Smashwords, erotica and Paypal

Paypal has decreed that it won’t do business with the ebook distributor Smashwords (and presumably others) if it continues to stock erotica containing scenes of bestiality, incest and/or rape. Smashwords owner Mark Coker has agreed – albeit with some reluctance – to accept this.  In a letter sent to authors, he has written ‘it’s a slippery slope when we allow others to control what we think and write. Fiction is fantasy… A reader should have the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved.’

Many writers – and readers – have reacted with fury to what they regard as censorship on the part of Paypal.  Censorship is a massively tricky issue – to put it mildly. We all have our own boundaries – a topic which may be abhorrent to one person may be fascinating to another. Does anyone have the right to draw the line in the sand over which we should not cross?

I like to regard myself as open-minded with fairly liberal views. I appreciate the dangers if the power of censorship is given to the wrong people and allowed to be taken too far. How to choose the right censors however and indeed if there should even be such a thing as censorship – these questions will doubtless fill dozens of blog posts and newspaper columns following the Paypal decree.

I don’t really intend to get into the whole debate here – but I do have a personal point to make. When I uploaded my book ‘Forbidden Love and other stories’ to Smashwords – I had to tick a box saying whether it contained ‘adult content’. I spent quite a lot of time wondering about that – because the book does contain sexual scenes, but to be honest, they’re pretty lightweight stuff. There’s nothing graphic or violent or remotely deviant. In the end I did tick the box and I’ve regretted it ever since, because I suddenly found my relatively innocent little book in the company of some seriously dark and depraved shelf-mates.

I’m clearly far more naive than I’d realised, because I was genuinely horrified and sickened by some of the stuff that was there and freely available. I felt as though I’d abandoned my book in some lawless hell! I did try to launch a rescue mission by un-ticking the box, but failed miserably.

The title probably doesn’t help – someone seeing the name ‘Forbidden Love’ might well assume the book to hold all sorts of – well, forbidden love! Actually the title refers to a song in one of the stories – written by the rockstar hero for his childhood sweetheart who wasn’t allowed to go out with him because he was deemed a bad influence by her protective parents.  Not exactly rape, bestiality or incest!

So – I am actually delighted to see those other titles leave the Smashwords shelves. Maybe my book won’t feel quite so alone now!

 

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