I first wrote a letter like this in 2011. The law has not changed since then! Fortunately though, the UK Government today has yet another chance to get it right, as today Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne makes his Budget Statement.
To: the Rt Hon David Cameron MP, Prime Minister.
CC: The Rt Hon George Osborne MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Firstly I would like to congratulate you on resolving this whole business about the Leveson enquiry. It may have come as a surprise to most people, but I always knew you would do the right thing in the end. Mainly because I hacked your phone and found out. (J/K)
Anywho, I appreciate you have a lot on your plate right now, and you are probably fed up to the back teeth with people adding to your woes by intimating that you may not have got it exactly right with the state of VAT policy right now.
Which is rather unfortunate as that is the precise reason why I am writing this letter.
However, I am not going to waste your time by going on a long rant about the fact that increasing indirect taxation only works during a time of economic prosperity because in a recession poor people don’t have the opportunity to get a higher paid job in order to escape their increased costs of living. Instead – I would like to take issue with the status as regards to Books and Ebooks. The situation is basically this:-
Currently, printed books are not subject to VAT – but Ebooks are.
Ever since VAT was introduced back in the 70s, successive Governments have shied away from putting VAT on books because they did not want to be accused of placing a “tax on knowledge.” Fair enough – but Ebooks contain just as much knowledge as print books, so on this basis they should be subject to the same preferential treatment, should they not?
Moreover – there is the environmental issue. Producing printed books entails chopping down lots of rain-forests, and is a far more costlier process than producing an ebook. Ebooks, however, can be sold at a far-lower price per unit than print books, for much the same reasons that it is cheaper to download MP3s than buy CDs – and no trees are hurt in the process. For a Government that is seriously committed to the Environment, surely the enlightened approach is to favour Ebooks over print-books.
IMHO, Ebooks are the future – especially when it comes to everyday reading. I can only think of two reasons at all why paper-books should continue to exist in the future. Firstly – Antiquarianism and the antiquarian book trade, for whom old editions of books and manuscripts are its raison d’etre. Secondly – gift books. After all, there is great value in getting a copy of a book autographed by the author – but unfortunately there is no comparable way to do this electronically.
There are some strange people who think they can’t do without the “feel” of a book in their hands, but I have no sympathy for them. If they are so kinesthetically-oriented, perhaps they would like to imagine that they have the sap of innocent trees on their hands as well? (Hey, it’s not quite as dramatic a metaphor as having blood on ones hands but give me some sort of credit!)
So to summarise – to recognise the increasing importance of Ebooks in the modern day world – and for environmental reasons – either put VAT on printed books but not ebooks (the reverse of the current situation); or abolish VAT on both books and Ebooks altogether.