Knowledge and learning are vital, whatever format you favour. So why are digital readers taxed 20% more?
Axe the reading tax is a campaign calling for the removal of VAT on all digital publications: ebooks, audiobooks, research journals, textbooks and educational materials, newspapers and magazines.
It was recognised from the very beginning that books and knowledge were essential to people’s lives and therefore applying a tax on reading would be unfair and inappropriate. That is why, ever since the UK’s VAT regime was established in the 1970s, printed books, magazines and newspapers have been VAT exempt.
This long-standing belief has helped ensure that reading and learning remains affordable and accessible to people of all ages, incomes and abilities. Viewing print and digital differently not only drives up the price and stifles innovation, but also unfairly impacts groups of people for which digital formats provide access to a world of words that is otherwise closed to them. It also increases the price universities and students pay to access digital publications.
Historically EU legislation has prohibited zero-rating VAT on ebooks and epublications, but in 2018 the EU decided to allow member states flexibility to do this. This means that, regardless of the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU, the UK government now has the opportunity to right this wrong.
Who is affected?
This digital penalty impacts millions of consumers, including everyone who reads or learns digitally.
Readers with disabilities
Digital formats are vital for the blind and partially sighted, who can listen to audiobooks or read in the largest print sizes on electronic devices, for those with dyslexia and for elderly or disabled people who may lack the physical capabilities to handle print books easily.
The campaign to Axe the Reading Tax is led by the Publishers Association. We represent book, journal, audio and digital publishers in the UK, spanning fiction and non-fiction, academic and education publishing. UK publishing has a turnover of £6bn, with export income accounting for almost 60% of revenues.
Our membership includes global companies such as Elsevier, Wiley, Pearson, Penguin Random House, Hachette and the University presses, as well as many independent publishing houses. Our objective as an association is to provide our members with the influence, insight and support necessary to compete and prosper.
"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.”
—Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive, the PA
with support from
“Magazine brands are reaching more people than ever with cross-platform distribution and digital audiences hungry for trusted, quality content.
"It makes absolutely no sense that people accessing the same content in digital formats are penalised with a 20% price premium, money that goes straight to the Treasury and does nothing to support investment in quality journalism.
"Now is the time for the Chancellor to act and axe the reading tax”
—Owen Meredith, Managing Director, PPA
The PPA is the membership network for magazine media and business information publishers in the UK. The PPA’s role is to promote, protect and advance the interests of the industry – and has been doing so for over 100 years.
The PPA’s membership consists of some 260 publishing companies, ranging from consumer magazine publishers, business-to-business data and information providers, to customer publishers and smaller independent companies.
The Society of Authors is the UK trade union for more than 10,000 writers, illustrators and literary translators, at all stages of their careers. We've been advising individuals and speaking out for the profession since 1884.
“Charging VAT on books amounts to a tax on reading and a tax on knowledge. It is this principle which means that VAT is zero-rated on printed books in the UK, and it is only fair and consistent that digital publications should be treated in the same way.
"We fully support the campaign to Axe the Reading Tax, and we hope that the UK Government will take action to address this unjust tax at the earliest opportunity.”
—Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive, SoA
The National Literacy Trust is an independent charity dedicated to raising literacy levels in the UK. The charity’s research and analysis make it the leading authority on literacy. The National Literacy Trust runs projects in the poorest communities, campaigns to make literacy a priority for politicians and parents, and supports schools.
“Our latest research shows that 1 in 5 children and young people now read books online. What’s more, children are spending almost 3 times as long reading online every day than they are reading in print. With digital formats becoming increasingly important in supporting children’s literacy and providing additional access points to reading materials, we fully back the campaign to Axe the Reading Tax.”
-Jonathan Douglas, Director, NLT
BookTrust is the UK’s largest children’s reading charity; each year they reach 3.4 million children across the UK with books, resources and support to help develop a love of reading, because they know that reading can transform lives. BookTrust work with a variety of partners to get children excited about books, rhymes and stories because if reading is fun, children will want to do it. BookTrust books are delivered via health, library, schools and early years practitioners, and are supported with guidance, advice and resources to encourage the reading habit.
“The importance of reading and education – as a right and not a luxury – is recognized by the zero VAT rating on print publications. As people increasingly read in digital formats this tax becomes more and more illogical and discriminates against groups of readers, such as the blind or partially sighted, who rely on these formats. Reading opens doors and transforms lives and we want books to be readily available and fairly priced to enable everyone to benefit from the huge opportunities that a reading habit creates.”
-Diana Gerald, CEO, BookTrust
“In an increasingly digital age, ebooks and other electronic publication formats have become more popular and more accessible to readers, which is why it’s essential that VAT on digital works should be zero-rated to match their printed counterparts.
"We wholly support the Axe the Reading Tax campaign and urge the Government to take action to tackle this imbalance.”
- Barbara Hayes, Deputy Chief Executive, Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society
Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) is a not-for-profit membership organisation started by writers for the benefit of writers. They have over 100,000 registered members.
“There is no need for this artificial distinction between print and ebooks in the VAT regime, and the significant extra 20% is a barrier to literacy and education.”
- Lizzy Kremer, President,
Association of Authors' Agents
The Association of Authors’ Agents (AAA) is a British voluntary trade association whose members are all UK-based literary agencies.
“We are delighted to back the campaign to Axe the Reading Tax and join the push to make reading more inclusive. At the moment, only around ten per cent of all titles are available to blind and partially sighted people in a format they can access. eReaders and audiobooks allow people with sight loss to enjoy their favourite books just like everybody else and they should not be charged 20 percent more for this.”
- Eleanor Thompson, Head of Policy and Public Affairs,
RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People)