Sunday, February 19, 2012

Slippery Slope: Erotica Censorship

NOTE: Check out a PODCAST with me and Terry Mixon and Justin Macumber about this topic. (Interview starts at 9:00, if you want skip ahead ;) )


Well, the morality police are at it again. And this time, it's scarier.

First, Amazon started banning books from their site. They backed down on their anti-censorship stance and removed the Ped0phile Guide. Then they went after books that contained incest, bestiality and rape.

After the dust settled, it was clear that, while biological incest was a no-no, Amazon would, however, allow sex between of-age adults who were related to one another in a non-biological manner--step-relations or adopted relations. Suddenly the top 100 in the Erotica category on Amazon exploded with "pseudo-incest" titles. And the covers were far more revealing than anything the category had previously carried. Titles like "Daddy Licks My Pussy" became commonplace. The line between "erotica" and "porn" had blurred even further.

Most (if not all) of these titles were written and published by "Indie" authors, who were distributing them not only through Amazon, but through other self-publishing platforms as well--Barnes and Noble, Apple, Bookstrand, All Romance Ebooks. The latter had even taken a stance against the "porn-like" covers and refused to allow them on their new releases front page, especially if they contained content relating to "pseudo-incest" and what they called "barely-legal" sex.

(I assume this is sex between an older person and someone in the age-range of 18-19. Of course, it's interesting to note that they didn't seem to object to the plethora of "Twink" m/m titles on their site--18-19 year old males having sex with older men. No, their objection seemed entirely against 18-19 females having sex with older men).

Soon after All Romance Ebooks had imposed these restrictions, and Bookstrand had taken Indie erotica authors off their front page as well, Bookstrand sent out an email to all of its publishers. This is from that email:

We were informed by PayPal, without notice, and by our credit card processing company, that we are required to remove all titles at with content containing incest, pseudo incest, rape, and bestiality, effective immediately.

We request that you immediately log into your account and unpublish all titles that contain the restricted content. If you have uploaded titles containing restricted content and do not unpublish these titles as we are requesting, we will deactivate your entire publisher account, which will remove all your titles from sale.

We urge you to log into your account and remove these titles as soon as possible to prevent your account from being deactivated today.

If your account is deactivated, it may or may not be reinstated in the future. After deactivation, requests for reinstatement will require us to go through your catalog, which may take several weeks or longer for us to process.

Note that they list not only "incest" but "pseudo-incest" as well. Now, while "incest" is illegal in most states, "pseudo-incest" is not. (Woody Allen, anyone?) Having sex with a step-relation or an adopted relative is just... sex. It might seem creepy or weird, but it isn't illegal.

Now they're not just targeting illegal acts (this is in fiction mind you) now they're targeting acts that may simply just be "morally objectionable." Where else do they do this? Are they targeting authors who write about serial killers?

Of course, erotica writers everywhere were up in arms. How could they do this? Why? A petition even cropped up, and it has some excellent points, if you'd like to go sign it:

Earlier this week, PayPal told Bookstrand, a major distributor of erotic romance and other erotic content on the Internet, that if certain titles containing "objectionable" material were not pulled from Bookstrand's shelves, Bookstrand's PayPal account would be shut down and the funds within confiscated.

PayPal has a long track record of suspending, freezing, and terminating customer accounts on the thinnest of justifications, but this is going too far. By telling Bookstrand what books they can and cannot sell using PayPal services, they are also telling readers they don't have the right to read what they wish and telling authors that PayPal has the right to take away their freedom of speech and the press.

If you use the Internet to find new reading material, if you use PayPal, and/or if you support the rights of authors and readers to have the widest possible selection of topics to read and write about, please sign this petition and let PayPal know that censorship, no matter what form it takes or how it is implemented, is not acceptable. Readers, publishers, storefronts and authors have the right to choose what books are sold and bought.

Don't leave it up to PayPal to choose how you spend your money or where.

The fact is, and we all know it--sex and porn make the Internet go-round. It's a huge industry, even if there is a vocal minority who doesn't like it. People like their porn, and they want access to it. So why would Paypal refuse to sell something that wasn't even illegal in any state in the U.S.?

I got my chance to ask that question, because a few days after the BookStrand debacle, Excessica received a phone call from Paypal. THE phone call. And then came the follow-up letter:

After a recent review of your account activity, it has been determined that you are in violation of PayPal's Acceptable Use Policy... In order to comply with our Acceptable Use Policy and avoid the limitation of your account, you will need to:

- Remove those items from that violate PayPal's Acceptable Use Policy. Example/s: all ebooks containing themes of rape and incest.

Under the Acceptable Use Policy, PayPal may not be used to send or receive payments for certain sexually oriented materials or services or for items that could be considered obscene.

When I asked if "pseudo-incest" was included (since that was mostly all we had on the site) the representative confirmed that yes, that would have to be removed. "What about BDSM?" I asked--a category full of dubious consent. "That would have to be removed as well."

That's right--they weren't just targeting illegal acts between non-consenting adults. Now they were targeting legal sex between consenting adults.

When I asked her why they were doing this, I received no answer except, "We've always had this policy." Perhaps, but it seems that they weren't previously enforcing it very seriously. Why now?

The only answer I received from Paypal was silence.

So I started to search for alternatives to Paypal. Not an easy task, I might add. Like Amazon, they are a veritable monopoly in their field. At least they graciously (ha) gave us thirty days to comply, after which the account would be frozen or cancelled. So I had some time. What I discovered was that most merchant-services (i.e. companies that allow you to use Visa and MasterCard on their site) which allow adult products charge a $5000 up-front fee to use their service. Then, they take exorbitant percentages from each transaction. Some 5%, some 14%, some as high as 25%.

Now it was starting to make more sense. The credit card companies charge higher fees for these "high-risk" accounts because there is a higher rate of what they call "chargebacks." You know that protection on your credit card, where if you dispute the charge, you don't have to pay for it? Well they've determined that happens more with porn and gambling and other "high-risk" sites than others, so they're justified in charging more money to process payment for those sites.

