Friday, 17 February 2012

Some Thoughts on Indie Writers and Online Censorship

I have heard rumours that are initiating a policy whereby the books of all indie authors, regardless of subject matter, will not be included on the site main page. It could be a book of harmless flower poems, but it would still be shunted off and tucked away on an indie new arrival page. I personally don't think that's fair, it smells of discrimination and it means less "upfront" exposure for indie writers.

I can fully appreciate that some online book stores, particularly those catering to a general and wide age range audience, don't want porno covers and explicit sex titles in their shop window so to speak. However, if an indie book fits in with general romance ebooks and has a non explicit title and cover then I don't see why it should be sidelined.

A lot of indie authors are every bit as professional as those who choose to go through a publisher. In fact some of them are more professional. I have seen books put out by some online publishers that are so badly edited they shouldn't be on sale.

This apparent backlash against indie writers concerns me very much. I suspect it stems from the fact that the subject matter of a lot of indie works deals with what many consider to be taboo subjects, such as incest and rape fantasy. Paypal actively crusades against such subject matter and is leaning on Companies that feature such works, freezing their accounts, as well as the assets of individual writers. It amounts to censorship and this is something that should concern and worry us all. Censorship once started is a hard ball to stop rolling. It gathers momentum and very soon it crushes all in its path.

Where will it stop? Will we have Paypal and credit card companies dictating what subject matter authors can write? Will they perhaps draw up guidelines that we, as writers, will be forced to adhere to at the risk of having our accounts frozen? Who judges what is a suitable subject? I have a phobia about insects. I utterly loathe them. They disgust me. Does that mean that all books dealing with the subject of insects should be banned? Of course not!

I don’t like rape fantasy stories or incest or torture stories and I choose not to read them - choose being the operative word here. Adults have the right to make choices about what they want or don’t want to write and read. We are not children to have those choices made for us. It’s an infringement of personal liberty.

What next? Will the writers of works disapproved of by Paypal and other such Companies be whisked off in the dead of night to some cyber concentration camp to be reprogrammed or even never to be heard of again?

Just my thoughts on a difficult subject.

An excellent article on the subject of censorship:

If you value creative freedom consider signing this petition:


Anonymous said...

Actually, all the indie work being shuffled to its own section happened a couple of months ago. Yesterday, Bookstrand removed the entire section from the site and told authors to remove their works that don't comply with what is supposedly Paypal's orders. In my case, I removed one title of pseudo-incest (which is not actual incest, but step-relations having sex) but left the other up. The one I left up was a rape fantasy in which the woman consents to playing out a fantasy she's had for years. It's not rape--rape fantasy and rape are two very different things. Bookstrand took that title down sometime today, even though they have Siren titles that contain forced seduction and dubious consent. So it seems the orders they say came from Paypal have prompted them to remove most their indie titles, whether they're in violation of these "new guidelines" or not, but has not yet affected their own publishing imprint. Fishy. There's a growing belief among many of us that the first step was shuffling the titles to a back room. That caused a dust-up, but it was what it was fine. Now they've pulled it. We're doubtful it will go back up, and some of us are doubtful just how big a part Paypal has actually played in this particular incident, since what's happening is what many believe Bookstrand has been building toward for a while.

Fabian Black said...

So what you're saying is that Paypal is being used as an excuse to purge indie writers/titles because presumably they cut out the middle man, i.e. the publishers?

SJK said...

This is terrible! I absolutely abhor censorship of any kind in a day when "freedom of speech" is so often touted as one of the primary advantages that separates civilization from barbarism.

Thank you for taking the time to warn us all, Fabian. I agree with all your points, and am distressed to know, from the subsequent comment, that the situation may be even worse than feared.

Clearly, Indie writers have their place and their audience, as we all do. The material we all work with is sensitive and has the potential to offend; I think we all recognize that. As you said, it is understandable if shops do not want porno covers and explicit sex titles in their shops, but as you also pointed out, so many Indie books are very professionally and tastefully done from cover to cover. Most importantly, there is a market for them!

Time and time again the courts have upheld the rights of companies promoting some of the most vulgar and disgusting, not to mention violent material out there. Most Indie books I have come across do not even come close to this level of controversy. Furthermore, these authors are not opening mainstream bookshops and video stores, and tucking their explicit material in the back corner behind a curtain. They are simply trying to appeal in a quiet way to their own audience as they have a perfect right to do.

This is absolutely an issue that should concern us all! It will not stop with Indie books, at least not if the U.S. has anything to say about it, especially if the G.O.P. regains control in November. The government in this country has repeatedly proclaimed its intention to eradicate "pornography" and they make no allowances for what we would more accurately see as erotica. They are on a mission and will exercise control wherever they can to chip away at us all little by little until their mission is complete.

Fabian Black said...

Thanks for your thoughts SJK

It seems we are moving into a dangerous and repressive new era of censorship. The latest to jump on the let's eradicate pornography' bandwagon is All Romance Ebooks, which has declared that it will no longer support certain types of erotic material.

Fabian Black said...

Update: An email sent out by Smashwords Mark Coker makes clear the part played by Paypal. They are actively threatening and forcing online retailers to remove material they consider 'unacceptable' or risk having their accounts frozen and money 'confiscated.' However, I accept that some retailers will gladly use this as an excuse to purge ALL indie works.