A public consultation has formally been launched by the European Commission (EC) to address the inconsistency in VAT rates on print and electronically supplied publications.
In April, the European Commission (EC) committed to reducing VAT rates on e-books in an Action Plan, with the finer details to be released in autumn.
Currently, electronic publications must be taxed at the national standard rate - between 17% and 27% across countries in Europe- while for printed publications members of the EU are able to apply reduced or even zero rate VAT. In the UK, print books attract a 0% VAT rate, but e-books have the standard 20% VAT applied to them.
The EC is now consulting with intersted parties for their thoughts on reducing the VAT on e-books and other electronic publications.
The Society of Authors has called on its members to contribute to the consultation, following on the back of its own submission, in order to send a message to government that "a tax on books amounts to an inappropriate tax on knowledge". It backed up its assertion with a promise made in 1969 by MP Iain Macleod, who on first proposing VAT said: "On the general principle of avoiding a tax on knowledge we intend that books, journals, newspapers and broadcasting shall be at a zero rate."
As previously reported by The Bookseller, the discrepancy has already prompted calls from retailers such as Amazon, Waterstones and The Book People for the VAT rate on e-books to be scrapped, with the policy also attracting condemnation from Federation of European Publishers, European and International Booksellers Federation and the European Writers Association over its inequality.
The consultation, which will remain open until 19th September, asks "readers, authors, businesses (particularly those engaged in publishing, printing, or distributing books, newspapers and periodicals), retailers, trade/business/professional organisations, researchers, public authorities" to offer their views on whether there should be reduced VAT for e-books, e-newspapers and e-periodicals, and asks how these terms should be defined, as part of a questionnaire.
Reform proposals based on consultation feedback are scheduled to be unveiled at the end of 2016.