As this post and many others currently mushrooming on the web are commentating, indie ebook distributor Smashwords has asked authors of certain kinds of erotica to remove their content in order to satisfy an ultimatum from Paypal that such content be removed or the payment processing facility be withdrawn.
Now argument is raging on all kinds of fronts. Some have to do with US consitution, on which I'm not going to offer comment. Thankfully, very little debate has focussed on the type of material under discussion - that doesn't seem, to me, to be the point.
The two points that seem to me to be most pertinent (others will have different opinions) are these:
- what do we think of Paypal makin this request?
- what kind of organisation does Smashwords want to be?
To take the latter first, Mark Coker, an inveterate champion of indie publishing, has regularly portrayed Smashwords as a champion of all things indie. It is this that I think has so many authors angry. I won't harp on too much about this, but much confusion comes from what we mean by "indie", as I'm always saying. The more the indie book world looks like the regular book world (and as more people self-publish the more it *does*) the more we should expect indie champions to behave like people in the mainstream. Erotica authors were amonst the earliest adopters of epublishing - they were indie frontierspeople, and I think they still share a pioneering view of what indie means (as I tend to), hence they feel sold down the river first and foremost because what they thought of as a safe haven for boundary pushers has been colonised by the "safe" making it no longer safe for them. As it were.
I'm not saying Mark Coker *should* be one thing or the other, but this decision has a "needs of the many..." feel to it. It is a move mainstream, so those who enjoyed the pioneeringness of smashwords will move out, and will do so feeling regret that things have changed. Though I hope they won't feel it for long - regret at change is a very conservative tendency and I would expect them to wipe the tears and not find but create something new. The problem comes with the commercial aspect. And that's where I think we're seeing a fundamental crisi of identity for the frontiers-type indie - is what you do about the art, integrity, and pushing boundaries, or is it about the bottom line? I have no problem with people who make either choice, but I think authors have hitherto had the possibility of prevaricating. Now they don't. That's uncomfortable, but maybe it's also a good mind focusser.
To get to Paypal. I think their decision is heinous. But bon this point the discussion has been less balanced. And I can't help feeling a lot of people are finding themselves in a liberal conundrum. I see a lot of people saying that as just "processors" or "bankers" Paypal shouldn't be interested in content.
To those people, I would like to say - rewind a moment. One of the great consumer movements of recent years has driven the rise of "ethical" or "green" banking. Whether it's planet-raping gas companies, those whose accounts are tainted by blood diamonds, or those charging interest on sweat-shop produced profit, banks are being forced to offer commercial products that steer clear. Now it's true that I have no interest in a bank that steers clear of xyz erotica. But I am very happy to see an account that won't place my savings (or wouldn't if I had any) anywhere near sweat shops or blood diamonds. And I don't see that I can have one without allowing the other. So, like out of town supermarkets and organic produce, I would urge those who really care to vote with their feet and with their voices, but not to argue that Paypal shouldn't do what it's doing without accepting the consequences.
In short, this is a wake-up call to indie authors that things have changed and maybe we can't choose to have a foot in the mainstream and the pioneering camps any more and it's time to face those difficult choices. And then get on and do - because that's what we're good at - actio. Not reaction, but creating something new.