Some of you know that this weekend, Smashwords dropped a press release during the time when they hoped no one would notice. Effective immediately, Smashwords has embraced censorship, though they claimed this would only affect erotica titles. In my opening email to Mark Coker on this, I pointed out that this so-called erotica ban would also hit titles of mine that weren’t erotic. I said that if I had to drop a few of my books, I might as well drop all of them. I also pleaded with him to drop PayPal and move to a different bank.
However, I calmed down in the days of silence that followed because some folks said, “Oh, surely they’ll only want you to take down the one erotica book.” BZZZT! Wrong answer. Today, Angela answered for Mark and said that he’d “lobbied” really hard for us, but that ultimately, Smashwords was going to accept censorship and not leave PayPal.
Let me be clear: I’m aware of the paperwork and time involved in setting up a bank account for a business in the US. I know what it takes to get a new credit card vendor too. I had to do it while living in a foreign country while setting up my own failed online store*, so I know what I’m asking isn’t easy. (*It failed because no one ever bought a book through the site, only through other vendors. So it was a waste of money.) But what Smashwords has done is casual acceptance of censorship in the name of financial convenience.
It gets worse, though, because Angela said that they want me to unpublish ALL books that have objectionable materials. By Angela’s interpretations of Smashwords rules, many of my books should have never been published. But, by her interpretation, the site could not sell Stephen King’s IT, or many of Anne Rice’s titles, like Lasher, Belinda, or that godawful Claiming Beauty series. What’s fucked up about her stance is, you can walk into a book store and buy these books, as a kid, and without ID, but you can’t buy them online even if you’re an adult because the moral standards online these days are higher than they are for a real book store.
In my answer, I told Angela that her interpretation would allow for banning books by King and Rice, and I told her that I will not unpublish my titles. If they wish to remove my books, they will have to ban my account from Smashwords altogether. I have no doubt that they will, and I’ll be honest, I’m not sure where I go from here. But I want to make this post so you understand: Smashwords isn’t just banning a little porn here and there. They’re about to embrace censorship wholesale because Mark Coker is too lazy to get a new business account at another bank. Period. Don’t heap sympathy on his company and claim he’s an innocent party. The innocent parties are the authors who Mark has already censored in the name of maintaining the status quo.
And I need to be clear that I have spoken to Mark before about his site design, and about the large volume of hardcore bestiality and incest porn that was showing up on the front page. That was two years ago, and Mark never changed the site design. He barely acknowledged that the front page could be off-putting to new visitors. He just didn’t care. One year ago, when I asked him about it, he whined at me that they were only a few people.
And on this point, Mark is a constant see-sawing hypocrite. He loves to brag about how big his site is in his blog posts. He loves to say how many more authors were added, how many more words are on his site. But when it comes time to point out all the flaws that still haven’t been fixed, suddenly, Smashwords is so small and helpless.
And so it is here with PayPal. Mark is using the same tactic that they’re so small and frail, they couldn’t possibly survive the move to another bank. They couldn’t survive just taking credit card orders, even though that’s how Amazon became a giant, by taking credit cards. So no, I do not buy Mark’s story that he has no choice. He has a choice, and he doesn’t want to do the work needed to protect his authors. Soothing the offended sensibilities of his cash supplier is more convenient, so that is what he will do.
Like I said, I fully expect to be banned from Smashwords soon. I have no recourse, and the only person who could have helped me is siding with censorship. I wish I could say I’m surprised, but over this last year, we’ve seen corporate control seep so far into the creative process that even little shit indie artists like me cannot avoid corporate censorship. But it isn’t happening just because PayPal is a big meanie. It’s happening because Mark Coker can’t change banks. That’s laziness, people, and it’s how all censorship is accepted. Because it’s easier to censor than it is to fight for what’s right. Mark chose his path, so don’t you people let him believe his own hype that he’s really one of the victims here too. Mark had a choice and a chance to do the right thing. He chose to take the easy path to the money instead.