, I have no way of knowing, but it seems to be a unilateral push. I don't think VisaMS is involved, but if BookStrand accepts credit cards of all sorts through PayPal (a common setup), then PayPal controls all the payments, not just the ones actually paid via PayPal.
Totally ridiculous, financial companies interfering with publishing any kind of literature
Something I've been thinking on...What if all of us as Erotica authors were to send a letter to BS letting them know that in accordance with their new policies and censorship practices we will be removing ALL our titles form their site? If we all send the same letter, placing the number of titles we currently have with BS (CSeB currently has 68 titles there) that would make Howie take note of exactly what he is losing. In this letter we could suggest he change over to direct deposit to our bank accounts so he does not have to cave in to PP's blackmail. This might be the way for us to go as a group of indie authors/publishers.
And yes, to answer a new post, Smashwords pays through PP as well. but no way would Mark Coker do this same thing.
So once they get the sex out, will they turn their attentions toward banning anything that casts whatever religion-of-choice (presumably Christianity) in a bad light? Will they ban stories of the Crusades, and the Holy Wars?

I refuse to deal with Paypal. It is possible.
+Shar Azade: That's why I worded it the way I did. We should let BS know how unhappy with this we are. We can't simply suggest they move to direct deposit or something else, but let them know that unless they DO we will be removing all our titles, not simply the ones fitting PP's new blackmail scheme.
+Tessie L'Amour, please forgive my flip remark. I'm looking at it from the consumer side, and I don't have to try to make a living while bowing to the whims of an organization such as Paypal. I feel for you.

I stopped dealing with them when some friends who run bed and breakfasts told me that it was policy for Paypal to hold funds for 21 days so they could be certain they would clear. Really? In this day and age, we know if a check is going to clear within hours. That's 21 days of interest to Paypal, and of course not one dime goes back to the vendor. Nice business model, eh?

Is it possible for you to direct sell your books from your own website, and just cut Paypal out? Maybe have a coop group of authors so the site would attract more attention. (Just tossing out anti-Paypal ideas; I have no idea how your business operates.)
Just read the entire post now. FTW indeed!
Randall Brennan: Some of us are already grouped together, but selling on our own websites means utilizing a proven method and the best (that I know of) is PayPal. If anyone knows of another way I can sell directly form the CSeB website I would appreciate knowing it. Preferably something that puts the money directly into the bank. Thanks.
Betsy D
Someone just suggested Square to me, but I haven't heard of them. It sucks cuz you'll have to have an explanation on why you don't use paypal. I sure want the letter PayPal sent out. maybe it's out there already.
Funny I've had great service from Alertpay and Paypal, both of which are rated poorly.
I've always done well with PayPal, but now I want someone else to work through.
+Tessie L'Amour - can you email me links of everything? This might make the (small) news blog I contribute to... :P
I reiterate: we ALL need to band together in this with BS and write to Mark Coker and urge him to move to direct deposit. I already have.
So welcome back to the dark ages again, my friends. The new churches (corporations) will enlighten you and provide you with proper morality. Rejoice, finally somebody will be there to tell you what's right and proper.
Burning books or art? No, my friend, we can do better and simply delete them. But burning witches is an option we'd like explore at a later time. Right now we start with eradicating wrong opinions.