Paypal doesn't want to have to pay Visa and MC for carrying "high risk" accounts on their books. You have to remember that Paypal is a middleman. Sites that carry high-risk material have to pay the high-risk costs of doing business. If you're going through Paypal, you don't have to pay that. Until Paypal catches you. And then they insist you take down your high-risk content or lose your account.

What Bookstrand did was use this as an excuse to get rid of a problem. They were having difficulties integrating the harder-core Indie books into their site (although to be fair, the books in question, in terms of content, weren't actually any more hardcore than many of the books in their Siren collection--they just had more revealing covers and more conspicuous titles) and so they used this crackdown by Paypal to eliminate hundreds of Indie books.

Who would be next? All Romance Ebooks? Smashwords? Amazon itself? Erotic writers everywhere said that Amazon was immune from Paypal's clampdown, but were they? No, they didn't accept Paypal on their site. But they did accept Visa and Mastercard. Where, exactly, did the buck stop?

I'm not sure, but I did find out an interesting piece of information that made me pause and consider where all of this may be leading.

Someone suggested the new "Amazon Payments" to me as an alternative to Paypal. I thought it made sense - if Amazon sells our books, why would they refuse to pay for them through their payment service?

Well guess what? I opened the account, and they closed it a day later, stating:

Thank you for registering with Amazon Payments. We appreciate your interest in our product.

Unfortunately, at this time, we are not able to approve your request for an Amazon Payments Business Account based on our review of your intended use of our payments service.

As stated in our Acceptable Use Policy the following product or services are prohibited from using Amazon Payments:

Adult Oriented Products and Services - includes pornography (including child pornography), sexually explicit materials (in all media types such as Internet, phone, and printed materials), dating services, escort services, or prostitution services.

While we appreciate your interest, the blocking of your account is a permanent action. Please feel free to write to us for any questions that you may have.

Which means, Amazon may not be "immune" to the Paypal rules after all. Because they still have to process credit cards through the same credit card companies that Paypal does.

I don't know what this means for the future of erotic self-publishing, but like the banning of certain titles begun by Amazon, it is a very slippery slope indeed. Today it's "pseudo-incest" and "rape" (including BDSM titles) which is nothing more than legal sex between consenting adults.

What will it be tomorrow?

-Selena Kitt


I'm putting this addendum here, rather than create another blog post, because so many people are linking to it. Bookstrand took the final step and completely eliminated "most of the Indie titles" from their site. They sent an email stating they wanted to "go back to their roots." Whatever that means. Of course, this decision came without warning, and while Indie authors were still trying to comply with their (ever-changing!) new Terms of Service.

Then Bookstrand said to DearAuthor that Siren "NEVER has and NEVER will publish books with the disgusting themes of incest, pseudo incest, rape for sexual titillation, or bestiality with naturally occurring animals."

No, they don't publish them. (Except for this one. And this one. Oh and this one). But they sure as heck didn't have a problem distributing them and making 50% commission on selling them before Paypal said, "Hey, you can't do that!" did they? Nope. No problem cashing that check. And they've been selling our stuff (incest and pseudo) since 2008. Hypocrite much?

Well I guess we couldn't expect them not to cave to Paypal. I just wished they'd done it with more regret and class.

And I wondered who might be next, didn't I? Well... here we go...

All Romance Ebooks has been contacted by Paypal and given the same ultimatum as Book Strand. They have now changed their policies and are implementing a new structure, splitting erotic romance from erotica. Of course, the concern is that perhaps they, like Bookstrand, will simply use that structure to lop off erotica as a category and go without it. Only time will tell.

In the interest of transparency, here is the letter from All Romance Ebooks:

This communication is being sent out to all publishers since it involves a process change:

From the beginning, we conceived of All Romance as a niche bookstore that would sell a wide variety of romance novels. Our primary demographic is adult women who enjoy reading romance subgenres featuring stories between two consenting adults. We opened with an “Erotica” category and, until fairly recently, that category was dominated primarily by Erotic Romance, which was our intent. “Vampires/Werewolves” was intended to carry romances featuring Vampires and Werewolves. “Gay” was intended to carry romances featuring Gay men. Over the past few months we’ve begun to receive more and more pure Erotica titles. Admittedly, there is a segment of our readership that wants to read Erotica. There is another segment that prefers to read Erotic Romance. Still others enjoy both, or neither.

In order to improve discoverability for all, we’ve decided to create separate Erotic Romance and Erotica categories. The “old” Erotica category will soon be retired. All titles in that category will need to be re-shelved prior to its retirement to avoid inactivation. We have also made some amendments to our restrictive section to provide some further guidance as to the types of books we feel will resonate best with our Romance community. Please review section 7 of the publisher contract here. If the amended terms are ones you can’t abide by, please let Barbara know and she will accept your notice of termination. If they are, accessing your publisher panel after today will be sufficient to constitute acceptance. We request that you take immediate initiative to remove any titles that may be in breach.

In order to help publishers shelve titles appropriately and aid readers in finding the types of books they most want to enjoy, we’ve worked in conjunction with a team of Erotica and Erotic Romance authors and publishers to craft some guidelines. We appreciate that this division is rather nuanced and that our views may not equate with yours. None-the-less, these guidelines will serve to direct customers, so we ask that you refer to them when deciding upon category placement.

In the next one to two weeks, you will receive notice that re-shelving has commenced. You will have seven calendar days in which to complete the re-shelving process. During the seven-day period, only titles in the New Erotica and New Erotic Romance categories will be visible to the public. If you publish all Erotica or all Erotica Romance, you’ll be able to complete the process with one simple step upon login. If you would like us to complete that step for you, please send an email to me, Subject: Shelving. Indicate in the body of the email if you publisher only Erotica or Erotica Romance. I will confirm with you via email when your migration is complete.

If you publish a mixture of Erotica and Erotic Romance, when re-shelving begins upon login you will be directed to a pop-up page that lists only your current Erotica content along with summaries. You will need to check a box for each title, indicating whether it falls into the Erotica or Erotic Romance category.

