Saturday 25 February 2012

Don't blame Smashwords or Paypal: The frontier moved for indie authors, it's time to move with it

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content in order to satisfy an ultimatum from Paypal that such content be removed or the payment processing facility be withdrawn.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.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Not In My Name, Mr Duncan Smith

I’m not political. I’ve done politics of course, as a student, testing various schools of thought for size and settling on the idea that boxes like political parties are just too inflexible.

This is probably the closest I get to a political post – or a political poem in the video.

What has sickened me about the idea of the disabled in the WRAG benefits bracket being forced into unpaid work placements or lose their benefits is twofold. There’s a practical issue. These placements will not be “work”. So people won’t be protected by the employment aspects of the Disability Discrimination and Equality Acts. Nor will they be eligible for Access to Work. In other words they will not have in place supports to make their placements possible for them to carry out that are structurally recognised by DDA and AtoW as being essential for them to do so. This means people *will* be forced to pull out through sickness. Their health will deteriorate, be set back months, even years. And at the same time the blame will be placed at their feet and they will potentially lose benefits.

Then there is a matter of principle. And that’s where I say an unequivocal NOT IN MY NAME, MR DUNCAN SMITH. We are told that the stick of having benefits removed if people don’t do their placements is an incentive for them to do their responsibility. Now that I just don’t get. Responsibility to whom? To the taxpayer? Now, I’m lucky. I’m bipolar but thanks to medication, support, the cycle of my illness, and huge doses of luck, it’s been several years since I’ve needed to have more than a day or so off work. As someone lucky enough to have a job I fully accept that it is my responsibility to pay tax so as to enable society to care for those not so lucky. I don’t get how those people have a responsibility towards me to make themselves ill, and I seriously object to the idea they are being told I think they do.

Anyway, like I say, I don’t really do politics. But I do angry, and I do scared. And that’s in the poem.

I’m a mentalist.
I’m a ventriloquist and this fake smile’s my dummy.
Behind the guile I know I’m scum,
I’m hungry, desperate for your crumbs,
I’m broken by the years that no one spoke for me,
I’m choked beneath society’s conceptual thumb.

The thing is, if I’m cheerful
You think I’m well enough to work for free
And if I’m not then you’re unreasonably fearful of me.
The last boss I told I was bipolar said OK, but please don’t stick a knife in me
While I sat there silent, stunned
Thinking you think I’M the violent one
Just because I have an illness
That the media exploits for thrills
Because they haven’t got the skills to see beyond the pills
That someone else’s taxes paid for,
Someone wealthy for no other reason than that they happened to be born healthy.
But their hard work must not be squandered
On dropouts and shirkers,
On the berserkers lurking in the social undergrowth.

So now the government can force us into slavery
Without protection from the rules that gave us dignity
Or made staying alive in the cold and hostile environment a workplace can be
Anything close to a possibility.
With every decency they steal
They feel their backs slapped
By the so-called cash-strapped hacks in suits
Whose stacks are packed so tight
No cracks of light
Can leak out and disturb their sleep
With the sight of the smacked-up jacked-up lives
Of those whose dice fell on the wrong side of the tracks

And all this is sold as a triumph of slashed bureaucracy
A victory for democracy,
For a people poisoned
By years of drip-fed filth
And casual hypocrisy,
By myths of laziness and hazy memes of craziness
Dreamed up on whims on days of bliss and Pimms.

And here’s the thing.
People will comply.
People will try.
They will try so much
No matter that it takes an act of heroism just to get out of bed,
No matter that their eyes are red
Because they cried so much
And kept on trying
And held their heads high so much
Their tears were washed away by the saliva from the bile
That people piled on them.
People will die
Their voices will fall silent
The iniquity will not be heard.
Their indignity will have the final word,
But still those who are left will smile in the face of tyrants
Still they will cling with grace to the ideal of non-violence.

Friday 3 February 2012

Anna Percy

Some time later today you'll find an interview with the fabulous poet Anna Percy here. You can find her website here.

These are some videos of her reading - above, from 5 minutes, For Ruth Betty Blue..., a dabulous poem with echoes of Ginsberg