DTRPG Says 'Don't criticize us or we'll ban you'


DriveThruRPG updated its 'publisher conduct guidelines' this week. While they are free to do business with who they want, as a near-monopoly --- well...


Release Schedule: We expect that if you create a title that you wish to sell at our store, you will release that title on our store within 24 hours of releasing it elsewhere.

That's not a condition I've ever seen a store insist on, and it's one that only a monopoly could impose.

Links: We ask that you put a link to our store on your website. In turn, we offer consumers a link to your website from each of your titles’ product description pages.

The DTRPG link is pretty obscure. I've never seen it, and had to hunt for it while writing this. Yeah, it's there. No, I'm sure it doesn't drive any traffic to anywhere. I guess publishers can bury a link in the cellar too.

Hostile Marketing: Our policy regarding potentially offensive content (see Product Standards Guidelines) reported by customers is to deactivate such titles while they are being reviewed. Publishers who deliberately court controversy by making public declarations or accusations of censorship resulting from this process in order to draw attention to their products will be considered to use hostile marketing.

Publishers who direct or support public accusations of impropriety or censorship toward OneBookShelf when their controversial titles are rejected or removed from our marketplace will also be considered to use hostile marketing.

This behavior will not be tolerated. We have adopted a strict one-warning policy for those who engage in hostile marketing: The first incident will prompt a warning, and after a second incident, their accounts will be removed from our site permanently and immediately.

This is the 'don't criticize us' clause. 'Hostile Marketing' is a term they made up. Not only can you not suggest any impropriety on the part of DTRPG, you can't support it either (what does that mean?)

Look, sure, they can do busniess with who they want, and I'm personally happy when the racists and stuff get booted. But when you're a near-monopoly threatening anybody who dares even talk about that with near industry-wide expulsion it's really problematic.

Boot the racists. Good! But if you're a near-monoply and banning people from even talking about that? That's a different thing. Let's not do that, please.

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B/X Known World
...I think you should re-read the Hostile Marketing section again.
I think the "don't criticize us" comment should be directed at the following piece of the new policy. Because that's certainly what it is.

Social Media Behavior: We know we are not perfect. When we make mistakes, we hope that our publisher clients will bring it to our attention first. Publishers who make derogatory or defamatory statements on social media about OneBookShelf or our staff may be subject to modification or termination of their publisher account.


So much for free speech, eh?
Huh? You're not prevented from defaming them, you've just had the consequences spelled out. Reading it what it says is that you should come to them first to discuss the problems, not social media.

And if you are saying derogatory/defamatory things about DTRPG then it should not be surprising that they no longer want you as a customer. Try going into any retailer and start shouting about how their service/products is the worst - I'm sure you'll be asked to leave pretty quick.


So much for free speech, eh?
Free speech is about the government not restricting your political speech, which has no relevance to this discussion. Your freedom to speak is not violated here. You can still gin up a Twitter mob against DriveThru if they ban your white supremacist game for violating their content rules and nobody is going to arrest you or even fine you - you just can't expect DriveThru to keep supporting you financially by selling your other games if you choose to do so. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences from that speech except to prevent the government from imposing consequences on you over it.

And if you are saying derogatory/defamatory things about DTRPG then it should not be surprising that they no longer want you as a customer. Try going into any retailer and start shouting about how their service/products is the worst - I'm sure you'll be asked to leave pretty quick.
The analogy is close but not quite right because these are publisher conduct guidelines, not customer guidelines. As a customer you can badmouth DTRPG all you want online and they'll continue to take your money happily. As a publisher if you choose to gin up a social media outrage against the company instead of working through their channels when they delist one of your products, they are saying they might decide to delist all of your other products and cease to have a business relationship with you. This is more like a publisher posting on their feed "Bob's Comics and Games sucks" and getting people mad about it and then Bob deciding that he doesn't need to carry that publisher's books anymore.

You're still free to move your sales to another storefront - I'm not sure but I don't believe that itch.io delists anything ever unless it's copyright infringement. You're also free to complain about DriveThru's policies as much as you want so long as you understand that they might choose to cease doing business with you because of it. Though if they're delisting your product for content reasons - which is what this policy seems to be about, people complaining about their products being delisted due to content guideline violations - you might want to be exploring other options for selling your products anyway because DriveThru has indicated that as a retailer they don't want to carry them.

Is this a problem? Yes it certainly is but it isn't a "free speech" problem, it's a corporate power problem in general. Balancing the right of businesses to sell what they want to sell and not sell what they don't want to sell against potential monopoly power in a space is a difficult needle to thread. I'm normally right in the face against corporate power but this one is such a minor example of it that I just can't get outraged over it. DriveThru isn't even close to being a monopoly yet for one thing. If you're acting in good faith as a publisher you're either not going to trigger this clause because your product has been delisted by mistake or due to some malicious actor outside of DriveThru and you're working through channels to get it fixed (and there's nothing in this policy that says you can't post something like "our product has been delisted due to some customer complaint about content and we're working to get it back into the store", it specifically says "derogatory or defamatory" for a reason). Or DriveThru has indicated that they don't want to sell your product and you should probably take your books to a store that wants to sell it.

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