Btw. with those rules Martin's Game of Thrones would have to be removed as well.
+Tau-Mu Yi Works for an individual, but it doesn't stop bookstores from caving to the pressure. I don't have to use PayPal, but most bookstores accept it, and if PayPal threatens to freeze their accounts, they have a weighty financial decision to make. So far, BookStrand is clearly caving in.
Damn....This really ticks me off. I like sheep. I'm big time steamed at PP now.
Ok, we're all pissed off about this and it looks like we pretty much agree what's happening is wrong on every level possible. What do we do about it? I still think we need to act as a group and individually by letting BookStrand know that if they cave in to PP they will lose every title we have, not simply the ones listed in PP's dictatorial mandates. We need to let BS know their bottom line is going to be demoilshed by this move and they can keep it by altering how they pay us and how people buy from them. Comments? Suggestions?
avaaz.org -@work right now so I can't create a petition atm, will prolly check late tonight
Curious. I just logged in to my account at BS and checked my sales for the day. None showing. None. This has never happened before. I checked and realized I have my account set on direct deposit, so that option is already available to BS for paying authors. I have never bought a book there. Is PP the method used for purchasing? Is the fact that PP suspended BS's account with them the reason no books are selling today?
BS just paid out reccently, once a quarter. If you didn't get anything there might be a minimum balance and you haven't hit it yet. Also you need to have a tax form filed with them the same as All Romance requires. Don't understand why, since not everyone requires this form, but I sent mine in as requested so I could get my tax info and get paid. CSeB sales are pretty good there and this quarter is real good, but hey, we will gladly forego this money if it means taking a stand against censorship. That is plain bullshit and can't be allowed.
Excellent post, Tessie! I hope you don't mind, but I took the liberty of mentioning this blog and pointing back to it in my own post on the matter. If you're interested/curious, you can view it at http://jswayne.wordpress.com. I also wrote a tersely worded letter to PayPal informing them they are in breach of at least two Constitutional Amendments (First and Fourth), and the more I think about it, I also believe a case could be made for breach of the Ninth Amendment, interfering with interstate commerce. Big mistake to anger this many people. If we raise enough Hell about it, PayPal's going to have to back off...or risk a huge class-action lawsuit, I'm thinking.
It might also be helpful if each author on here do what I did and write to Mark Coker about this and urge him to look into other avenues of doing business than PP. Be nice, he's usually on our side.
You should open an online bookstore that accept bitcoin as payment method
I'm looking into opening a site that I and other authors could use to accept credit cards directly. I guess I'll see what it takes to accept bitcoin as well.
Accepting bitcoin is easy, you only need a bitcoin wallet and that's free. Converting bitcoin to $$ can be a bit more tricky. At the moment there are very few ways to convert and rates differ a lot. Nevertheless I think bitcoins could be a viable alternative because that currency can not be centrally controlled by definition.

Setting up CC payments is quite a hassle and pain (from my own experience). Not only is it expensive and connected with a lot of fees, but if you directly deal with CC companies, their contracts are very tough and if you go through a payment provider, you have to agree to tons of regulations.

If anybody is interested, drop me a line - I dealt quite a bit with online payment a while ago.
And that's why most of us have been using PP. Dealing with credit card companies on our own is difficult and expensive.. And how many of us really have the time when what we want to do is write stories?
Ebay created PayPal and there is no porn/smut/potentially offensive boobies allowed on their auction site either, (technically). So it's not really a surprise.

They will crack down on the small fry first becauser it's far easier than running against the lawyers of the big authors I reckon. Once they have the Indie authors under control then they can expand and take on others because they'll have momentum and examples.

PayPal VS Stephanie Meyer: "I'd like to draw attention to the fact we have already taken steps to ban sex between barely legal young teenagers because some minors may read it and therefore in the interests of equality to those indie authors we are doing the same to you."

Just another back door way to control what consumers see, buy, hear..

It's strange since sex sells. And when you get right down to it, sex is probably responsible for the creation of a secure and safe way to purchase online. Without which PayPal could and would not exist..

Paypal are becoming the be all and end all of online buying in a way. Many people buy through them or using them. The same as Google has become THE search engine giant, Microsoft THE operating system giant. Facebook THE social networking giant. Wikipedia THE information giant, IMDB THE film and TV info giant... Certain things on the internet absolutely overwhelmingly take over their area it seems leaving little room for others. Ok so they can fail, Napster THE file sharing giant did, Netscape THE internet browser did and a few others. When they do THEN it becomes possible finally for the smaller horde to butt in and it seems to become more equal ground until the rise of the next big thing. Facebook replaces MySpace which replaced Beebo, Google replaces Yahoo which replaced Altavista.

I know I went off on a total tangent there but what I'm saying is you can find something else, help and encourage it to grow until it replaces Paypal.

Sorry about the random!
The major CC companies have made it always extremely hard to use their services for selling adult materials. Anything else than mainstream porn and you are always running the risk of your payment channels getting blocked.
I was involved getting a pretty successful Bondage site up and running, finding a way to handle payments was a pain, and I wouldn't consider that topic so much off mainstream nowadays.

There are alternative micro payment providers though which might be jut the right thing for eBooks, since we are talking about usually less than 10 USD per transaction. Each provider though has an extensive set of rules and they change them frequently, and it's usually expensive for adult content. I might need to dig up some old contacts of mine ...
I sent the following email to Howie M. at BS:

To Howie M.;

While we at Crescent Suns eBooks appreciate the fact that BookStrand is and has been carrying our titles, the fact that a payment company such as PayPal is able to blackmail a retailer into not carrying certain genres or titles within genres concerns us. We have been in contact with many other publishers and authors using your site as well as other retailers and our consensus is that if BookStrand caves in to PayPal's demands every one of us will remove all our titles from BookStrands site, not simply those that may be objectionable under the PayPal "standards" of content.