I’m including our guidelines below so that you can begin planning for this process:

Erotic romance is a Romance containing frequent, sexually explicit love scenes. The main plot centers around two or more people falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. The love scenes are a natural part of the romance and described using graphic and frank language. Typically these stories have an HEA (happily ever a fter) or HFN (happy for now) ending.

Erotica is a sexually explicit story, which explores and focuses on a character’s sexual journey rather than an emphasis on a developing romantic relationship. While such an erotic story may have elements of romance, it is the sex that primarily drives the story.

I find this rather questionable:

"...accessing your publisher panel after today will be sufficient to constitute acceptance."

So if we want to log in and see our sales or look at our titles, we have to accept these new terms of service? This smacks of what Bookstrand did. They gave no notice to publishers of the terms of service changes (and seemed to change them every five minutes!) and certainly gave no indication that they would be removing the entire "Indie" section of books until it happened. All Romance Ebooks has followed their example, deactivating books and then saying, "Oh by the way, when you log into your account to find out what's going on, you agree to our new Terms of Service." Really!? No box to check, nothing. The contract was amended without anyone's knowledge or consent and then come to find out that logging in to figure out what's going when publishers find their books gone means they somehow agree with the stuff they weren't told about? That's so not cool.

And what are All Romance Ebooks' new restrictions? Funny, they look similar to the issues Paypal was having with the Bookstrand books. Incest, pseudo-incest, bestiality and rape. All Romance, however, has taken this one step further, and has banned "barely legal" (their term) books. This is, apparently, sex between 18-19 year old women and older men, at least if the books they've banned so far are any indication. Of course, they have lots and lots of "twink" books (18-19 year old males having sex with older men). So far, no banning of those. Double standard much!?

These will sound familiar:

7. Restrictions

All Romance reserves the right not to accept any particular Work submitted by Publisher at All Romance's sole discretion, and may remove any particular Work from sale at any time and for any or no reason. Pornographic and obscene Works are restricted and not allowable for upload on the All Romance site, including without limitation, Works depicting sexual acts involving persons under eighteen years of age (exceptions may be made for certain works of literary fiction involving time periods wherein the age of consent was less than 18 and the purpose of the depiction is not for sexual titillation), Works involving any exploitation of minors, sexual or otherwise, Erotic Works which contain incest or pseudo-incest themes, Works that are written for or being marketed to the barely legal market, rape for the purposes of titillation, scenes of non-consensual bondage or non-consensual sado-masochistic practices, bestiality with naturally occurring animals, sex with non-animated corpses, snuff or scat play.


Two distributors down.


-Selena Kitt


  1. Why stop there? Aren't all erotic titles sexually explicit? Then we have erotic romance. Whoops! You can see the naughty bits! Out you go!

    Then there's romance. Flip some open. Yep, the words might be less direct, but there is sexually explicit content. They have to go, too. Right?

    If everyone doesn't stand up and fight this, you might be suprised what comes next. Fight not while you can, even if this doesn't seem like it applies to you.

    Let me emphasize that with some words by pastor Martin Niemöller about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.

    1. Did you seriously just compare the systematic slaughter of millions of people this?

      The fuck?

    2. Thank you for expressing the same outrage I felt at that comparison. I'm Jewish and I find that quotation offensive in most places. Here it really crossed a line of decency and taste.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. I think the point the commenter was trying to make is that people thought those things were unimportant because they didn't impact them directly. Nobody paid attention until it was too late and the regime had taken hold. Granted, that is an extreme in comparison with this issue, but I think the point was that little things lead to bigger issues until you reach a point where there is no stopping the disastrous impact of the actions.

    5. The cultural conditions in which the "systematic slaughter of millions of people" is able to occur usually begins with censorship and oppression. Remember the Nazi book burnings?

      I understand that this is a sensitive topic, but I think the point the commenter was trying to make is a valid one. I'm not saying that censorship of ebooks necessarily leads to genocide, but tolerating censorship nourishes the conditions in which genocide can happen.

  2. So frustrating!

    The fact that they have so much power is scary and awful. At least with cash, I can sidle into my local porno shack and get whatever I want.

    Tweeted, etc.

  3. BookStrand has since amended their list of restricted content, and now, dubious/implied consent and sex with people over eighteen and under 21 is acceptable. They specifically list that shapeshifters are okay. Their first draft forbade 'barely legal' characters from having sex, and said they had to be 21. That little stipulation is gone. Incest and pseudo incest is still a no-no.

    Thank you for the research, and for some better insight into this situation.

  4. You want irony? Follow Amazon's link here...

    So... are they selling this stuff? BDSM, fetish, all sorts of toys for that sort of thing? You can have the stuff, but for cryin' out loud, you can't READ about it. I think I'd go back to Amazon and ask how it is that they're violating their own policy for the distribution of sexually explicit materials. Fuel for the fire.

    1. Toy's have a strict no refund policy for health reasons. The risk to the credit card processing services is far lower.

    2. I do not believe in chargebacks being the real reason at the back of this. The CC banks have always creamed off the adult market. Not because there is a higher risk, instead because they could do it and would get paid more by the sellers the buyers.

      It's not that. Look for the reason elsewhere.

    3. People return non-erotic books too so should they just stop selling books all together? This is censorship plain and simple. If they can control who sales it then they can control who reads it and in their mind that probably means they can control other people's morality.

  5. It's already ugly and it's only going to get worse.

  6. Behavior like this is what creates an opportunity for technologies such as Bitcoin. A payment system that does not rely on a centralized authority doesn't have this problem.

  7. Selena,
    Lovecraft68 from literotica here. I have been harping on this for months on lit and no one takes it seriously. All the attention is focused on incest/ pseudo incest so no one cares. I have been saying for awhile now that soon it would be every form of erotica and here it is.

    Paypal has other bullying tactics through e-bay as well and does what it wants. Amazon does what they want as well(or what a few moral prigs ask them to do.) It's time to unite for sure and start throwing the word boycott around. It is what Amazon responds to. When people tell them "If you are going to carry this we'll boycott you" well we need to say "If you will not carry this we will boycott you" The sinners will always have more money than the saints. It's time for authors to put their mouths where their money is and soon. Perhaps you should post this on lit and get the big talkers to actually do something other than talk over there. Sincerely LC68 from Lit

  8. You know what offends me? People being swindled out of their retirement investments. Gay people being denied basic societal rights like marriage. Young people leaving school with no skills in reading, writing, and basic math. Why the hell are people spending time and energy denying access to FICTION when things like this are happening?

