VAT and eBooks: a taxing matter

An announcement from Brussels last week has brought the question of taxation and eBooks back to the surface. The European Commission made a statement on Thursday in which it announced that France and Luxembourg would be referred to the EU Court of Justice following their unlawful application of reduced rates of VAT to eBooks.

EU law regarding taxation rates are strict but clear, with tight legislation about the reduction rates of VAT on books for each Member State. However, the statement from the European Commission suggested that there would be discussions about ‘new VAT strategy’ by the end of this year, so can we expect to see changes to strict EU legislation soon?

It’s not exactly a new topic of discussion: there has been debate about the lack of VAT reduction on eBooks for quite some time now. James Bridle’s blog post two years ago highlighted the ‘idiocy’ of the inconsistency of taxation between formats, pointing out that eBooks are classed as ‘electronic guides rather than books’. While laws on taxation mean that paper books are classed as ‘life necessities’, eBooks aren’t granted the same status;  do 20% VAT rates leave eBooks in the ‘luxury product’ range?

The SNE (syndicat nationale de l’edition), the French national trade union for the publishing industry, reacted to the European Commision’s statement in a press release that called for an end to ‘fiscal discrimination between paper and digital books’ and highlighted the absurdity of discrepancies in taxation between the two formats. The SNE stated that ‘like all books, an eBook is above all a work of the mind: it’s defined by its content and not by its format’ and pointed out that ‘the three countries with the most developed digital book markets (United States, Japan, Korea) have VAT levels for eBooks that are lower or equal to those for paper books’.

This week’s events seem to clearly show that out of date tax laws need to be revised to keep up with a rapidly changing publishing industry. I certainly am looking forward to seeing what will come from the EU’s promised discussions about VAT strategy – at a time where the UK’s position in the EU is being widely discussed, perhaps the UK publishing industry could profit from leaving the EU if there is little change to VAT legislation in coming months. Time well tell…

Bundled, blipped and bound: A Tale for the Time Being

The independent, Edinburgh based publishing house Canongate Books have just announced their ‘innovative campaign’ for Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel, A Tale for the Time Being, launching an exciting interactive cover and multiformat bundling.

Clearly they’re remembering their words from an interview back in 2009 with Lisa Glass from book blog Vulpes Libris, when Canongate’s Jamie Byng said that ‘digital publishing represents a wonderful new opportunity for readers, publishers and writers…if it’s done imaginatively.’ Four years later, these discussions about enhanced content seem to link closely to their new release.

There’s no denying that what Canongate have come up with is anything but imaginative. Today they proudly launched a YouTube video showing the world’s first fully interactive cover. Using clever blippar technology, readers can scan the jacket with a smartphone or tablet and access special features, including author interviews and links to social media conversations.

 

However, this isn’t where the physical book is separated from the digital realm. Last month Canongate announced that they would be releasing all formats of the book simultaneously, and today’s announcement added a further detail to this. Not only have Canongate brought a digital side to their physical jacket, they’re bundling together the eBook and physical book. Today’s details about pricing revealed that the £20 hardback format will include a free eBook download. Alternatively, both the paperback and eBook versions will retail at £7.99 each.

This announcement seems to be exemplar of a publishing house looking into exciting ways to sustain business in a difficult market. In an industry with a rapidly growing eBook-only sector, bringing together traditional and digital publishing seems like a logical step. Canongate describe the values of the Independent Alliance of which they were a founding member, explaining the ‘common vision of editorial excellence, original, diverse publishing, innovation in marketing and commercial success’. I just hope that we’ll be seeing more like this from other publishers.

Twitter Tuesday: #futurefoyles

Yesterday saw an exciting workshop at Foyles, the first of two, exploring the future of  ‘the UK’s iconic independent bookseller’ ahead of its move to new premises. The London bookshop invited various figures from across the industry to take part in discussions and interactive assignments, generating new ideas about the future of bookselling.

Not only were important figures from the trade present at the workshops at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, but the bookshop’s twitter account got the discussion going, using the hashtag #futurefoyles. From a quick search using Topsy.com, it seems that there were only 98 tweets using this hashtag, but discussion was quick and there were many ideas being thrown around by a wide range of people, from those involved in the industry to ‘normal’ readers.

Discussion on twitter included some creative suggestions to help save high-street bookstores, generally with a common theme of making a more creative and exciting shopping experience for the consumer. @CalebWoodbridge emphasised the importance of encouraging people into bookshops and suggested making the modern bookshop a more social place:

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There seemed to be general twitter-consensus that the bookshop of tomorrow should be a more exciting place, bringing people in and making them a more customer-focused buying experience. This is unsurprising; as @ailsabcd tweeted, ‘this is why Amazon is winning against physical stores. All comes down to price’. If physical bookshops are unable to compete in terms of price, then clearly the future of high-street booksellers is intrinsically linked to the customer. Amazon can’t provide the same physical interaction with a customer that a physical shop can offer: so is this where the future of physical bookselling is headed?

Suggestions on twitter for a more interactive and exciting ‘bookshop experience’ were innovative, from @tomtivnan’s suggestion of ‘a Yo Sushi-like conveyor belt of books’ to @SamuelPartridge’s idea of a ‘Stock market style ticker for popular up-and-coming books. What’s going up/down in what genre based on live sales’.

There was discussion about the successful shops that Foyles should take inspiration from: Selfridges and the Apple Store. I’m not sure if the future bookshop needs to be a high-end retail experience, but I do see where @JudyPiatkus is coming from, pointing out Apple’s success with their interactive shops: ‘people like to play and experiment. How do you turn play into bookbuying experience?’

Holding interactive workshops and facilitating twitter discussion about the future of bookselling seems like the perfect step for a bookseller like Foyles to be taking. By involving not only members of the trade, but also individuals and consumers, to get involved and comment on the future of the shop, Foyles is clearly doing the right thing: if the bookshop of tomorrow needs to be interactive, this must be a step in the right direction.