There’s been some talk here in Canada about censorship, journalism, and science in regards to the government requiring (since fall 2011) that journalists direct their interview requests to the communications offices of the Ministry of Natural Resources. This practice has been described as a muzzle. It is the 2nd ministry in the last few years to be given this treatment, the first was the Ministry of the Environment. In my March 7, 2012 posting I touched on this issue (scroll about 40% of the way down) in the context of an encounter with someone at the University of British Columbia (UBC). You may want to continue onto the comments for the March 7, 2012 posting where David Bruggeman of the Pasco Phronesis blog eloquently argues that neither my experience with UBC nor the government muzzles amounted to censorship. (As of today, April 30, 2012, I’m still working on my response.)
Given that in addition to censorship I am quite interested in e-publishing, the April 20, 2012 story (PayPal, You’ve Met Your Match: Erotica Writers) by David Zax for Fast Company caught my attention,
Mark Coker is the CEO of Smashwords, an e-book publishing and distribution platform. Coker recently won a highly publicized battle against PayPal, which briefly refused to work with Smashwords unless Coker removed certain naughty titles from the site. Fast Company caught up with Coker and learned, among other things, that writers of incest erotica can be very articulate.
FAST COMPANY: What is Smashwords?
MARK COKER: We’re probably the world’s largest distributor of self-published e-books and e-books from small independent presses. We were founded in 2008. A writer comes to Smashwords, uploads a Word document, which we instantly convert into multiple formats to be read on a Kindle or other device. Those are then available for sale at Smashwords.com at a price set by the author. 85% of all proceeds go to the author, so we flipped the compensation model upside-down. In traditional publishing, in the best case, an author earns 17.5% off an e-book’s list price. In 2008, we had 140 titles; in 2009, we had 6,000 titles; today we have just over 115,000.
You recently came to prominence by picking a fight with PayPal, which threatened to stop working with you if you failed to remove some smutty titles from your store.
On a Saturday, I received an email from PayPal notifying me I had about five days to remove all books containing themes of rape, bestiality, and incest. That was upsetting; we’d been working with PayPal for almost four years. I offered to meet with them, but they responded that they didn’t take meetings, and this was their policy. [emphasis mine] By luck, I called in to the general customer support line, and person who picked up happened to be an author, a member of the Romance Writers of America. She knew who Smashwords was, and knew it was a legitimate platform for indie authors, and that kind soul volunteered to walk us through the process and connect us with people who could actually listen to us.
Did you find purveyors of underage incest erotica to be surprisingly articulate?
We’ve never allowed underage erotica–we’ve always had a strict policy about that. But for the other folks, yes, I found them incredibly articulate and well spoken. Writers are great at communicating, and they were pissed off.
What happened next?
On Monday I received a phone call from a higher-level manager within the PayPal enforcement division. In that call we agreed to continue discussions in good faith, and that PayPal would not turn off its services while we gave it time to work this out. At that point I put into place a new strategy. PayPal had said that they were doing this only because of the credit card companies and banks they worked with. I thought if we could put enough pressure on the credit card companies, that would open the whole thing up. We got the press to start contacting credit card companies to ask if they were behind this or not, and we also escalated the email campaign to all our authors and then all our customers. The public anger rose, and ultimately PayPal wanted out, and the credit card companies relented and gave permission to relax the policies. I think with this incident, a lot of authors realized Smashwords was standing behind them. I think if anyone tries to push the indie author community down again, we’ll be there to help stand behind these authors. In the end I think it was a great victory for free speech, and shows the rising power of self-publishing authors in the publishing community.
There is more to Zax’s article including a discussion of a recent US Dept. of Justice lawsuit over e-book pricing and some criticism of Coker’s other responses to the PayPal anti-erotica initiative.
Zachary Knight in a March 5, 2012 posting on Techdirt covered the story as it was happening. There’s some additional insight into PayPal and its policies as well as a description of how Smashwords and Coker responded to the pressure.
Getting back to the issue of censorship, I find this striking because it seems to have been done at arm’s length. It’s not PayPal, it’s the credit card companies who have decided that these books must be removed. I’m wondering how the credit card companies, as a group, concluded that they didn’t want to have customers paying for e-book erotica. Did they meet somewhere in their secret headquarters and make a group decision? For that matter, why e-book erotica? Don’t people use credit cards to pay for other forms of erotica (movies/downloads?) and/or pornography?