    Censorship is a smokescreen created by pseudo-moral people and companies who want to appear as if they are bettering society, when in fact, they are doing little to address actual societal issues. Censorship is a sleight-of-hand trick used to distract us from what is really affecting our lives in negative ways. CENSORSHIP OFFENDS ME.

  9. You have to wonder where this ends. Who decided what legal sexual acts or preferences are OK which are not? I'd rather leave it up to the reader than a corporation or the government. In a free society we have the choice whether or not to look at porn. Don't like it, don't look. Unfortunately, too many people think their morality is better than everyone else's. Whether its banning music, books or food, it's wrong. You don't ban my books and I won't call you a fascist. Deal?

    Great post Selena!

  10. Hi, Selena!
    I wanted to thank you for your excellent post, and for letting people know about the petition. It's funny, but people didn't seem to get at first that the consenting adults issue was where the problem lay. In most communities, the MAXIMUM age of consent is 18. Therefore, any material representing people 18 years and older is legal.
    The tricky bit comes in the way they phrased the objectionable parts: Making sure to keep the guidelines vague enough that virtually any erotic work out there, whether romantic or otherwise, was sure to come into the crosshairs one way or the other. This includes YA and BDSM, as you pointed out.
    The good news is, people are taking notice...and a stand. Where it will lead or end, who knows?
    Thanks again for being part of that in a very insightful and classy way. :)


    J.S. Wayne

  11. This is a pretty amazing post... and scary. I had no idea PayPal had decreed that BDSM was strictly off-limits. I'm the writer of the infamous "Daddy Lick, My Pussy" which was an experimental foray into P.I.

    It's actually a poor seller, and I believe that's because I honestly wasn't that into writing it. The stuff I love to wright is femdom/sissification stories. Those are loaded with BDSM and kink. My gay m/m stuff also get's pretty kinky.

    So by PayPal's standards all of my work is in violation of their T.O.S. Even more reason for me to no longer use PayPal at all. They can say this isn't an attempt to strong-arm morality. But I don't believe it.

    What's next.. GLBT, shape-shifter, and vampire erotica???

    Being a private entity PayPal can use their immense muscles to push a moralist agenda in as wide a scope as possible.

    Even if your anti-erotica this should scare you.

  12. The more I learn about it, the scarier this is. Just because they can't burn e-books doesn't mean they can't make it impossible for customers to purchase.

  13. The demand exists. The supply exists. Someone just needs to find a way to put them together.

  14. Thank you for a very informative post Selina!! And like everyone else, I'm thinking WTH!

    If Amazon and Paypal are going to censor what we buy through them, then I think - nope, not going there!!

    I tend to buy via the actual e-publisher (mainly so that authors receive their "real" royalties!); but what happens if my creit card provider sides with Amazon/Paypal?? Grief - I can't even begin to imagine that!! Deprived of my erotica reading?? I would go insane very quickly!!

    But the whole concept of (as someone said) pseudo-moral companies restricting what we READ, is an acute violation of our personal freedom of choice. So, it's a stand up and be counted situation - and I hope we all have the guts to do that!!


  15. Great post, Selena.

    My hope is that with more vendors, more demand, this will get better. It won't be soon, but it's inevitable. Censorship is fun for governments/businesses to think they can impose, but it never works long term.

    We're tough monkeys, and we want our porn.

    I hope we do want that porn... 'cause my latest includes some severe non-consent. :/

  16. Or you could try switching to this service -

  17. Offer a site where reading points are purchased. Reading points cannot be reversed, but they can be exchanged for other reading material. Pretty much what Amazon offers now.

    Isolate the credit purchases to an item that is in a form that is regarded as low risk to the merchant service - such as an electronic gift card.

    Allow the card to be used on anything. The terms of service are not violated. The back-end programming and the TOS just have to state you are buying a gift card and then the gift card will be deducted.

    1. Actually, this is how it is done by Chinese fiction sites, at least, the and are for certain (I have an account with the former, and my friend the latter).

  18. The problem is that due the differences in banking systems Paypal is the one service enabling people outside the USA to easily buy content from sellers inside the USA.

    I do not own a credit card and it is very unlikely I ever will. The hoops through which I'd have to jump for a debit card are just as high and nonsensical. We've a different legislation and practice here in this regard. I do however buy almost exclusively in the USA because I speak and read English. The Paypal policy has already kept me from buying certain books.

  19. Bookstrand deactivated a bunch of books and also took the link to all the self pubbed titles off their site. All Romance is reshelving their books into two categories, Erotic Romance and Erotica, along with the message that basically said "Here are our brand new restrictions. If you don't like them, get lost."

    They both are cleaning house. Sweep. Sweep. Sweep. Sweep. They don't seem to even take time to think about it!

    Why do I feel like Bookstrand is about to dump all their "Indie" authors without further ado and ARE is going to keep the "Erotic Romance" and dump the unwanted "Erotica" category once these two sorted out?

    Two of the largest ebook distributors don't seem to care about these authors. Have they lost their marbles because the almighty Mastercard-Visa-PayPal cracked the whip and threatened not to process payments if they don't obey?

    The going is not good. Not good at all.

  20. What is interesting is that "Erotica" does not even equal "pornography" according to US law, when referring to written material and that the legal definition of what is to be considered "obscene" also is not within spitting distance of most of what is being censored.

  21. What someone needs to do is find a major pub house wide-released, well-known, and beloved title that includes the theme of 'rape' and say "Oh, LOOK, PayPal and others, here is major publishing house selling one of your banned themes. Please C&D them like you did the rest of us for the same thing." and get them in on this. (Same thing for movies.)

