Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Letter to CTV and The Montreal Gazette regarding Paypal

 I've seen news reports about the Paypal issue popping up online in Europe, one in Australia, a few in the States, but so far nowhere in Canada. I wasn't sure I could find the right words to get the point across, so I took my time, kept reading about what has happen, and what may happen, and finally sat down and came up with this:

To whom this may concern,

I don't know whether to write you as an author, or a reader, or simply as a woman who loves books and was so excited about how ebooks have given the world a new way to embrace reading, but I do know this unfortunate turn of events needs to be explored. Perhaps you've already heard about the new restrictions Paypal has placed on several ebook vendors. If not here is some information about what's happened over the last few weeks. This is one of many letters sent by Mark Coker, the owner of a large ebook self-publishing and distribution platform:

Basically, any 'erotica' or 'erotic romance' (which is not often mentioned but has also been targeted) that contains incest, pseudo-incest, bestiality, rape and/or bondage or sadism without consent is considered obscene and must be removed. I ask you, please, before assuming this is all well and good, to consider the implications of these restrictions.

Romance and all its subgenres, including those deemed erotic for their sexual nature, have one very important thing in common with every single piece of fiction published today. There must be a story. This story may include societies where 'incest' is not defined by our terms. A story with sentient beings in animal form. How about a historical novel where a Viking kidnaps a young maiden and has his way with her before coming to see her as more than a body to be had. There's a very fine line between romance and erotic romance. Often, there's no line at all except for the one drawn by traditional publishing.

Some of the ebook vendors that have caved in to paypal amend that the incest and rape may appear as part of the storyline, but not for the intent of titillation. Well, I suppose as an author, I must decide whether or not I intended for the reader to be titillated. Up until now, that's been the least of my concerns. Not that I don't write sex scenes with the hope that it'll get the blood pumping, but I have so many things I want to accomplish when writing a book, where do I begin?

Maybe the story will draw the reader into another world where they will experience something exciting and new. Or perhaps something not so new. Perhaps, in some way, they will revisit horrors from their past and find strength along with these fictional characters. They may laugh, they may cry, they may even be aroused. There's really no way to know how they will be affected when their eyes pass over the sea of words once limited to a page and now available in so many different formats. They may not be affected at all.

Not all books are well written or worth reading, but that's hardly relevant. I could scream about censorship, but it's easy to say Paypal has 'the right' not to transfer payments for material they find objectionable. But there are several things, besides the obvious boxing in of creativity for so many authors, that concerns me.
As of right now, the main focus seems to be on self-published authors and small ebook publishers. Content is being removed because of tagging or covers or quick searches in the blurbs. Authors and publishers who don't remove their books risk having their accounts frozen by paypal. One large distributor, Bookstrand, had this happen and decided to remove their indie shelves altogether. Even the books that weren't erotic—including nonfiction titles were suddenly gone.

Being an avid reader, I spend a considerable amount of money on ebooks. Some of my favorite authors write what Paypal is targeting. I confess, I enjoy a good, modern bodice ripper. But as an adult, I believe I have the right to use the money I earn on any purchase I choose. Paypal should work much like a bank and I'm fairly certain my banks don't care where I spend my money.

However, Paypal has worked very hard to make sure they are not classified as a bank. Which gives them the power to restrict payments, and since they are such a powerful entity, gives them the power to bully small businesses into submission.

There have been claims that Paypal is receiving pressure from credit card companies like Master Card and Visa. I thought this was a possibility until I saw this quote from Peter Thiel, Paypal's founder: '"In general, PayPal does allow our service to be used for the sale of erotic books, but we have to draw the line on certain adult content that is extreme or potentially illegal."

None of the work they've targeted is even potentially illegal. Furthermore, not all of it is extreme and the definitions being handed out for what they will not accept seems to be growing. So far I've been lucky. My one self-published book still falls within the realm of what is deemed acceptable. My other books are protected by publishers. The danger to my own livelihood has not, and may never, come.

Which I suppose answers my first question. When it comes to Paypal and the effect their actions will have on the online publishing world, I write to you as a woman who loves books.

Thank you,
Bianca Sommerland


  1. Thanks for blogging this and for sending the letter. We need all the help we can get.

  2. Beautifully written summation of what we're all feeling.