It has long been acknowledged that books, reading and knowledge are vital in people’s lives to allow them to grow in understanding and better themselves. For this reason, ever since the introduction of the UK’s VAT scheme in 1973, printed books, magazines and newspapers have been exempted from this tax. However, with the introduction of digital reading, including audiobooks and eBooks, this exemption has not been carried across, meaning digital formats are closed off to some people due to price. Authors and book lovers in the UK are now calling for an end to this ‘Reading Tax’ on digital resources.
With digital readers being taxed 20%+, many groups have been disadvantaged. Those consumers most likely to be hit by the e-reading penalty are: young readers of whom according to research from the National Literacy Trust, over 45% prefer to read on a digital device; readers with disabilities including the partially blind for whom audiobooks and the ability to increase print size on digital devices in vital, those with dyslexia, and even those with physical disabilities which may hinder their ability to hold and read print books easily. Also effected by the digital reading tax are: reader on-the-go such as military personnel and those who travel regularly for business for whom travelling with an ebook preserves luggage allowance and stops overly heavy bags; university students because “the VAT increases the price universities and students pay to access digital publications”; and businesses who “are having to operate dual-systems to deal with different rates of tax.”
“It makes no sense in the modern world that readers are being penalised with an additional 20% tax for choosing to embrace digital. We should not be taxing reading and learning. If the UK does not act quickly we risk our digital policy falling behind our European competitors. Zero rating VAT on digital publications would show the world that the UK is really serious about building a forward-thinking digital economy.” Explained Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association.
In a campaign called ‘Axe the Reading Tax’ run by the Publishers Association, authors, the publishing industry and book lovers are calling for an end to the penalisation of digital reading and an equal opportunity to access literature in all formats. In December 2018, the EU allowed their membered states to cut the VAT on eBooks and audiobooks to end this inequality and so far 18 countries have made the change. Now, readers are calling on the UK government to follow suit.
Writers including: Konnie Huq – former Blue Peter presenter and author of Cookie and the Most Annoying Boy in the World; Dolly Alderton – journalist and author of Everything I Know About Love; Bernardine Evaristo – the Booker Prize-winning author of Girl, Woman, Other; Cressida Cowell – children’s laureate and author of the How to Train Your Dragon series, Paula Hawkins – author of The Girl on the Train, actor, comedian and author of Mythos, Stephen Fry; and many others, alongside 42 MPs have backed the petition asking the UK government to ‘Axe the Reading Tax’.
Regarding the petition, Cressida Cowell said, “taxing reading makes no sense, especially when it is being felt by those with disabilities and children just starting to understand the joy of reading. I hope the government sees sense and gets rid of the tax as soon as it can.”
Meanwhile, Konnie Huq who went to Downing Street with the petition added, “It is fantastic to be in Downing Street to fight to remove the unfair tax on those who need to read digitally. As both an author and a mum I know how important it is for children to grow up reading, regardless of whether this is on paper or screen.”
You can join the authors, MPs, publishing employees and readers already backing this movement now by signing the ‘Axe the Reading Tax’ petition yourself and asking the government to right this wrong and make reading accessible to all, no matter what format they choose to consume books in.