  22. You know, like "Tess of the d'Urbevilles" but preferably more modern.

  23. Why the hell is society so afraif of sex? First it's telling you who you can and can't have sex with, as well as how you should have it, where and how often.

    And now they want to police what kind of sex you read or write about, too...

    Why don't people just mind their own freaking panties?

  24. Is this a setback or an opportunity?

    Sex sells. There is a large market for these kind of books. If big companies don't want to cater to this market, then smaller companies will arise to meet the demand.

    If that's taking too long, create the company yourself. A group of successful erotica writers could all chip in and create an online store.

    That said, if you created your own store, it would be up to you what kinds of titles you would sell.

    Would you sell erotica featuring 13 year olds? At 13, many have already reached puberty and are sexually mature. Yet this is under the age of consent. Would that be allowed on your website, or not? And if so, what if the characters were 11 years old? How about 5 years old?

    I wouldn't want to sell erotica featuring children, even though it is fiction and not real. I wouldn't want to attract the kind of readers that liked that stuff. Is that censorship?

    Personally, I think it sucks that erotica is getting the shaft, and I am NOT equating erotica with kiddie pr0n. I think if someone wants to write incest BDSM erotica they should be allowed to, and I should be allowed to buy it.

    But a retailer deciding what they want to sell isn't banning or censorship. It's business.

    If they don't want to do business with you, start your own business.

    1. It is a great idea JK however the problem being online is a credit card paying world and if you cannot have that payment option in your new erotica store you are dead on arrival.

      The porn industry made their own credit card companies funded by them. I cannot imagine the amount of money that took and there where issues in the end of some of them falling out of business and not paying.

    2. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to contact some porn companies and give them a cut in return for using the payment system they already have in place?

      I have no idea how that would work, but there have to be alternatives to Paypal.

  25. Also, it is worth noting that I think one of the worst traits in human nature is trying to impose your morality on others.

    We should all be able to do what we want to as long as we aren't hurting anyone, and no one should have the power to restrict what anyone else can do.

    But we're still very much the same crazy Puritans that came over on the Mayflower. It's sad.

  26. I did not read everyone's comments but I have been dealing with this for years trying to sell erotic books to adults.

    Years ago I discovered much of what you are finding out now, Selena. But one step further is how this all ties into the porn industry and that elusive keyword "adult"

    Throughout the porn industry ie: porn sites, adult movies, anything besides BOOKS, there is rampant chargebacks which credit card companies are unwilling to deal with any more (understandable)

    What is NOT understandable is how they LUMP erotica books into this category. Which is unfair as ebooks/books have the least amount of chargebacks for a consumer goods. But just because it is an "adult" product it becomes lumped in with the worst offenders of chargebacks and therefore undesirable. Meh

    Seriously having watched this for a long time the only way for you to bypass this like the small presses do which sell explicit stuff is to also offer other categories. Plain Romance, westerns, horror, general fiction (you get it) Somehow by adding more variety (like) B&N which sells all this erotica and is using cc cards get you by the Paypal police.

    Also I have seen Paypal freeze and TAKE funds of those that they deem are not complying to their TOC. So it might be prudent to remove any funds you have in your accounts just to be safe.

    1. Except ARe sells all kinds of romance, including sweet romance which has no sex at all, and that hasn't saved them. They're apparently being pressured by PayPal and/or the CC companies too. So what now?


    2. I must of missed the ARE Paypal issue. The letter I received from ARE says they are making more categories. Adding an Erotic romance category which I think is great. I took this as a customer thing, so they could better get what they are searching for.

    3. I too received an email from ARe. I didn't understand the issue then, but now I get it thanks to this blog post. I am going to have to make other arrangements for my payments because PayPal and I are not going to work together. I don't write erotica, but I also don't want to have my payments go through a company that might use any excuse to steal my money. Authors, try getting lawyers if they take your money and don't pay you. There's always a lawyer out there who will take a case, and sometimes they might even find a way to win it.

  27. Dear Indie Author,

    We have made a decision to no longer maintain most indie author accounts at Therefore, we are deactivating all titles associated with your account and no new uploads will be accepted. Your final distribution payment will be disbursed to you within 30 days and your account will be closed. During this time you will still be able to access your sales report from your account.

    BookStrand will focus on its core business by servicing accounts of publishers with clear submission and publishing guidelines that best serve our targeted audience. Our customer base was successfully built on this premise, and it's time to go back to our roots.

    While we understand you may be disappointed in losing a distribution outlet for your work, there are still several outlets that currently accept self-published titles. We wish you the best in your endeavors.

    Howie M.

  28. There seems to be no actual definition of what is, or is not, acceptable to these censoring payment companies. The term "contains themes including..." is a strange one, because it would logically suggest that even if a book shows those themes in an unfavorable light they ought to be censored. The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, for example, contains rape themes. And if you're banning books for containing these themes, are you going to ban DVDs and therefore start censoring Hollywood?

  29. Dear Howie M. at,

    Bright idea. Have fun following publishers into bankruptcy.

    It isn't too soon to get that resume up on

    Joe K.

  30. You're right, Joe.

    The problem is that most "adult" credit card processing companies insist on a $5000 startup fee just to begin. That kind of sucks. :x

    And considering how few chargebacks you get for ebooks? Pretty unfair.

    But it's do-able. And I agree, "illegal" subjects have to be approached with caution. I wouldn't touch underage stuff with a ten foot pole because of the legal climate. Of-age "fake incest" though? That's not illegal.

    And yes, as an update to this, now All Romance Ebooks has started removing not only "pseudo-incest" from their site, but "barely legal" books as well. (Their term). This is, apparently, defined as sex between 18-19 year old women and older men. Of course, they have lots and lots of "twink" books (18-19 year old males having sex with older men). No banning of those.

    Double standard much!?

  31. Selena, while we neither read nor write the aformentioned genres, we are not cool with this. If PayPal is going to play moral watchdog, why then does it remain a method of payment on porn websites? Additionally, by what independent standards are they using to define bestiality as some readers consider stories featuring shifters a type of bestiality. Of course, many readers consider any book with sex to be porn. Who is on the board of 'deciders?'