Something else I found quite striking was that PayPal refused to meet because ‘that’s the policy’. I am not much enamoured of agencies (corporate, government, etc.) that make these unilateral decisions and then hide behind policies designed to eliminate any discussion.
By the way, for anyone who’s interested in Smashwords, it looks like a very interesting site with a wide range of materials. From the home page,
Angel’s Whisper by Muhammad Nasim
You set the price! 20040 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Inspiration » Personal inspiration.
A collection of short and literary blogs of Naseem Mahnavi arranged latest first. They contain wisdom with humor and compelling opinion. Anecdotes range from ants discussing gravity to interpretation of Nistradamus’s quartains and history of America. Perhaps the most interesting part is the candid definitions of common terms compiled over a five year period of blogging. For readers of all ages.
Midnight Arpeggios: An Illustrated Philosophy of Practicing & Music by M.J. Murphy
Price: $4.99 USD. 22650 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Essay » Literature.
If you are looking for a discussion of musicianship at a basic philosophical level then this is for you. You will find a collection of 23 short, original essays on music that are inspired, informal, and brilliantly illustrated with classic artwork.
Blood of the Revenant by N.R. Allen
Price: $0.99 USD. 72490 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy.
As Gabriel begins to unravel the dangerous mystery that surrounds the strange and dark place called Returning City, he is drawn into a very deadly secret, one that threatens to destroy not only him but everyone he has ever cared about.
Helping with Homework: A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Irene Taylor
Price: $4.99 USD. 10250 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Education and Study Guides » Elementary.
Homework…does that word make you cringe? Homework is probably the most talked about idea in education today. Is it an unnecessary waste of energy for student and parents, or a useful tool for teachers?
10 Minute Tidy: 108 Ways to Organize Your Office Quickly, 2nd edition by Shannon McGinnis
Price: $2.99 USD. 28020 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Business & Economics » Office management.
The 108 Tips in this book offer you fast, easy solutions for increasing your efficiency and productivity at the office. By focusing your attention on one task at a time and devoting just 10 minutes at a time to each tip, you can organize your business for success
M-CORP 2020 by Sajjad Tameez
Price: Free! 3470 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Fiction» Adventure » Action.
In the year 2020, M-Corp, a huge cooperation has bailed out the UK; but for the price of M-Corp having complete control. As society gets chewed up by the rich, and the government takes a back-seat, a modern day Robin Hood emerges, taking things into his own hands. But can one act change the course of the future? Or will the wicked wheels of corruption crush anything that comes in its way.
Using Astrology to Find Your Luck: What Works? by K.C. Powers
Price: $24.99 USD. 37750 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » New Age » Astrology.
Ever wondered what a Lottery Winners Chart looks like? Ever wondered if maybe YOU could win something big? What planets cause the biggest wins and what are the best Triggers of a Lucky Event? These questions have been the subject of my passionate research for over a decade. This book concentrates on Luck and Good Fortune and what really works in astrological prediction.
Reporting Live: Articles and Letters from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair by Lyndon Irwin
Price: $10.99 USD. 67620 words. Language: English. Published by Gregath Publishing Company, Inc. on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Biography » Historical biography.
Articles and Letters from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair
Make Your Own Beer by Dee Phillips
Price: $2.99 USD. 6160 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Cooking, Food, Wine, Spirits » Beer.
Here is all the information you need to start making your own great tasting beer at home. From informing you about how the beer making process works to telling you about the different types of beers, you will be able to start making your own beer. 10 great tasting beer recipes included!
The Open Bible – The Gospel of Matthew: Chapter 17 by Open Bible Matthew
Price: Free! 1090 words. Language: English. Published by The Open Bible on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Religion and Spirituality » Bibles.
Chapter 17 of Matthew from the Open Bible, a simple easy to understand translation, produced to enable anyone to create their own Bible video and audio recordings etc without any legal restrictions. Chapter 17 includes the account of the Transfiguration on the Mount, and also the miracle of the money in the fish’s mouth
Any budding authors out there? As for censorship and science, I will be getting back to that soon.