As noted by Mark Coker on the Smashwords blog, “PayPal Revises Policies to Allow Legal Fiction,” PayPal has worked with the ebook community to adjust their terms covering sales of erotica content.
This is about distributing legal fiction, and always has been. As stated in my previous post, it’s about money and the law. The difference between obscene and literary value sometimes becomes debatable, but it should be the responsibility of the retailers and community to determine.
I don’t blame credit card companies for trying protect themselves, or increase their revenue by taking advantage of sales of questionably obscene material, but it’s in everyone’s best interest to find a fair way for everyone to continue business. Ebook retailers risk may increase, but I believe most of them already take responsibility and work with the community like Smashwords has shown.
In the last few weeks, PayPal has asked several ebook vendors including Smashwords and Bookstrand, to remove their erotica titles in order to continue service sparking a number of articles from sites like Huffington Post and TechCrunch. See “The PayPal Fiction Crackdown Roundup” at Dear Author for a background overview. Several bloggers and commenters have brought up morality and censorship, some asking how a payment transaction service can decide what vendors may sell. It’s not about morality or corporations trying to control others.
It’s about money and the law.
Some have brought up censorship and morality enforcement including the TechCrunch post which says, “it’s clear that PayPal thinks it can police the Internet.” The “morality police” claims (one comment and another,) seem to come from PayPal trying to categorize books with defined subject matter as noted by Mark Coker of Smashwords in an email to authors posted here that, “Their hot buttons are bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.” This would appear to include some mainstream and historical books, but likely this is an attempt by PayPal‘s acquiring banks to differentiate obscene erotica from romance and other literature.
Mark Coker identified the source of the problem in his second email to authors posted here with this statement:
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.
This has already been going on in other industries doing business on the web including porn, gambling, dieting and tobacco. These are considered by banks as high risk (see list on merchant-accounts-services.org) due to higher than normal fraud, chargebacks, or questionably legal sales. Any vendor may be considered a high risk if their chargebacks are greater than one percent, but the banks and processors categorize certain businesses as high risk from chargeback statistics or industries that may have a history of illegal activities. It’s also to a money processor’s advantage to categorize sales of questionably obscene materials or services as high risk to charge more fees.
Vendors selling merchandise or services in these high-risk areas pay extra fees as outlined by instabill.com on their Adult Merchant Account used by some porn sites. However, porn sites still have to be careful about what is depicted due to laws about distributing obscene materials.
The US law forbids distribution of obscene materials—which are not protected by the First Amendment. The Miller Test from US Supreme Court in 1973 defines obscene material as satisfying three conditions (source):
- the average person would find that the work, taken as a whole and applying contemporary community standards, appeals to the prurient interest;
- the work depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, when applying contemporary community standards; and
- the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Selena Kitt, an ebook publisher of Excessica and erotica author, makes the point on her blog (http://theselfpublishingrevolution.blogspot.com/2012/02/slippery-slope-erotica-censorship.html) that PayPal would rather not pay for high-risk accounts, and so must comply. In her search for an alternative, Selena Kitt found out that Amazon Payments have a similar rule against the sale of “‘sexually explicit materials.’” In a comment of the TechCrunch post, she continues saying that she has tried many other merchant accounts for credit card processing, including those specializing in porn sites, and turned down for “‘illegal activity.’”
Why now? PayPal has been processing transactions from these vendors for years, likely under the assumption that none of the ebooks being sold were obscene and the vendors doing their due diligence to remove obscene ebooks. Now they know, or they believe there is a risk. There is no attempt at policing the internet here. PayPal is following terms of service with banks to reduce risk.
The rising success of erotica authors has captured the attention of credit card companies that don’t want to risk becoming involved in accepting payments for (questionably) illegal sales. Ebooks containing rape, incest, or bestiality is not a problem as long as the work as a whole is considered artistic, scientific, or has literary value. Vendors like Smashwords and Excessica need to fight showing that they take care in removing purely obscene materials, and even then they may still find themselves in a high-risk category without PayPal services due to varying views on what is considered to have no literary or artistic merit. The banks and credit cards still want their fees. If there is enough profit in erotica literature, then someone will find a way to continue selling likely to come with higher fees. After all, it’s about money.
