The Web is buzzing with the news that the EU has finally sanctioned member states to apply the same VAT rates to e-books, audio-books, and digital newspapers and magazines as apply to printed media.
In the UK this would mean a reduction from 20% VAT to zero, but the UK government has not been enthusiastic about making the change, and, now that it is lost in the idiocy of Brexit, will probably never find time even to decide what to do.
The Bookseller, the trade magazine in the UK, reports the CEO of the Publishers’ Association, Stephen Lotinga, as saying:
“The government must act now to remove this unfair and illogical tax on e-books, magazine and newspaper online subscriptions. It makes no sense in the modern world that readers are being penalised with an additional 20% tax for choosing to embrace digital. We should not be taxing reading and learning.
“We are leaving the EU but today’s decision from the ECOFIN committee removes a major obstacle for the UK Chancellor, who should now do away with this tax at the earliest opportunity – namely the Budget on October 29th. The government’s preoccupation with Brexit should not delay him – if the UK does not act quickly it risks the UK digital policy falling behind its European competitors. This act would show the world that the UK is really serious about building a forward-thinking digital economy.”
Well, it didn’t figure in Mrs May’s conference speech today, and I very much doubt that it is on the government’s agenda at all.
However, it is generally welcomed; the joint Presidents of the European Booksellers’ Federation, wrote:
“Whether a book is paper or digital, ordered online or bought in a shop, different tax treatment that hampers access to books should be avoided. From now on VAT rates on paper books and e-books will be aligned (if Members States so wish), a measure which will boost the e-book market and will further stimulate reading.”
In other words, the notion that an e-book, or audio-book, or indeed any digital version of print content, is a “service”, rather than a product, has been abandoned. Perhaps commonsense still exists after all.