Petition for lower VAT on digital books

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Today a petition for lowered VAT for digital books was published. It is signed by 270 authors, publishers, actors and others interested persons. This petition marks the start of a campaign launched by the Swedish Publishers’ Association (Svenska Förläggareföreningen) that sets a goal to increase the awareness of Swedish book consumers and politicians about this issue. It also addresses the politicians in Brussels.

In Sweden, printed books enjoy lower VAT of 6 per cent, but digital books (downloadable or streamed) are taxed at the rate of 25 per cent. The EU laws and regulations define which products and services can have reduced VAT in member countries.

– The fact that the most modern book format is taxed 19 per cent higher than any other book format influences the retail price and prevents the digital format becoming established on the Swedish book market. It is very important that books are available on the platforms that are accessible to children and young people to a great extent. The reduced VAT for all books regardless of the format is an important moment in the broadening of reading. This is an issue for democracy, – says Kristina Ahlinder, the chair person of the Swedish Publishers Association.

The campaign seeks to make an impact on Swedish politicians whose position is important in revising Swedish laws and influencing the EU so that common laws are also changed. The main aim is to have the same reduced VAT (6 per cent in Sweden) for all books regardless of the format.

The campaign website http://www.forlaggare.se/bokvalet allows anyone to join and demand the lowering of VAT for digital books, to read the petition and to get information about the VAT issue, digitisation of books and simple instruments for all who want to engage in this movement. There you also can find an audio recording with the talks of some of the most respected authors and actors.

More information on www.forlaggare.se/bokvalet
And through contacting
Karin Sandberg, Svenska Förläggareföreningen, karin.sandberg@forlaggare.se, +46-70-193 79 45.
Translated from the SFF Nyhetsbrev by Elena Maceviciute

E-book publishing in Lithuania

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E-book Research Group member, Elena Maceviciute, is one of the joint authors of a new paper on e-book publishing in Lithuania, another ‘small language’ market. You will find the paper openly available online at http://www.informationr.net/ir/20-2/paper672.html

Here’s the abstract as a ‘taster':
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Introduction. The aim of the research was to increase understanding of the state of e-book production in Lithuania and collect the data about the opinions of publishers regarding the future of e-books in the country.
Method. A review of similar surveys in other countries was carried out and the research method was based on Winston’s model of innovation diffusion. The questionnaire to publishers was prepared using the models of book publishing and distribution or book circuit developed by Murray and Squires. Data were collected by surveying respondents using paper and online questionnaires.
Analysis. A quantitative descriptive statistical analysis was carried out, while open questions were analysed qualitatively looking for emerging topics.
Results. More than half of active Lithuanian publishers completed the survey. Thirty per cent of those who answered the questionnaire publish e-books, but only six publishers had published a significant number of titles. The overall perception of other actors of the book market, such as libraries, book-sellers and self-publishing authors and others is positive. They are not regarded as a threat. The publishers do not expect rapid and significant growth of e-book market in Lithuania in the near future.
Conclusions. The biggest hindrance to growth is a small size of the market and the lack of an export market for Lithuanian e-books. The demand of users for portable and convenient format and the use of new technologies in the educational system are the two biggest drivers in the development of e-book production. The user preference for traditional printed book is seen as one of the barriers for further development. Lithuanian publishers regard the market of e-books as rather uncertain and do not risk high investments in it.
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E-books in the shadow of print

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Posted for Annika Bergström

Results from the 2014 SOM survey were presented at annual SOM Seminar 21 April. E-book reading increased significantly from 11% in 2013 to 18% in 2014. Both fiction and non-fiction attract larger shares of the Swedish population, and the expansion is found among both frequent and less frequent readers. Just as we found in previous surveys (Bergström and Höglund 2014), e-book reading is more common among young persons and among those who have a frequent habit of reading printed books. Yet one significant explanatory factor is level of education: the highly educated have more frequent reading habits than lowly educated. Of course, access to tablets and smartphones contribute to the e-book reading habit in a positive way.

Interestingly enough, it appears that e-book reading is more common among men than among women, which is the opposite of what is known about reading printed books. One plausible explanation might be that men are more receptive to technology diffusion.

In the 2014 SOM survey, e-book readers were asked how they accessed their e-books. Through the public library was the most common answer, especially among women and older people. It is known from public statistics that a large share of e-book sales is distributed via public libraries, whereas selling directly to customers is rare in the Swedish context.
In the 2013 SOM Survey, we studied affective attitudes to e-books, whereas the 2014 survey focused on a more cognitive perspective in terms of functions of e-books and printed books. We took a starting point in an American study (Rainie, et al. 2012), where the respondents were asked which format is better for different purposes: reading with a child, reading books in bed, sharing books with other people, reading books while travelling or commuting, having a wide selection of books to choose from and being able to get a book quickly.

