I just published my first paranormal romance (Three Weeks in May) through Smashwords.com. Now PayPal wants to have my e-book purged from the catalog. Why? No, I haven’t written anything that would have groups of people running through the streets with pitchforks and torches after me. (Well, I don’t think I have.) And they haven’t singled my e-book out…yet.
But apparently PayPal has given Smashwords.com a “surprise ultimatum” (in the words of Smashwords.com founder Mark Coker) to remove titles from their catalog because of certain offensive content. Click here for more information. My book does NOT contain any of the offensive content listed. So why do I think that PayPal wants my book trashed? Because although I feel that the world could do without a lot of “offensive” words and images, and my children can barely watch television or listen to the radio without hearing something they don’t need to know, PayPal is infringing on free speech and dabbling in the role of censor.
According to Mark Coker, PayPal is claiming that their “crackdown” is “necessary so they can remain in compliance with the requirements of the banks and credit card associations (likely Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express, though they didn’t mention them by name).” So when did these credit card companies stop authorizing purchases to adult bookstores and sites? They didn’t; but they are now saying they don’t want anyone to use their services to purchase e-books with a blanket restriction on e-books containing adult content with adult characters for adult readers that may fall under their hugely vague definition of offensive.
I could say good riddance to bad rubbish. But who am I to say what people can write and read? The issue is not with the content; the issue is with PayPal deciding what people can write, read, and purchase. I agree with the restriction on the offensive content, I don’t agree with the way they are doing this. Who will make the decision about what falls under this broad category? Who will determine the limit? Once these restrictions are in place, how long will it take them to say, “By the way, this is excluded too.” Will something I wrote in Three Weeks in May offend them sometime down the road? Who knows?
We may not all have the same morals or like the same things, but we have no right to tell someone else what to write and buy, especially if it is legal. It’s a tough issue. I want a pure, kid-friendly world, but it stopped being that the moment Eve picked that apple. Is there a balance we can achieve? I don’t know.
My best advice to Smashwords.com as they continue to have talks with PayPal is to just agree on better age-appropriate filters and authorizations and call it a day. We’re not going to agree, but I don’t want someone else deciding what I have the right to write and read.