In a letter to The Times this morning, Roy Selwyn of Hampshire makes a strong case for imposing Value Added Tax (VAT) on all printed matter. Rather than advocating removal of tax on ebooks, he makes the sensible suggestion that tax should be extended to the printed word.
Not only should VAT continue to apply to ebooks, it should also be introduced for all printed books and newspapers….. VAT should no longer be considered “a tax on knowledge” – the mantra that has protected print from VAT since it was introduced and before then as Purchase Tax. VAT on print is a huge untapped source of government revenue. Included in the “Tax on Knowledge” argument are fully illustrated soft and hard porn publications. There is no longer a cogent argument for exempting print on paper from VAT.
The British tax authorities have got themselves in a pickle over the tenuous distinction between the printed and the electronic word. With ebook sales soaring, the “tax on knowledge” argument is dead. There is no defensible reason for the discrepancy between the two forms of media. Since no government ever willingly gives up a source of revenue, the answer is to tax everything. In that way we achieve a level playing field for ebooks and remove the unfair advantage enjoyed by printed material.
What really amazes me about the current situation is that the VAT exemption is given to the most inefficient and ecologically indefensible product. It is the book world equivalent of charging VAT on electric cars and exempting gaz guzzlers. Every printed book involves destruction of trees, use of large amounts of power and costly and inefficient distribution. The carbon footprint of a book is considerable; in contrast that of an ebook is negligible.