The results clearly indicate strong support for the printed book in that the respondents find the printed book most suitable in 5 situations out of 6. Only when you want to get a book quickly, are e-books perceived as better than printed books (Figure 1 – Source: The National SOM Survey 2014.).

ebooks

Printed books are undoubtedly perceived better when reading for children and when reading books in bed. They are also favourable when sharing books with others and for reading while travelling or commuting. When asked about a wide selection of books, the differences between book formats are perceived somewhat smaller.
E-book attitudes to a large extent follow the patterns of e-book reading. An in-depth analysis clearly shows that e-book experience co-varies strongly with the assessments. E-book readers take a more positive standpoint towards the e-book format, even though printed books are perceived as more suitable in most situations.

References

Bergström, Annika and Lars Höglund (2014) ”E-boken: möjligheter och hinder”. In Annika Bergström and Henrik Oscarsson (Eds.) Mittfåra & marginal. Gothenburg: The SOM Institute, University of Gothenburg.

Rainie, Lee, Kathryn Zickuhr, Kristen Purcell, Mary Madden, and Johanna Brenner (2012) The rise of e-reading. Washington D.C: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Reaction to the European Court’s decision on VAT on e-books

Reuter’s reports that the French government has issued a statement, representing the views of Franch, Germany, Poland and Italy, requesting a revision of the law used by the European Court to demand that France and Luxembourg restore the higher rate of VAT on e-books. Reuter’s notes:

“Ministers call on the Commission to end discrimination against digital books,” the joint statement read. “The essence of a book is the work itself, not the means of accessing it, and the tax applied should be technologically neutral.”

Whether that notion that ‘the essence of a book is the work itself’ will play out in the courts remains to be seen, but it strikes me as powerful argument. If nothing else, the notion that the e-book is a service because you need a device to read it on, is completely illogical when we consider another digital product – the CD or the DVD – devices are needed to use these files, but a music CD is not sold as a service, but as a product, just as the vinyl disc was. To take the argument to its logical conclusion, the Court’s decision suggests that if I buy an egg, I’m receiving a service because I need a device – a frying pan – with which to fry it!

The wrong decision

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It has just been announced that the European Court has found against the French government and for the Commission in the matter of France’s reduction of VAT for e-books from 20% to 5.5%.  The French government will now have to restore VAT to its former level.

The reason for the Court’s decision is that the e-book continues to be regarded as the provision of a “service” rather than the provision of purchased good.  Quite why they come to this decision is not further explained in the news item I found on the subject, but exactly what kind of “service” is provided once you have “bought” an e-book seems difficult to discover.

The fact that it is not a service can be demonstrated by the question, if, at some time in the future, the e-book provider went out of business, who would continue to provide the “service”?  I would still have the e-book on my reader or iPad and could continue to treat it as a book, or I could delete it and never bother with it again. What kind of “service” continues to be provided to me if I no longer have the book?  It is gone, just as a physical book would be gone, if I put it in the waste paper recycling bin.

Perhaps we haven’t heard the last word on this – it would be interesting to hear the e-book publishers floundering as they tried to explain the concept of an e-book “service”!

Further comment from L’Express.

E-books and national digital libraries: preservation and access

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Posted for Elena Maceviciute

The recent fire in one of the biggest Russian libraries, the Academic Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (INION), that happened during the night of January 30-31, 2015, has destroyed approximately one fifth of the huge collection of almost 15 million items. The Federal Agency of Scientific Organizations informs us that among 5.47 million lost items were books weeded out of the collection and duplicates. The library also hopes to re-create 2.32 million books with the help of other national and foreign libraries, publishers, and other organization. The biggest work, however, is to save what has not been burned, but is damaged by smoke, soot, and water and to rebuild the library building, which at present is not possible to use. Thus, the first boxes with the documents have been transported to places of salvation and restoration or temporary storage. The loss to Russian and international humanities and social science is difficult to estimate. However, the fire seemed to have lead to (or at least to speed up) work on changes to the law on legal deposit of documents, which has to be approved by the federal government by February 15 (i.e., right now) and sent to the State Duma. The bill deals with legal deposit of digital copies of all new publications that are issued to the public and are acquired by libraries.

