Color me blue — British publishers face big VAT bill as 20% back-tax crackdown looms

VAT stands for Value Added Tax, which is a misnomer as it really doesn’t add any value, it simply loads an extra 20% on the price. Britain, that bastion of civilization, has kept up its cultural credibility since the hated VAT was introduced in the UK back in the early 1970s (replacing Purchase Tax, which was at least accurately named) by making print books zero-rated.

That means print books have escaped paying the extra 20% even while ebooks in the UK have had 20% slapped on them by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs. But now the VATman is coming for books — coloring books in particular.

It seems they don’t consider coloring books to come under the guise of real books and are eager to get their tax back from the millions of sales that have been made in the soaraway sector over recent years. The HMRC apparently feels that coloring books should be considered more along the lines of being stationery products, such as diaries, etc, and thus liable to the full rate of VAT.

The move has already led to Laurence King, one of the leading publishers in the coloring book sector, to start adding on VAT to their books.

Laurence King has picked Floribunda for VAT… …but To The Moon escapes the tax… …and so does the massive-selling Johann Bashford’s Enchanted Forest


The taxman is only planning to crack down on adult coloring books and has pledged to leave children’s coloring books alone. That could prove to be a bit of a poser when considering which category titles such as the Harry Potter coloring book or the Enchanted Forest by Johanna Bashford fall into. Laurence King already seems to have decided that Enchanted Forest is in the children’s category as it’s not charging VAT on that title on its direct-sales website but it is adding VAT to Floribunda by Leila Duly.

It remains to be seen quite who will be liable to pay the VAT if the taxman seeks to claw back the cash it’s missed out on in the coloring boom. It could be the retailer, it could be the publisher, it could be both.

It could also be a big VAT bill, with, for example, Bashford’s Enchanted Forest selling 500,000 copies very quickly after publication and the artist is reckoned to have sold over 16 million copies of her books around the world in the last three years.

In any event, it would be a blow all round for the publishing and bookselling industry as coloring books have provided a massive boost for bookshops and publishers.