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French, German, Italian, and Polish Governments Call For Reduced Taxes on eBooks

High taxes on ebooks may be the law in the EU, but it’s certainly not a popular one.

Following just two short weeks after the EU high court ruled that ebooks aren’t actually books and thus could not be taxed as such, the Culture Ministers of Germany, France, Poland, and Italy released a joint statement decrying that ruling.


Declaring "a book is a book, no matter the form", the culture ministers* jointly called on the European Commission to take steps to change EU law so that paper books and ebooks carried the same VAT rate.

There’s no English language version of the statement, but the French language version came through Google Translate reasonably clearly:

Books are essential to the development and circulation of knowledge and culture. They play a crucial role in promoting cultural diversity, one of the greatest strengths of Europe, and reinforce the sense of European citizenship. The promotion of reading and literature should be at the heart of our cultural policies. 

The digital age offers huge opportunities for the future of books and literature, particularly to encourage reading among young people. Support innovation in the book industry is the only way to meet expectations, evolving, readers and creators.

Whether printed or dematerialized, it is the content that makes the book and not the way in which the reader will have access. A book is a book, whatever its shape.

For these reasons, we are convinced of the need to apply the same reduced rate of VAT to the digital book as the printed book. The principle of technological neutrality must be clearly stated at the European level so that innovation and development of digital books are not compromised.

The culture ministers are responding to a recent decision handed down by the European Court of Justice. The ECJ had ruled that France and Luxembourg had violated EU law when the two countries had reduced the VAT collected on ebooks.

That case has been thoroughly reported before, so I won’t repeat myself here.


I will note, though, that this debate has taken on a life of its own. When Luxembourg first changed its tax laws 3 years ago, it looked like a cynical tax move intended to encourage businesses to set up shop in the Grand Duchy.

But now we have minsters in four of the stronger EU member nations pushing for the EU to revise its tax laws. I’ve long believed that ebooks should be taxed at the lower rate, and now that it is a cause célèbre there is a high probability that the laws will change.

In about 4 or 5 years.

Call it realism or pessimism, I don’t expect the EU to move much faster than that.

P.S.  The four culture ministers are: Fleur Pellerin, French Minister of Culture and Communication; Monika Grütters, Delegate of the German Federal Government for Culture and Media; Dario Franceschini, Minister of Property, the Cultural Activities and Tourism of Italy; and Malgorzata Omilanowska, Minister of Culture and National Heritage of Poland., Actualitte

image by kodomut

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Ebook Bargains UK March 21, 2015 um 4:14 am

Ebooks are taxed at the higher level because they are a service, not a product. So long as retailers sell a licence, not the ebook, then the law is being fairly applied.

SAD March 21, 2015 um 9:20 am

True. As long as retailers/publishers insist on pointing out every time that e-books are a service, not a product, they can only expect to be taxed as a service, not a product. Their choice, really.

Rosa March 21, 2015 um 2:45 pm

Well… DRM is almost non-existent in Poland. Ebook stores here sell us watermarked files – products, not services. The VAT for pbooks is 5% while for ebooks 23%.

Nate Hoffelder March 21, 2015 um 3:04 pm

The same is true for ebooks published in the Netherlands.

SAD March 22, 2015 um 5:51 am

What do terms of sale say?

Rosa March 22, 2015 um 10:45 am

I checked the terms of sale in some stores, and apparently you’re right. I always thought the files were commodities but they actually are services. Then again, I assume ebooks are defined as services because of the EU law and there is simply no possibility of selling them as commodities in the present state. Since Polish retailers and publishers are happy to sell files without DRM, I believe they’d be happy to sell them as commodities if it was possible.

Bob W March 21, 2015 um 9:09 am

I’m in favour of a flat tax across all products and services but in a world where some products get reduced taxes, books should be treated the same in all forms.

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