The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation also plans digitisation of all library collections starting with scanning of old manuscripts and also helping to restore the INION collection. Judging from the sum available for the programme at the moment (appr. 1.4 million Euro or 1.6 million USD), the realisation of the plans will take some time, though many digitisation projects in Russian libraries are already in progress. Thus electronic copies of newly published books provided as legal deposit should speed up the digitization of the national library collections and set up the foundation of a modern information system of all published materials. At the moment, the government expects to provide free and unlimited access to the future digital library, but also respect copyright and acquire the rights to use the books using the resources of the state budget. The Ministry is preparing the Law on the National Electronic Library. (see http://www.m24.ru/articles/65517?attempt=1)

One can only wish good luck to Russian librarians, but also be rather sceptical about the expressed plans knowing the problems that other National Libraries are meeting on the way to building their national digital libraries.

Quite a large number of national libraries (e.g., Canada, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, the UK, etc.) have laws covering legal deposit of digital and online publications. Others are permitted to collect digital materials and build national archives (e.g., Australia, Israel, Japan, Slovenia, etc.). Some libraries, for example, Lithuanian Martynas Mažvydas National Library, approach the authors with a request to permit digitisation of their printed books (coming in as legal deposit) for preservation purposes due to restricted storage capacity for physical books.

Most of the libraries do not permit user access to their collections outside the premises of the national library and this service is available only to registered users. Usually, the constraints do not affect material that is in public domain.

The Norwegian plan of digitisation of all the books published in Norway is among the most famous and ambitious plans. It seems to be on its way to success. The National Library of Norway started the programme in 2006, but the initiative has attracted great attention from the foreign press when the legislators and the government have confirmed that the legal deposit act does not specify any specific medium, therefore all documents, regardless of the media and formats, are subject to legal deposit law. Thus, the project of digitising all Norwegian books also acquired new dimension. It pursues two goals: conservation of the national collective memory and distribution of copyright-free material. The plan is detailed and thought through taking into account interests of different parties, legal aspects, collaboration between different actors, organizational and funding matters. All digitised material is available on library premises in the digital reading hall. Digital books are distributed through the Bookshelf. It was launched in 2009 with approximately 50,000 books published in different periods of the 17-20th centuries. Some of the books are not free of copyright but are available through the agreement with Kopinor – the organization representing copyright holders of published works. According to the plan there should be 250,000 books available free online by 2017.

Bokhylla resources are available free to all with a Norwegian IP address. Copyright-protected books cannot be downloaded or printed. Authors and publishers are paid through the collective agreement maintained by Kopinor. The National Library also offers free downloads of 98 books (though the introductory text names only 38) through its own website. They represent a cross section of Norwegian litterature and are available in ePub format.

International Conference “Publishing Trends and Contexts 2014, Focus: Digital Authors and Electronic Books”, 8-9 December, 2014, Pula, Croatia

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Posted for Elena Maceviciute

The second international conference on modern publishing was organized by the Departments of Information Sciences in the universities of Zadar and Osijek during the period of the Book and Authors Festival in Pula. The co-organizers and supporters of the conference were the Association Sa(n)jam knjige Istria and the Ministries of Culture and Science, Education and Sports of Republic of Croatia. They have expected that the conference will increase a better understanding of the processes that are changing book trade and reading at present all over Europe.

In two days of the conference 26 presenters from nine countries discussed the issues of book markets, readers, new models of publishing, the state of publishing studies and education, challenges brought by e-books to authors and other actors participating in modern communication. The participants introduced 22 papers on these topics, but the most useful part was active discussions that took place in relation to these papers and questions raised in them. The discussions went on during the presentations, at the end of each day and during coffee or lunch breaks. Students of Croatian universities were listening to the discussions and took part in them. The atmosphere of the conference was friendly and all participants were not only interested in the topics they disussed but very knowledgeable. The intellectual level was high and horizons broad.

A more complete account of the Conference has been prepared for the March issue of Information Research, and is now online.

COST action IS1404 “Evolution of reading in the age of digitisation (E-READ)” started in November

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Posted for Elena Maceviciute and Skans Kersti Nilsson

The kick-off meeting of the Management Committee for the E-READ project was held on November 28, 2014. Twenty-six countries sent their representatives and, as each country could have two representatives in the Management Committee, there were over forty people in the meeting. Some of them were old acquaintances and colleagues whom we knew quite well from previous collaboration. However, the interdisciplinary nature of the action brought together many different researchers from education, psychology, neurology, information technology, publishing studies, library and information science, literature and language research. The main purpose of the first meeting was to solve the initial issues related to the governance, organization, coordination, and planning. The meeting acknowledged the commitment of the initiators of the project by unanimous vote for Dr. Anne Mangen (Stavanger University, Norway) as a chair of the action and Prof. Adriaan van der Weel (University of Leiden, the Netherlands) as a vice-chair. Stavanger University became the Grant Holder. The budget and the plan for the first year have been approved by the Management Committee. The plan includes the first workshops in Ljubljana in April of 2015 and Szeged in October, a training school in Berlin on experiential and neuro-cognitive methods in September of 2015, and short-term scientific missions. The training school in Berlin attracted so much interest that the Management Committee has reallocated resources from the regular workshops to increase the number of attendees to Berlin.

