Currently we in the UK pay 20% VAT on ebooks, e-zines and e-newspapers. Paper versions of the same text are zero rated for VAT. We've been told in the past that e-literature is a delivery service and therefore must be taxed at the standard rate. We've also been told that the UK must follow EU VAT directives.

The EU itself recognises that content is what makes a book, magazine or newspaper and the VAT rule on the electronic versions is an anomaly. On September 10th 2016 the EU stated it's intention to allow e-literature - ebooks, e-zines and e-newspapers, to be taxed at a reduced or zero VAT rate. Despite that, Reuters reported on 7th March 2017:

The European Court of Justice was called to interpret EU rules on value-added tax (VAT) after Poland's commissioner for civic rights questioned whether the system of allowing lower rates only for printed publications was fair. The court said the rules allowed EU countries to apply reduced VAT rates to printed but not digital publications even though both met the European Parliament's objective when passing the VAT directive - the promotion of reading.

Their reasoning? According to Reuters the court said,

"(It) would effectively compromise the overall coherence of the measure intended by the EU legislature, which consists in the exclusion of all electronic services from the possibility of a reduced rate of VAT being applied,"

This particular bit of gobbledegook is one area where leaving the EU will allow common sense to prevail—provided we can persuade our politicians.

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E-literature nonsense

'The pulp and paper industry is the fourth largest industrial user of energy, consuming 6.4 EJ in 2005, and a significant emitter of greenhouse gas.' (source EIA report 2008)

In 2012 a study estimated the carbon footprint of a book produced from new paper to be equivalent to 2.71 kilograms of CO2. A book produced from recycled paper produces 32% more emissions.

Are you an author or reporter?

Even if you don't live in the UK you can help promote this cause to your readers. E-literature sales dropped 15% when the EU forced VAT to rise from 3% to 20%.

Let's consider that 'service' in the production of ebooks:

Which of these is a service?
Paper books E-books
Requires an author Requires an author
Requires an editor Requires an editor
Requires formatting Requires formatting
Trees need to be felled (requires oil) Not required
Timber needs to be transported to paper-mill (requires oil) Not required
Paper-mill manufactures paper with some waste sludge (requires some oil) Not required
Sludge needs to be disposed of (requires oil) Not required
Paper needs transporting to printer (requires oil) Not required
Ink needs manufacturing (requires oil) Not required
Books need to be printed (requires oil) Not required
Books need to be transported to distribution depot (requires oil) Not required
Sales team need to visit retail outlets (requires oil) Not required
Books need to be transported to retail outlets (requires oil) Not required
Customer needs transport to bookstore and back (requires oil) E-books are delivered direct to reader electronically.
Surplus unsold books need transport back to printer (requires oil) Not required
Surplus requires storage or redistribution or pulping (requires oil) Not required
Book pulp requires cleaning of toxic ink and disposal of the toxins (requires oil) Not required

It seems to me that far fewer 'services' are required in the production of ebooks than for paper books. The same is true for e-zines and e-newspapers. Not only are fewer services required but ebooks are far better for the environment with lower carbon emissions, less fuel used, and no toxic sludges being produced. The sludge produced by recycling books contains some particularly nasty toxins, heavy metals and dioxin, these are expensive to dispose of safely. A Danish report found some of these products were being introduced into food via recycled paper.

The EU and the UK have a declared aim of reducing carbon emissions, yet favour paper books, which produce carbon emissions, at the expense of ebooks. It's been estimated that 95% of the carbon dioxide emissions could be eliminated by switching to e-books.

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Supported by:

John Chapman - Proposer & Author
Aaron David - Author
Ian Hutson - Author
Pat McDonald - Author
Robert Southworth - Author
Gary Weston - Author


The only extra required by e-literature is that 'digital delivery' Everything else is either the same or not present. Digital delivery costs typically 10 cents or less. Why are we charged VAT on the whole product rather than on just this digital delivery? The VAT on it should cost 2 pence!