Thursday, April 19, 2007

Money Morality and the Internet

The Internet is, for many people, an important outlet for expressing or consuming products related to their sexuality. It has the qualities of being worldwide, accessible and anonymous. Products such as ebooks are diverse, affordable and easily concealable.

It is undeniable that some of the side-effects of this accessibility are thatit allows socialising and material trading between paedophiles, it exposes vulnerable sex-addicted people to materials that disrupt their lives and it gives infidelity yet another avenue for expression. However, it is also true that the Internet provides support to people seeking to become more whole and more healthy. It provides places where sexual minorities such as asexuals, homosexuals and transgendered people can meet--as well as fiction that depicts their experience and shows that it is not unique, that the are not alone. Ebooks show sex as an expression of love and a normal and natural part of life. Online erotica gives all types of people positive and satisfying sexual entertainment and information.

Viewing and consuming erotica online is a positive experience. What should be condemned in people who harm others or themselves be it through sexually explicit material or any other avenue.

There really is, when you get right down to it, nothing all that special about sex. So why is sexual content of all types being so actively suppressed by online payment behemoths such as Google Checkout and Paypal? Google Checkout suspended the account of an organisation that ran a few speed dating events. Many erotic romance publishers have dropped the use of Paypal for similar reasons. As Amber Quill Press writes: "the purchase of any one of our romance books, whether erotica or otherwise, through PayPal (anything that deals directly with or suggests human sexuality or contains references to sexual contact in any form) could put us (and you) in jeopardy..." Both services are known to be not only prudish but arbitrary, quick to act and almost totally unresponsive to appeals. Banned products include non-erotic romance or gay fiction, Poser dolls that have genitalia, art prints or nudes etc. Paypal has frozen accounts not only of ebook publishers but also distributors and authors.

Paypal changed their policy to adult material in 2003 due to fraud and complaints associated with this type of material. Really? All erotic material is associated with high levels of crime? I think not. I think categorising the problem by sexual content shows the preoccupation of the staff in these companies, not the nature of the problem. Some types of erotica, I am quite sure, have no more complaints and difficulties that the trade and distribution of scented candles or engine parts--and I would suggest erotica romance is in that benign category. Other hard-core businesses are dishonest--but why does that whole genre, all of erotica and a good deal of romance and gay fiction get tarred with the same brush?

Most people selling and consuming erotica online are honest businesses and reasonable customers. What should be condemned is people who mislead and sell faulty products or do not shop with due diligence.

To say that erotic products and business to sell them should be outlawed *because* of the adult-content is lazy thinking indicative of companies that attempt to solve problems through arbitrary stereotyping rather than targetting the real culprits. It is genre-profiling, it is discrimination--and it is allowed because sex-writers are presumed guilty not only by corporate America but a large section of the general population who still consider all reference to sex either evil, shameful or sinful.

Imagine the equivalent in the physical world. Where all money was issued by private companies. If you tried to use this money to buy a product that even hinted at a sexual orientation, romance or nudity occasionally, without warning, not only that money--but all the funds in your account--would vanish along with the funds of the shopkeeper and the person who made the product even if all three were completely blameless of any harm or fraud.

And the saddest thing of all is that these services are so necessary and prevalent that the standard response has been to continue to use them whenever possible, but to stay under their radar like proprietors of a speak easy or pea shake (illegal gambling) house. When currency comes with someone else's morality attached we are left choosing between going without or acting as if we are ashamed of what we do, even when we are not.


Anonymous said...

Speaking as someone who's been involved in the biz end of the adult internet, I can understand the frustration, and I don't doubt that morality *may* have something to do with it. But the truth is that across the board, whether you're selling access to hardcore sites, phone entertainment, photos, videos, whatever, when you're selling erotic entertainment, you get much higher percentage of chargebacks than you do with other services.

Joe Blow decides to drop thirty buck on a membership for "hot horny shemales", his wife finds a suspicious charge, he disavows all knowledge and "oh noes, I didn't make that charge," he says to the credit card company. Whether or not the legit shemale site pursues this fraud (and it is fraud on the part of the consumer) the much higher frequency of these chargebacks makes processing $ for adult services a riskier prospect.

Getting a merchant account for adult entertainment is much, much, MUCH more expensive than getting an equivalent account for non-sexual goods/services because of that increased risk of fraud.

We can argue all day about where the line between pornographic stories/erotica/erotic romance is or whether these rules should apply to text-based explicit entertainment as well as photo and/or video entertainment, but there's a very real, expensive risk you take when you agree to process purchases for erotic entertainment. People *will* try to fuck you over far more often than they would if they were buying, say, shoes.

Now maybe it's less likely w/ erotica and erotic romance ebooks, or with a female audience or w/ text, but rather than try to parse "this is the good erotica that we won't get frauded as much on" and "this is porn where people will screw you over more regularly" Google (and paypal, and the vast, vast majority of online payment processors) refuse to touch sexually explicit entertainment.

Believe me, it's frustrating as hell for those of us who run legit online porn businesses, but it's more about the $ and the cost of dickwads who run up their credit cards buying online porn then dispute the charges (as well as credit card companies who accept their denials, because who wants to be on the side of the big, bad pornographers.) Google simply doesn't want to take the risk, and while I understand how that's frustrating, I can't say I blame them.

veinglory said...

Thank you for that very informative response. I wonder to what extent there is a fraud and chargeback issue with erotic romance? It seems to me to be a very different market but I can see some degree of potential for the same kind of buyers remorce by more conservative women?

Anonymous said...

(same anon as first comment)

I suspect there would be a lower chargeback/fraud rate, but I also suspect that it's well near impossible to separate "erotic romance" from "porn" from an outsider perspective, and even if you's not in Google's interest to bother to pay someone to judge "Loose Id good" "Horny Coed Buttfuck bad". If they're passing up the enormous payday of true, hardcore, male-oriented porn (and boy howdy, will they pay to have their kinks satisfied), the relatively microscopic payday of erotic ebooks just isn't worth the hassle involved, for them. (is my guess, anyway).

Marketing Whore said...

As anon said, chargebacks are higher for adult items ~ and for the reasons stated. In fact, there is more fraud because of this too (customers who purchase with the intention of denying the charge) who know that the merch acct &/or credit card company will reverse the charges asap. In truth, if this were to happen on PayPal, you as the merchant or seller would be in far worse shape (since they are not a bank, you have even less power in arguing &/or getting your funds released).

This is why Google skips the situation.

As for erotic romance being a 'true' adult material, well, as we've all seen recently, stories are under as much scrutiny as images. The same blurred lines & definitions of "I know it when I see (or read) it" exist. In otherwords, if you couldn't be sold in WalMart or be stamped Disney, you can be considered adult by many folks ~ folks who would complain, create chargebacks etc. It sucks, but them there's the facts.

With much affection,

PS Will hook up this post with linkage at my blog too ;)