Paul forwarded to me an email from Michael O’Neil from the National Coalition Against Censorship, with a press release noting that the NCAC and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) are mobilizing to put pressure on PayPal to reverse its requirement that online bookshops stop carrying certain kinds of erotica.

Scribd carries a copy of the open letter the organizations sent to PayPal. The press release says:

The ABFFE and NCAC letter notes that PayPal’s policy has the potential to suppress important literary works.  “Incest, rape and bestiality have been depicted in world literature since Sophocles’ Oedipus and Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” it says.  Nor can it be claimed that the policy only affects “low-value erotica” because literary assessments change over time.  “Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were banned as ‘obscene’ in the United States,” it notes.

While this is a laudable goal and I’m all for it, the organizations may be pressuring the wrong company. Smashwords founder Mark Coker’s latest blog post on the erotica removal situation (found via Techdirt) points out that PayPal is actually being pressured into this by its own suppliers, the credit card companies.

Over the weekend, many Smashwords authors and publishers demanded we abandon PayPal and find a new payment processor. It’s not so simple, and it doesn’t solve the greater problem hanging over everyone’s head. PayPal is trying to implement the requirements of credit card companies, banks and credit unions. This is where it’s all originating. These same requirements will eventually rain down upon every other payment processor. PayPal is trying to maintain their relationships with the credit card companies and banks, just as we want to maintain our relationship with PayPal. People who argue PayPal is the evil villain and we should drop them are missing the bigger picture. Should we give up on accepting credit cards forever? The answer is no. This goes beyond PayPal. Imagine the implications if credit card companies start going after the major ebook retailers who sell erotica?

Coker writes that we need to put pressure on the credit card companies to relent and stop dictating what booksellers can and cannot sell:

What can you do to move things forward? First, direct your attention where it matters most. Contact your credit card company or congressperson and tell them you want financial services companies out of the business of censoring what writers and readers are free to imagine with fiction. Blog about it. Tweet about it. Contact your favorite blogger and encourage them to raise awareness. Start petitions and tell financial institutions you want their censors out of your head. Contact the media. The media, with your urging, has the power to shine a bright light on the dangerous slippery slope of censorship by financial institutions.

If the media (both traditional and social) calls on credit card companies and banks to honestly answer these simple questions, then they’ll either be compelled to acknowledge the absurdity of their policies or they’ll be compelled to rewrite their policies. This troublesome tide can shift if financial institutions are forced to answer why they’re prohibiting legal fiction.

Meanwhile, author/blogger Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in the process of addressing people constantly asking for her opinion on the horrible censorship incident of the moment (she cites the IPG/Amazon contract dispute and the PayPal erotica situation), points out that businesses have the right to run their business the way they want to, just as you have a right to choose to stop doing business with those businesses.

Do you want to do business with a company like Amazon that uses an anvil when a pen will do? Do you want to do business with a company that bows to the demands of credit card companies?

If your answer is no, then stop doing business with those people. Accept the fact that you will not have your e-books in one of the biggest bookstores in the United States. (Amazon is not one of the biggest bookstores in other countries, not by a long shot.) Accept the fact that without PayPal, it will be harder for your readers to order your books.

That’s your business decision, based on your response to changes in the marketplace. Those are valid decisions, as long as you understand why you’re making them.

They’re your choice.

I can’t help but feel a little pessimistic about the whole thing. The credit card companies are so big that it’s hard to imagine them being moved by anything protesters do or say. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.


  1. Writing to Visa and PayPal about them blocking Wikileaks only resulted in the payment companies saying they were right and didn’t care. Never mind that they support payments to the KKK and illegal settlement building. In their minds, they’re always right.

    Maybe it’s time for a socially-responsible credit card processor.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail