The challenges come from surprising quarters sometimes. The industry is used to change, to threats, to all manner of tech announcements, to moves by Amazon or Apple, to new apps, new platforms, new gizmos…but this from the creaky old HMRC? Who saw its announcement concerning colouring books coming?
The UK tax office has classified colouring books as ‘incomplete books’ and thus liable to standard rate VAT. The tortuous detail can be found under VAT Notice 701/10 which notes that the following are liable to VAT: ‘picture card and stamp albums, unless they contain a substantial amount of reading matter which is complete in itself, and no more than 25% of the album is set aside for the mounting of cards and stamps; completed stamp albums; and products that are essentially stationery items, for example, diaries and address books’.
It’s all gently amusing, especially the discussion of the differences between brochures, pamphlets and leaflets, but it is also very serious. Several publishers could be faced with VAT demands totalling several millions of pounds, if their challenge on the ruling is unsuccessful. Not so much dot to dot, as dot to debt.
Something similar has happened in Germany. Another body, in this instance the Federal Supreme Court of Germany, has ruled that publishers are not entitled to half the money from copyright revenues gathered by the collection agency VG Wort. Previously this money was split between author and publisher. Now the Court has ruled that all of it must go to the author, and that it must be backdated to 2012, meaning that publishers could potentially face repayments totalling hundreds of millions of Euros. Ouch.
Meanwhile, in Australia another dispute is making headlines. This is the proposal by the government to abolish the restrictions on parallel imports under which titles originally published in another country have to be made available from the local publisher or distributor within 14 days. If they are not made available, a bookseller is able to source those titles from wherever it chooses. If parallel import restrictions are lifted, a bookseller could buy the US edition of a UK title, thus possibly jeopardising the viability of the local publishing operation.
The proposals dominated proceedings at the recent Australian Book Industry Awards in Sydney, where speaker after speaker attacked the draft legislation. Richard Flanagan, who won the Man Booker with The Narrow Road to the Deep North said that removing parallel import restrictions would “destroy any future for Australian writers”. Jonathan Franzen said: “Even America is not so slavishly subservient to a theory of the free market that we don’t protect our authors, our booksellers, and our publishers.”
At the awards, Allen & Unwin was named Publisher of the Year and Readings was named Independent Bookseller of the Year, adding to its recent accolade as Bookstore of the Year at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards last month.
At another awards ceremony JK Rowling understandably stole headlines with her remarks about Donald Trump. “He has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there”, she told guests at the PEN Literary Gala in New York earlier this month where she received the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award. There were other awards given too, which received less coverage. Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch was named Publisher Honoree for his work in the fight against censorship, and Bangladesh’s Shuddhashar Publishing House received the 2016 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award, named after one of the founders of Human Rights Watch.
Good to hear that the US publishing mission to Cuba, organised by Publishers Weekly and Combined Book Exhibit, has led to a piece of solid business that would not have happened otherwise. The Independent Publishers Group (IPG) has signed a deal with Corporativo yvt, a Peruvian distributor that carries many Cuban titles, to import books from three Cuban publishers into the US. IPG CEO Joe Matthews said “bringing Cuban writers to an American audience is a dream come true for our Spanish-language programs”.
And so to the Kobostones announcement from Wateratuken. Waterstones affiliate tie-up with Kobo makes sense. Kobo is arguably the most bricks and mortar friendly of the e-reading companies, with its tie-up with WHSmith and indies here, and with indies in the US. Browsers at waterstones.com will now be directed to the Kobo website, instead of having to search for the ‘Other formats’ link to find ebooks. And so another chapter in Waterstones’ 34-year history begins.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.