    This seems to be clear cut discrimination and while they are targeting you, we know that they have also suspended the accounts of other publishers.

  32. "while we neither read nor write the aformentioned genres, we are not cool with this..."

    Why do people always feel they have to preface their comments with something like that? lol

    But I agree - they are out to get rid of certain "unsavory" elements in erotica. *rolling eyes*

    It should make for an interesting ride...

    1. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I use the phrasing to indicate that I don't have a financial dog in the fight. I'm not speaking up from self-interest, I'm speaking up because this is bullshit and must be stopped.

  33. Maybe Joe's right. There could be a business opportunity here if the right payment processor can be found. We know there's a market here. If the others don't want the business then why not scoop the lot.

    I like the idea of slipping the leash and getting truly transgressive... :D

  34. I see this working one of two ways. Either it's a way to get rid of Indies (because we do have a huge share of the market right now), or the morality police have stepped in, in which case it's only a matter of time before they start banning anything with too much kissing or hand-holding, or any mention of pre-marital sex. Either way -- it's not good. I've had one of my stories pulled from ARE already and I'm sure others will follow since I have an entire series about 18-year-olds being initiated into sex by older men called "Twisted Virgin Tales". One was a pseudo incest. That's the one that was removed from ARE first. My other erotica and erotic romance titles are bdsm, one with non-consensual that turns consensual. I'm sure they're next to be wiped.

  35. Paypal does have some competition from Google Checkout, but they have restrictions similar to Paypal's.

    Here's some discussions on payment processors that do or don't accept 'adult'-related sales:

  36. A few corrections...

    “All Romance Ebooks has been contacted by Paypal and given the same ultimatum as Book Strand.”

    This is false.

    “And what are All Romance Ebooks' new restrictions?...Incest, pseudo-incest, bestiality and rape.”

    This is incorrect. Bestiality and rape for the purposes of titillation have been restrictions since November of 2006 along with a number of other restrictions.

    “Of course, they have lots and lots of "twink" books (18-19 year old males having sex with older men). So far, no banning of those.”

    This is incorrect. We have inactivated barely legal titles involving both males and females and are continuing to screen and do so.

    1. Why? They are legal age so where is your problem with legal age consensual sexual relations? I don't understand where the issue is in this so maybe Lori James you can explain so that the rest of us will understand your viewpoint.

  37. Well, I did say, "so far" didn't I? ;)

    Guess you were just deactivating those titles *last*? Or maybe not until someone noticed...? Hmmm... No one can really say...

    And thanks for your clarification about your restrictions, although unnecessary. "New restrictions" simply referred to the "update" you recently made and wasn't meant to imply that all of the restrictions therein were completely new. Simply that these were the restrictions you'd changed, recently released, and were using going forward.

  38. “All Romance Ebooks has been contacted by Paypal and given the same ultimatum as Book Strand.”

    This is false.

    BTW, I don't believe this for a minute.

    But if that's your official position, well... there it is!

  39. Interesting. Follow the money it is always the money.

    From Dear Author post:(More on the Paypal thing. Roslyn Holcomb had commented early on that Paypal issue may be related to chargebacks and I received another private email that suggested the same thing. Visa/Mastercard apparently charge “high risk” accounts a higher fee and Paypal isn’t set up that way and thus the chargebacks are becoming a problem and charge backs are frequent within the adult industry. One adult vendor shared a list of keywords that Paypal indicated cannot appear in book titles. AKA no “Daddy’s Best Friend”.)

  40. I am going to add to my above post. I think that keyword "Daddy Best friend" part is way off.

    I will bet it is more explicit keywords than that.

    As I have said before this is all based on a wrong assumption that all adult content suffers from high chargebacks. I don't think adult "ebooks" fall in this category. I would bet one reason AMZ slides is they take care of their returns "in house" Where companies like BS and ARE do not and a customers only recourse is to charge back into Paypal or their credit card.

    I wonder if a new erotica selling company could get high enough up the food chain at the cc processors to assure them their erotica store would deal with returns in store if that could loosen this up.

  41. Not to sound to tin-foil-hattish here but who are the candidates that former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and current eBay PAC support? What are their political stances?

    Other than PayPal tossing a bunch of cash at Ron Paul and Whitman tossing a bunch of cash at Mitt Romney I can't find this information anywhere. Granted I've only been looking for about 5 minutes.

    1. I was sorta thinking along those lines, too.. Gotta be something in the tin-foil

  42. I've had the "honour" of being censored by Bookstrand and there is no rape, incest or bestiality in my books - nor am I an indie author.

    This mess goes deeper than we think. we have to fight back.

  43. I just received an email from Smashwords stating PayPal is forcing them to take the road to ban and hold sales of erotic books containing bestiality, rape or incest. If your book does not contain such things, they are still looking for any excuse to eradicate all erotic work online under some new moral legislation. PayPal does not have the right to police people's private purchases. This is a violation of the privacy act. Yet, they still are abusing everyone's right to spend their money on whatever they please. It is not right. Am I the only one here who thinks Hitler become reincarnated as PayPal?? The only way to stop PayPal's censorship on books/authors etc is for someone to build a rival network to bypass PayPal's monopoly on Internet banking etc. Your credit card company has no right to tell you where you spend your money - God forbid they prohibit the sale and purchase of adult toys online... What will be next? Will we all have to be forced to wear a surgically implanted muffler so no one hears our bodily functions in the privacy of our own home?? How utterly ridiculous!

  44. PayPal is just going down the line. And they'll fall like dominos....

  45. Found this:
    In July 2011, Paypal shut down an author's direct sales of non-erotic books about escort services.

    1. See, PayPal can't be trusted to police only the titles they told us were a no-no. Soon it will be you won't be permitted to publish a story about any sex subject.

  46. Some national and state governments are actively legislating against particular products and services, as well as media, on a wide range of grounds, effectively banning and censoring all sorts of material and media. If someone prints tee-shirts with a slogan which incites hatred on racial or religious grounds, for example, in some territories everybody involved in the chain from originator, through manufacturer, distributor, payment facilitator to the end-customer can find themselves being prosecuted, convicted and fined or imprisoned.

