Online Bankers and Digital Choke Points

Toward the end of last year, I linked to a Nieman Journalism Lab guest post written by Dan Gillmor that described 2012 as “the year of the content-controller oligopoly“.

In his post, Gillmor named several new choke points, specifically search engines, wire-line ISPs, mobile carriers and Apple.  I suggested Amazon. In the last couple of weeks comes evidence that we can add another group to the list: online banks.

On February 18 (a Saturday; check the calendar), Paypal told eBook publisherSmashwords that it had six days to stop selling books whose content included instances of rape, incest or bestiality.  Facing the loss of a primary payment mechanism, the company changed its terms of service and told its erotica authors that the content PayPal objected to would no longer be offered through Smashwords.

Publishers Weekly reports that the reaction among authors was immediate and vocal. After the announcement, Paypal apparently offered to amend its stance. While working things out with PayPal, Smashwords has put a hold on implementing its new terms of service.

I’m not sure I would have handled Paypal’s threat the way that Smashwords did, but that’s secondary to the point Gillmor made last year.

As the tools of creation and production have become increasingly democratized, efforts to control supply have shifted to the platforms that support this more open process. After all, it’s a lot easier to shut down Smashwords than it is to get its thousands of authors to stop writing.

Somewhat astoundingly, the PW post includes comments that claim Paypal’s demands are not censorship, just a business decision (that happens to prevent people from being able to buy or read something Paypal objects to). You didn’t like SOPA? Meet the bankers.

I’m not a fan of literature whose content includes some of the things PayPal finds objectionable.  However, I am a fan of lots of reading material that someone else might find objectionable.

How many steps do we need to take to move from restrictions on erotica to elimination of things like a woman’s guide to contraception? Think that’s far-fetched?  Read the news.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.