Tag Archives: ebooks

The right here, right now generation

After my blog post on VAT on eBooks and reading Lucy’s comment on Facebook about the government being keen on Kindles for schools… I paused to think about Emily’s use of technology. My parents have had decades to get used to the idea that I’m more technologically proficient than them, but I’m still coming to terms with the fact that my hand-wavy daughter that will giggle for minutes at a bouncing pink rabbit will, in all likelihood, supersede me for technology proficiency – and (if there was a chance Amanda would allow it, which she won’t) grow up reading eBooks.

The economics of eBooks, VAT issue notwithstanding, makes them ludicrously compelling for schools. Textbooks are expensive, in tediously short supply, subject to loss, damage, graffiti and the like. Desk-embedded eBook readers? Well, a little more resilient, one would hope – infinitely cheaper in long-term materials… and a whole new world of opportunity for the education system.

30 years ago, I grew up in a world of scheduled TV programming (my sister and I would argue over watching Transformers vs. My LIttle Pony), of chunky textbooks and even chunkier files when I got to secondary school; where it was a  novelty that I typed my essays and at a time when touchscreens were a ludicrously expensive, almost magical novelty. And the Internet? Well, there wasn’t much of that around for a while.

Today, the magic is everywhere, almost mundane (although I still pause to wonder at it). What this means for a kid’s need for instant gratification, I shudder to think (I guess patience will need to be trained in elsewhere).

I’m kind of keeping up with the kids at the moment (although I don’t believe in BBM and I’m not as obsessive about Twitter or Foursquare as many), but I have a feeling my days as the tech supremo of the household are numbered.

Why do we pay VAT on eBooks but not on print books?

There’s no VAT charged on books – it’s one of a number of exempt products and services that the HMRC sets to be zero rated (For the full list – click here).

…but there is on eBooks. I’ve been searching for an answer as to why (and indeed, why print books are zero rated). I can only assume that – as books broadly speaking ‘better’ or are needed for civilized society, a view was taken that they should be zero rated and that’s been maintained over the years.

As to why eBooks aren’t zero rated? The suggestions I’ve read online indicate that legislators haven’t quite caught up with the concept. Would they be taxing a digital download/service, or a ‘book’ in the traditional sense? In the case of Kindle, you aren’t buying the book but the right to access it from Amazon – so how is that classified by the bean counters?

Irrespective of the logistics of it and whether they should be zero rated or not, this is why the pricing on eBooks is so broken. It is almost inevitably cheaper for me to buy a hardback on Amazon than the Kindle equivalent (given Amazon’s extensive discounting of new mass-market hardback novels). Frustrating, but I’m still paying the digital tax – the convenience of e-reading – not to mention the enormous amounts of shelf space it’ll save me in the long run – is immense.