Though the first meeting was mainly devoted to official and administrative matters, it is worth presenting here the main goals of this COST action, which make it interesting to our project. This part of the post is based on the text from the Memorandum of Understanding and the presentation made by Anne Mangen (thanks for sharing the slides, Anne). As we are investigating the impact of e-books on a small language market and culture, it is impossible to eliminate the reading issues from it. We are looking into the social aspects of reading through the SOM institute surveys, but also into the behaviour of different reader groups in relation to the adoption of e-books in Sweden. The COST action is mainly concerned with the impact of digitization on reading and seeks to develop an aggregate measure of reading in any environment (on paper or on screen) based on the integrative model of reading. The integrative model of reading includes ergonomic, perceptual, cognitive, phenomenological and socio-cultural dimensions. That is why it is expected that researchers from different disciplines collaborating within this project will help us to increase understanding of reading process and the changes brought about by the spread of digital technologies. Support for different people in different contexts for coping with the new demands on reading is seen as one of the pragmatic outcomes of research activities in E-READ. Our project fits into the research of socio-cultural dimensions of reading and to some extent to the experiential and perceptual dimension research. We also expect to develop other research projects related to E-READ.

COST actions support the networking activities, but not research; therefore, the E-READ will be used for coordination of existing reading research projects, building collaboration between social sciences, humanities and natural sciences, and creating new interdisciplinary projects, including those fitting the Horizon 2020 framework. The action also includes considerable publicity measures, especially, communication with the main interest groups, such as educators, publishers, hardware and software agencies, reading promoters, policy makers, and citizens of European countries.

A common Scandinavian Master’s course on e-books

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Posted for Elena Maceviciute

A meeting for developing a course on e-books on the Master’s level took place at the Department of Archives, Library and Information Science of the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Science on November 19-20. The idea of the course was under the development by a team from the Oslo University College, Royal School of Library and Information Science (University of Copenhagen), Swedish School of Library and Information Science at the University of Borås, and the Reading Centre at the University of Stavanger from the start of the year. It was born out of the actual developments brought about by the spread of e-books and their impact on publishing, library work, and reading, but also from the research driven at the participating universities. Among the team members are the researchers of reading and literature mediation Anne Mangen (Stavanger), and Gitte Balling (Copenhagen); experts of e-book production technologies Tor Arne Dahl (Oslo) and Mats Dahlstrom (Borås); literature sociologists Kersti Nilsson (Borås) and Tonje Vold (Oslo), library and information access researchers Haakon Lund (Copenhagen) and Elena Maceviciute (Borås).

The learning outcomes of the big ten full-time week course were formulated earlier. Because of the high level of expertise and rich knowledge brought to the meeting there was little problem in outlining the contents of the course. It was agreed that the course will consist of four parts: Introduction, e-book production, dissemination of e-books, and digital reading. The course should meet the general requirements of library and information science programmes in the three Library and Information Science Schools in which it will be given. The students from the University of Stavanger would also be able to take the course.

As is usual with international cooperation in higher education, the most difficult and fascinating part is meeting organizational and bureaucratic requirements. After a long life in academia I know this quite well, but still always get amazed at the barriers one can run into in doing what actually is the normal everyday work of a university lecturer. Just consider the start of a term: it was different in all three universities. The difference was as large as a month and a half. One of the universities runs only a distance Master’s programme, one teaches on campus only. One has only elective courses on its Master’s programme, the others only obligatory courses. The requirements of writing a course plan, examinations, study forms, role of learning outcomes, approving of the course plans vary across the schools. The team managed to solve most of the problems by being flexible and accepting the realities. Thus, the common course will be run in each separate location, but using common course material, course literature and teachers.

Next, people responsible for the separate parts of the course worked in groups developing further the contents and the organization of the first classroom meetings with the students. It was interesting to find how similar and how different the situations in Nordic and Scandinavian countries are by discussing how much the course will address the local contexts and situations in each country. We hope very much that the students attending the course in the spring of 2016 will find it interesting and useful.

And yes, this is not a mistake – the course is planned for the spring of 2016. We need to approve the changes in the educational plans, pass the course plan through a number of quality control bodies, advertise the course for prospective students. All this will take no less than a year. It is obvious that much might change on the market and in the production of e-books. But we keep doing our research and monitoring the situation, so our future students will study the most recent situation when they arrive.

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