    It is reasonable to expect anybody who finds themselves at risk, through 'regulatory' issues like these, to impose Terms and Conditions as a defence against prosecution, and to demonstrate that they exercise 'due diligence' in enforcing them. When they refuse to provide their service to a vendor, it is not they who are banning or censoring the item being sold; it is the regulatory system within which they operate.

    Corporate entities tend to have one principle:- make as much money as possible, don't get prosecuted, fined or jailed, don't offend any significant percentage of your market. They really don't mind about moral or ethical issues unless they affect the 'bottom line'.

    The justification for refusing to handle anything is based on trying to 'please' the greatest possible number of people. Even governments argue that they legislate in order to protect the people, and if the majority of the electorate raise no objection to 'tightening' of laws that are supposed to reflect the 'moral' attitudes of their electorate/subjects, then it is assumed that they give their assent to abide by those laws.

    The problem arises when the behaviour of significant numbers of the population defies the laws they have 'approved'. Psychologists have frequently observed that the majority of women enjoy fantasising about rape; many are aroused by spanking and that incest fantasies are by no means uncommon. Whilst noting that actual rape and incest are likely to be socially destructive, the experience of reading, seeing representations in art and movies and other means of running imaginary scenarios can be cathartic and has positive effect on people who find these fantasies attractive.. There are counter arguments, naturally, and some people argue that playing 'Grand Theft Auto' encourages some players to act out in reality the excesses that most people 'get out of their system' merely by playing the game. They might also argue that some people, reading about a serial killer, will then go out and do likewise. Which is true.

    When it comes to sex, there is a huge amount of hypocrisy. Even the leaders of 'puritanical' repressive organisations have been exposed as enthusiasts for the types of sexual activities against which they preach most vehemently. Ordinary folks would like to do many things that they are often seen to say ought not to be permitted.

    Sexual liberty is a major problem. Many people are frightened of being judged 'immoral' if they aren't seen to support censure of things they'd privately like to do. This does not mean that their desires are 'right' - it just means that society fails to be honest about those desires, and to deal with them.

    Paedophiles, for example are hardly likely to campaign for sexual relationships between adults and children to become socially permissible.

    When it comes to painting, drawing, sculpture, literature and movies 'challenging' sexual material is often defended on the basis that it is art, but this defence is unlikely to succeed in the case of genre pulp fiction. Many representations of sexuality across the whole spectrum have no more claim to artistic substance and merit than pulp westerns, low grade science fiction, cheap crime thrillers or Barbara Cartland's romances.

  47. Smashwords has a rule: "we don't even allow non-participating minors to appear in erotica." So we can't have: "Why were you late picking me up at school, Mommy?" when 'Mommy' has been off doing something erotic? And a married couple have erotic sex together and the wife gets pregnant? Isn't the fetus a 'non-participating minor' by some people's definitions? This is a ban on all erotica.

  48. I've linked this excellent blog entry to mine:

  49. Damn it! I found out today that the Muslim market in my town is refusing to carry my award winning pork sausage. I have a right to sell my pork sausage and the fact that they won't carry it is a violation of my rights!

    Damn bigots!

    And then, if that wasn't bad enough I found out that Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million won't carry my books because they are printed under one of Amazon's imprints. WTF!
    I have rights!

    So I went down town to my local Mom and Pop book seller and tried to get them to carry my books. They have read them and love them but told me that because they are printed under an Amazon imprint they won't carry them.

    I have a call into Gloria Allred.

  50. Please, everyone, check your definitions. Paypal (and thus Smashwords) is only taking away those subjects that the VAST majority (if not all) of US courts would deem "OBSCENE" and thus actionable. Those subjects are: bestiality, PRURIENT rape, and incest. (Okay, the latter is probably a too-broad term, but Smashwords admits it's a "slippery slope." It's difficult to police to make sure that all participants are healthy, happy, consenting adults.)

    I've worked at Adam & Eve for decades. There was a time when we were #1 in the US government's aim. And my boss WON in court. (We're still under scrutiny, but we keep great records, have an outstanding rep, and the govt knows we will fight back, unlike smaller companies who can't afford to.)

    Of course, our boss had to shovel a few million dollars to fund his defense. ( ) We as a corporation had to be able to PROVE that we did not sell anything the court could point a defining finger at (yes, there is a fairly firm, legal definition of obscenity) and yell, "Obscene!"

    "Obscene" is against the law. A First Amendment case can be made, but it will take the defendant MILLIONS of dollars in order to fund such, years of interference if not shut-down orders to contend with, with no guarantee of a "not guilty" judgment.

    There are many other places to find an outlet to publish obscene material. Smashwords wants to maintain and grow its market, and that means defining what it will and won't carry, so the companies it deals with know they're in the clear as well. For if Smashwords sells obscene materials and they allow it to appear on others' sites, those others are liable, too.

    1. No, Smashwords bans - as per its old and added to TOS - the following LEGAL activities and books:

      - practically 80% of all YA novels (literally)
      - erotic novels containing adults (18+ *is* adult and not obscene!)
      - a huge chunk of LGBT books (check Donaghe!)

      to name but a few. What is unsettling is that despite it not being necessary at all (and Bookstrand and ARe avoid this) and all their protestations to the contrary Smashwords bans were-creatures having sex in were-state.

      What bloody hypocrisy all around.

    2. I'm interested in how you manage to sell (as Amazon does) such things as male prostate massagers, bondage gear and strap-on dildos when such things could easily be considered "obscene" by the morality police. I also find it amusing that you claim that there is "a fairly firm, legal definition of obscenity" when in fact there is no such thing.

      Miller v. California (1973) set obscenity precedent as "I know it when I see it", with the guidelines that obscene material is basically whatever the majority of people at the time think is obscene. Clearly that definition varies with each group of people, each city, and each state. Everyone has different laws on the books regarding which sexual acts are allowed, which are prohibited and which punishments are meted for each. There is no "standard", only a sliding scale of common or popular ideals based largely on the voting demographic of the area at the time the laws were put into place.