Note: I don’t read erotica, I have no knowledge if any of these vendors have ever sold obscene ebooks, and I’m not a legal expert. I think it’s fair to say there is a perceived risk of distributing obscene materials—no different than any other adult entertainment—whether that perception is based on law or monetary gain.
Smashwords is having their annual Summer/Winter sale all July with participating ebooks at 25% discount, 50% discount, or free. Raven Memory is 50% off and profits still go to KIPP as detailed in this post. Shadow Memories is a free download for the sale.
Thanks, and go read some books this Summer/Winter (depending on the hemisphere you’re in.)
You want a working contents page in your ebook. Readers love them. Anything that improves navigation is good. Done properly, the Smashwords Meatgrinder will produce epub and PDF with working contents page linking to your chapters or parts. Software like Adobe Digital Editions and iBooks on iPad will allow the reader to jump to chapters in your book. Below are screen shots of my novel, Raven Memory in Adobe Digital Editions and iBooks. The iBooks contents work by scrolling. In addition, iBooks reveals how many pages remain in the chapter. Note: In my first revision of Raven Memory, I used flowing text between chapters, and my recent revision (Sep 3) uses chapter headers.
The Quick Guide to Working Contents
- Follow Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide exactly.
It’s that simple. Well, almost. The Smashwords Meatgrinder is picky about formatting, and some issues may not be clear. Pay close attention to the entire guide. It doesn’t matter if you use Microsoft Word or OpenOffice.org Writer, the directions for creating working contents links are the same.
About Chapter Headers
Coker’s guide mentions using header formatting for your chapter headers. This is optional, but a good idea if your book is long. Using headers tells Meatgrinder to create a new xhtml page for the epub which may render as chapter breaks in software like Adobe Digital Editions and iBooks. You may end up with a few nearly blank pages with only a sentence or two. Ugly, but preferable over the alternative. Without formatted headers the text flows, but Smashwords Meatgrinder will break longer works into segments which may cause page breaks in undesirable spots when reading epub. Format headers for chapters to avoid Meatgrinder choosing breaks for you in epub conversion. This doesn’t apply to PDF or online reading.
As seen in the Adobe Digital Editions screen capture above, my first revision of Raven Memory didn’t format the chapter headers allowing flowing text. Due to 3 abrupt page breaks in the epub, I revised using header formatting. Now Adobe Digital Editions produces one nearly blank page (depending on screen size,) but looks fine in iBooks. See the screen shot below. This is better than breaking between paragraphs, and epub readers may get better in the future at pushing text so there isn’t a single line left on a page. (Dear epub reader software creators: Learn how to flow text correctly.)
Tips on formatting with linking contents for your ebook
- Make sure the entire document has consistent formatting, paying close attention to the paragraph style name. If you use formatted chapter headers, they should also be consistent.
- Use Styles and Formatting sheet.
- Internal contents links work like external hyperlinks.
- Don’t use automation. Create your contents links by hand.
- Before uploaded to Smashwords, export to PDF and test every link.
- After uploading, test the PDF and the epub in Adobe Digital Editions. Click every link to make sure it goes to the correct place in your document.
My How-To: Create Contents Links Formatted for Smashwords
Save your contents page for last after you have made certain your entire document is formatted correctly. Heading styles are optional, but recommended for longer works. Edit your styles sheet for your body text and header. If you name your chapters starting with “Chapter” then Meatgrinder will make things easier. In Shadow Memories, I named each as the title of the short story. Still works as long as you make internal hyperlinks. See Step 20 in Coker’s guide.
Your table of contents should list each chapter single-spaced after the license information. No page numbers. The contents entry should be the same as the matching heading.
- Go to each chapter heading and highlight the text.
- (Optional, but recommended) Set the format to header using the same or similar font. (Remember to use style sheets.)
- Use the Insert Bookmark feature. Name the bookmark matching the header, but without spaces.
- After you named all the bookmarks matched to headers, go back to the contents page. Select each entry and use your Insert Hyperlink feature, select internal hyperlink and select the matching bookmark.
In your document, test each bookmark hyperlink. If you missed one or made a mistake, correct. Then export to PDF and test the links there. If it works in a PDF, and your book is formatted properly, it will work after going through the Meatgrinder.