Ebooks As Increasing Tax Target

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Interesting email I received yesterday from Kindle:

Screen capture of email.
Screen capture of email.

Here in the UK print books are generally sold untaxed, while ebook sales are taxed. Similar tax distinctions occur elsewhere in the European Union. The EU itself has recently labeled ebooks an “electronic service.

Many US states tax ebooks too. I haven’t checked New York lately, but there’s almost nothing, for instance, New York State won’t tax to the hilt if it can figure out a way to do so. And Albany can usually figure one out.

We see various reasons given for treating ebooks differently from print – a major one I recall seeing is how they are unfair towards bookstores. (Dislike of Amazon is an especial rationale – the argument is bookstores have to compete with premises-less ebooks that “bypass” bookstores and undermine them.) That’s emotionally not unreasonable. I like bookstores too and don’t want to see them all vanish.

However, as we also know it’s not like buying a print book in a shop is done tax-free. To buy a book in a bookstore, I paid tax on the fuel in my car to get there. (To say nothing about the car itself.) Here in Britain, I might have paid £5 to the local council to park for two hours. Even if I cycled to the shop, the bicycle had been already taxed. The list could go on. When I walk in, the lighting in the bookstore is taxed. The store pays all sorts of other taxes too.

Free Stock Photo: A stack of books isolated on a white background.
Free Stock Photo: A stack of books isolated on a white background.

But its print books are sold to me untaxed.

Similarly, before ebooks have reached us as consumers, how many layers of tax have we already paid on the similar infrastructure that carries them to us? I may not have gone to a shop, but I already pay monthly tax on the communications line that brings the internet into my home, for the internet product itself (such as Sky Broadband), and/ or on the mobile phone and the mobile phone bill. We’ve also paid it already on the hardware products, like the wifi router, and on the e-reader device(s) itself when we first bought it.

Kindle cover of “Passports.” [Photo by me, 2015.]
Kindle cover of “Passports.” [Photo by me, 2015.]

My books are exactly the same words in print book or in ebook form. Yes, any higher taxes on ebook purchases may be only a few cents/ pence, true, but it’s still a higher tax. We pay taxes all over the place before buying either a print book or an ebook, and that’s the cost of life in a “civilized” society fair enough, but we’ve now essentially allowed the words to be DIRECTLY taxed higher in ONLY ebooks.

Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

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