      So tell me again why people exercising their rights to free speech and free press are suddenly being censored based on some nebulous idea of obscenity which in the first place was meant to cover visual art and not written?

      I'm quite honestly surprised no one has tried to shut down yet... but then again, they're not making money directly from sales of smut, so clearly they're morally better or somehow immune from all of this.

      What is it about profit that makes people toss freedoms out the window?

    3. Just so you know, a lot of us who do not write this "obscene" material are being affected adversely, as well. Anything with the word Erotic or Erotica in the title can be a problem. Anything published under that category could be a problem. And, it is causing a major chilling effect on the writing of romantic fiction.

    4. Amazon still sells Push, by Sapphire, which is the story of a 16-year-old girl who has been raped by her father, who has AIDS. Sounds like rape, incest, and murder to me, not to mention illegal (pedophilia) sex.
      While I consider this a great story, it is most definitely obscene.
      How is this book (and its subsequent, Academy Award-winning movie, Precious) still on the shelves?
      Granted, it's Amazon, not a store that carries PayPal titles, but still- same morality police at work.

  51. Hi Selena, et al,

    I agree that PayPal is essentially censoring erotica. I'm appalled that they've set up arbitrary and capricious topics when so many of those topics are routinely explored in literary fiction. If child rape and incest were disallowed as topics in literary fiction, all literary fiction would collapse. [i]The Magicians[/i] by Lev Grossman has a scene that, by Smashy's and PayPal's new guidelines, falls smack in the middle of their bestiality definition (shape-shifters, as animals, getting their freak on).

    As an alternative to PayPal and their Golden Rule ("He who has the gold, makes the rules,") have any of y'all erotica folks considered's credit card merchant service?


    Godaddy (with whom I do my websites) is well-known as a libertarian-ish company. They also treat their employees astoundingly well. (Their "Christmas party:" [url][/url]) (I like businesses that treat their employees well. They generally stick around for a long time and are more profitable than those who don't.)

    They're based in Arizona, my native state, which is not known for its kowtowing to political correctness. The CEO's blog is wild. And check out those Superbowl ads.'s very domain name might be banned by PayPal. That's got to be a good sign.

    TK Kenyon

  52. My Incest titles on Smashwords make up 30% of my available erotic fare, yet comprise over 85% of my sales. I will lose roughly $800-plus a month of royalties thanks to PayPal's sudden morality play. The reality is that someone out there has been buying the stuff and they're kind of cutting their own throats with this.

    Now, on Kindle, my pseudo-incest titles make up 60% of my offerings and account for 80% of my sales there. If Amazon drops the PI, that would rip me for another $200 a month. This is after the >5% of titles refunded.

    Yeah, so I'm not the most successful erotica -- make that 'porn' -- writer out there, but $1K a month does put a little extra food on my table, and now that opportunity is being taken away.

  53. I just had a terrible thought.

    I have a few erotica titles about a 50 year old man having an affair with his 50 year old sister in law, who he has only previously met a few times as they live in different cities.
    Technically it would be considered pseudo incest - which is an absurdity.
    And of course there is no law forbidding two 50 year olds related only in law from getting it off together.

    I agree with the above writer, I actually make money from this, via Smashwords from Apple, B&N, Kobo and others.

    Why should that ebook be removed from sale when the story does not involve any law breaking.

    Whats next -anal sex stories will be banned, gay stories will be banned?

    I would like to see
    1) a website set up to lisst all the books that will become banned by this action from Paypal. I will send you my half a dozen sister in law titles.

    2) I would love to see someone make a little logo, "Banned by Paypal" so we can put it on the cover of those banned titles still selling at Amazon.

    Mr Anon Y Mous.

  54. Thanks for the post Selena. I have had a book recently removed by ARe. The story is an erotic romance about a 24 year old rent boy who falls in love with his 31 year old WW1 veteran client.
    The gist from my publisher seems to be that ARe have removed my book for having the words 'rent boy' in the blurb.
    I don't write anything hardcore or objectionable and I'm most upset that ARe are obviously judging my material as obscene.
    I'm also against censorship in any way shape or form and am appalled at what is happening.

  55. Go check out Amazon/Kindle they have free ebooks containing all of the erotica you named, and here we thought/they said they were smut free!

  56. It will be interesting to see what happens when the credit card companies start pressuring Amazon, B&N and other major retailers to stop selling James Michener's "Hawaii" (incest in the royal family) or Norman Mailer's "Ancient Evenings" (ditto) or Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" (pedophilia) or reprints of Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex" (incest). These books are not "erotica", but they do contain these themes. What happens to my romance set in ancient Egypt, where the royal family routinely marries brother to sister? It's only background, not even the theme of my story, but who know what some anonymous dweeb at PayPal is going to make of it? Already I feel the chill, and the damned book isn't even finished.

    What bothers me are the extremely vague, broad definitions being tossed around. What's "obscene"? What is "non-consensual"? What is "titillating?" These are subjective terms, and I don't think anyone wants a twenty-something MBA at Amex or Visa deciding what qualifies.

    The trouble here is that we've grown used to the convenience of instant credit transactions on the Internet. It's what drives the Internet. But I'm old enough to remember when you could not carry out ANY financial transactions over the Net. If you wanted to buy something, you had to mail someone a check. That is still possible today. While Visa and Mastercard et al make it more CONVENIENT to buy through the web, no one has a RIGHT to convenience.

    I hate what PayPal is doing, and I'm angry about how they're pressuring Mark Coker and other brave people, who are having to back down or lose their businesses. I am APPALLED at the idea of PayPal thinking they have a right to confiscate money deposited with them, and I think it's long past time for the federal banking authorities to take a look at their "banking" practices. But I don't think there's going to be anything we can do to reverse PayPal's decision. Like Joe Konrath suggests, all we can do is stand over here and watch their ship sink.

    The great thing about the Internet is that it is a river, not a highway. When an obstacle arises, traffic on a highway stops, but a river just flows around it. The Internet will find someone willing to provide the same services as PayPal, Visa and Amex. It's going to be a bitch waiting it out, but I don't really think there's any viable alternative.

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