French Publishers Launch #ThatIsNotABook Campaign

Last month the culture ministers of 4 European countries called for lower taxes on ebooks, and now French publishers are launching a campaign. France’s Syndicat National de l’Edition (SNE) has launched a website where it invites visitors to educate EU commissioners on the difference between books and not books.

The site asks supporters to “Tell the European Commission (@UE_Commission) about what is a book and what is not a book” be either tweeting a picture of an ordinary object along with the hashtag #ThatIsNotABook, or the picture of a book or ebook tagged with #ThatIsABook.

that is not a book campaignThis site is the latest stage in a five-year-long effort to change the EU’s tax laws so that paper and digital books are taxed the same.

While paper books are seen as a cultural item and thus taxed at a lower rate, ebooks are viewed by EU regulators as a service, and they’re taxed at the full VAT (17% to 25%, depending on the country).

France and Luxembourg challenged that tax policy in 2012. They passed laws which lowered the taxes collected on ebooks, and were subsequently sued by the European Commission. Earlier this year the European Court of Justice ruled that the lower tax rates were illegal, and had to be raised to the full VAT rates.

That ruling was a minor setback, and it has deterred no one. This movement has broad support across Europe, including in Italy and Malta, each of which illegally lowered the VAT collected on ebooks, as well as in Poland, Germany, and France, where the culture ministers released a joint statement calling for the lower tax rate. The Italian culture minister also signed the statement.

Publishing Perspective

Nate Hoffelder

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Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. #Ceci_n’est_pas_un_livre | William Reichard4 April, 2015

    […] What is a book? It’s a decorative item, apparently… […]

  2. Reader5 April, 2015

    One more example of EU tyranny, where a bureaucrat from Brussels decides for all.

  3. paul beard6 April, 2015

    The judgement was the result of the publisher deciding to licence the publications rather than sell them. The “buyer” hasn’t actually bought a book, just a reading service for a long as the publisher continues to provide it.

    1. Nate Hoffelder6 April, 2015

      Not exactly. A bunch of publishers in Europe have abandoned DRM and distribute DRM-free ebooks. That makes buying an ebook a sale, and not a service.

      1. Paula6 April, 2015

        The fact they’re DRM-free doesn’t tell it’s a sale, does it?
        I remember a few years ago Doctorow manage to convince Audible to sell his audiobooks without DRM and still the reader would have to comply with a license (so bad he didn’t accepted).
        Can you give examples of those publishers that dropped DRM in Europe?

        1. Nate Hoffelder6 April, 2015

          Most publishers in the Netherlands have gone either DRM-free or use digital watermarks. There’s also Baen Books, Packt, O’Reilly, Tor-Forge.

          Any way, the point isn’t whether this is a license or a sale but whether this is a service. The DRM-free ebooks undercut the argument that ebooks are a service.

          1. Feda6 April, 2015

            I agree with Nate on this. If you buy a DRM Free Book you are buying a product, not a service. You are taking full possession of that digital file and can do with it how you please as long as you comply with copyright laws that apply to any printed book as well. It is not very different from a printed book.

          2. Paula Simoes6 April, 2015

            That’s what I’m trying to understand. I suppose if you buy a license to read an ebook, you’re buying a service, not a product.
            If this is correct then wether it’s a service or a product does not depend of DRM, but if there’s a license attached.

            A DRM-free ebook can still have restrictions like the number of devices you can copy it to or not allowing you to use extracts. I don’t know European publishers that use digital watermarks, but those who use must be restricting something, through a license.

            By the way, I think the examples you gave are products, not services (because the only restrictions you have come from your country’s law).


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