There are other venues available to BookStrand for selling the merchanside on your site as well as paying roayalties to publishers/authors. We urge BookStrand to seek out alternative vending/payment methods in order to continue our relationship as retailer/publisher/author. We know this is a difficult place PayPal has forced upon you, but we know there are alternatives that will not steal the income from both your pockets and ours.

Many of us as publishers/authors are already seeking out new avenues for our titles (and of course BookStrand is only one among many for us already). We would like to continue placing our eBooks with BookStrand, yet we will not be blackmailed by PayPal, since they have no conscionable right to even dictate in this area.

Again, please seek alternative avenues to PayPal, rather than concede to their blackmail scheme.
Which is why I mostly put things like **Adult Material. Not for Anyone under 18** or some other warning label that fits the book content. I don't read incest stories, but I do write them. People want and buy them and it's their choice, not PP's to decide what they read. If they don't get it from me they get it elsewhere and if they don't get it at BS they will go elsehwere. Simple fact of supply and demand.
All -
I have been given a green light to write up a news post for this over on GeekBeat.tv. Please forward me any contact information for any additional companies that have been affected so that I may have a more accurate write up.
I just got a hasty second letter from BookStrand, who are clearly feeling the heat, but are also saying it is Visa/MasterCard as well as PayPal. They also say they will tighten up and clarify the restrictions.

The letter also offers in a very broad hint the recommendation that if we would just not be so explicit about what our stuff is about, it probably wouldn't be a problem.

I'll forward you a copy, +Talyna Morrison.
Why are any of these "good rules?" I think your commentary on this says more about you than about the issue in question, and that's kind of the point, isn't it? No single person or group of people should be the arbiter of what constitutes good taste.
+Onehan d'Ontool +Sophya Rowle Absolutely those value judgments are my own, and I don't for a minute think they apply to everyone, but I also don't think they are unreasonable for a bookstore to have. It is easy to say that there should be no rules, but then I wouldn't choose to publish on a site which allows pedophilia or rape fiction.

When I say "Good rule", I do not mean that it should be a universal rule, but rather that I, personally, can accept such a restriction on a book store which I use to sell my books. Even those rules should not be enforced or imposed by the credit card people, but seem OK with me for a bookstore to set as its own guidelines. A private enterprise is allowed to have guidelines about what it sells in its store.
Ah. As you said, good implies a value judgment. Perhaps different labels would have been clearer.

Of course companies have the right to choose what they publish. What concerns me is the tendency of some authors to breathe a sigh of relief because the majority of THEIR work isn't on the ban list...yet. Instead of calling Visa, MasterCard, and Pay Pal to contest their conflation of erotica with pr0n, Bookstrand caved in right away and starting deleting and quarantining books. This is their right; it doesn't make it ethical or reasonable or even a good business decision.

PayPal has indicated to Selina Kitt -- who, for those who don't know, runs her own estore for erotica -- that it's not just the step-children and barely legal stories that are unacceptable. Their rep made clear that PayPal (eBay) considers BDSM, an incredibly broad term encompassing everything from silk scarves to dungeon play and beyond, to be rape and therefore in violation of their policies, no matter what Visa and MasterCard may say. While this sounds ridiculous, it should make all writers extremely nervous. The slippery slope of pr0n police 'creep' has turned into a full-on series of broad 'lurches' and 'leaps.'

To me, this indicates that they are simply doing keyword searches to find 'obscene' titles and are too lazy to actually screen samples and such, meaning that there are likely many, MANY more titles not in compliance with their policies that have slipped through the cracks because authors weren't as overt in labeling them. All it will take is one irate, prudish customer to complain, and the whole process could start all over again. PayPal may arbitrarily decide that romance bookstores aren't worth the hassle and simply freeze the accounts anyway and seize the funds without explanation. They do this ALL OF THE TIME.

The bottom line is this: when a few companies with enormous amounts of power suddenly decide to cut out half of your revenue stream (whether or not there is a fundamental misunderstanding of your business), the only option left that will ensure the other half of your revenue stays viable in the future is to fight, and fight publicly.
+Sophya Rowle I certainly understand what you mean. I am very worried about the slippery slope we are on if PayPal is able to dictate the rules. Once they have crossed the line from overtly illegal acts to restricting depictions of legal adults doing legal acts, they can go anywhere. They could decide M/M was unacceptable. They must be stopped.
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