Last week, Paypal sent letters to several small-ish online booksellers, demanding that they cease the sale of certain erotic books. Bookstrand was the first to fold, and they did so with a bang, by removing all or most of their indie titles. All Romance Ebooks re-emphasized their existing terms (though I don’t think they changed them) and did some reorganization to the site, basically hiding the erotica titles. Finally, Smashwords sent a letter saying that they were also complying to the demands.
The subjects that are being banned are barely legal (erotica containing 18-21 year olds), incest AND pseudo incest (step mom/son, uncle/niece, not related by blood, etc, adoption unclear), bestiality for non-natural animals (werewolves, yes, porcupines, no) and rape as titillation.
A 20 year old woman can have sex. She can even appear in and watch pornography. But what she can’t do, according to Paypal, is buy or sell fiction about a 20-year-old having sex. Because THAT would be wrong. So you can actually write about something that is legal to do, but you can’t sell it. What if they don’t like gay relationships, will they ban M/M? What about interracial sex? Can we get a demographic of the Paypal execs so we can see what we’re dealing with here?
A woman can get raped, but she can’t write about it, at least, not if she wants to sell it. Best to pretend it doesn’t happen. Write about knitting or cooking and then the world will be a safer place, right? Even though the people who were buying nonconsent books were women. Just don’t talk about it.
Actually, you can write about it, but it just can’t be for the purpose of arousing. It’s called rape as titillation. But how are you even going to define it? After all, if you are titillated by my descriptions of rape, doesn’t that make you the disturbed one? Not that I believe that, but if you go by their logic…
I have read some seriously hot nonconsent scenes in historicals that have been published for decades by the Big 6 (New York publishers). It’s actually MORE taboo in erotica situations, because consent is so explicit. What about dubious consent, does that count? For example, what if they don’t say the word “no” or they don’t physically fight it. Does that count? What about survival sex, which is pretty darn common in a certain HQN category, does that count? What if they consent but don’t really want it, as is the case in my latest release, Trust in Me, does that count? But by all means, let’s hash this kind of stuff out with a BANK, because they should definitely be calling the morality shots.
Many of my readers have told me that they don’t find the dubious consent situations described in my books arousing. I am fine with that. I did not intend them to be arousing. They don’t turn me on to read them, either. So it’s not, by definition, “rape as titillation” since I am not intending for it to be, nor does usually end up being, titillating. However, they are explicit, and some people find them hot. Does that count!? Wait a minute, if I tell you which Big 6 published books have nonconsent scenes that I find hot, will they be pulled, too!? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Look, anyone who’s checked out some of what is popular will see some crap out there in the Land of Erotica. That is assuming that you don’t think my work is crap, which some people do. But there is stuff out there with crazy covers and no editing and a barely there plot. But that’s a quality issue, not a morality issue. It’s an issue that the market should sort out, not banks. Paypal is the leading vendor for online payments. Their widespread adoption and trust makes switching over very difficult for these small shops. One such store, No Boundaries Press, did step up and switch processing companies and I applaud them for it.
My books were removed from Bookstrand, although my understanding is that they removed all or most indie books. I have also pulled all my books from Smashwords. Only 2 out of 5 of my books would have been affected at all (and as I described earlier, I would argue those), but I was offended by their letter. It started off much more sympathetic than the whole Bookstrand mess, but I expected better of a company that claims to be devoted to indie publishing. While it stated that censorship is bad, the undertone of the letter was “yeah, but I don’t really like those topics anyways, so no big loss,” which completely misses the point. Smashwords had a big opportunity to make a stand against censorship and they folded in like a wet bag.
But all of this is just the opening act if Amazon decides to follow suit. The fact is, pretty much no one was getting rich of Bookstrand or even Smashwords. I certainly wasn’t. Even B&N is hit or miss, but Amazon is big bucks. The Amazon rules related to morality have always been sketchy. No outright (ie. blood related) incest is allowed and, strictly speaking, rape as titillation is not allowed (though they provide a wide berth on that one). If they decided to adopt Paypal’s definition, that would mean a whole lot of books would be unshelved and those authors would lose their major/only sources of revenue. And I think they would have to address the fact that these topics are in mainstream books as well. Maybe that’s an upside.
This round goes to censorship. Amazon, it’s your call.