The taxman cometh: how the new European tax swoop will hit authors

burden1There’s a big ebook price shock looming for authors and publishers in the New Year as a whopping 20% charge is going to be levied on all ebooks bought by readers in the UK, which is the biggest ebook market by far in Europe.

Authors face either raising their prices sharply and perhaps losing out on sales or losing up to a fifth or more of their ebook earnings in Europe.

The new tax levy is coming in as part of the European Union’s get-tough campaign largely aimed at Amazon which has kept European VAT (value-added tax) at arm’s-length for years by claiming to sell all their ebooks in Europe through their base in Luxembourg where VAT is a minimal 3%.

The firm was able to use this loophole as VAT has been based according to the seller’s country, so, as Amazon was selling through Luxembourg, it could charge the 3% tax to buyers in the UK and throughout the rest of Europe.

Now the EU has clubbed together for once to force Amazon (and other ebook sellers) to slap on VAT based on the buyer’s country.

The tax is particularly contentious as print books in the UK are free of VAT because of the cultural contribution to society, but ebooks are subject to 20% VAT.

Tax on print books varies across Europe, but in France, for example, VAT is set at 5.5% for both print books and ebooks, while the highest ebook VAT rate is 22% in Italy.

Germany is the second-biggest English-reading ebook market in Europe and a VAT rate of 19% will be applied on ebooks, but the country charges only 7% VAT on print books and also slashed the tax rate on audiobooks earlier this year to 7% from 19%.

List prices to include VAT

From January 1, authors and publishers who publish through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing must set list prices that are inclusive of VAT.

Amazon says it will make make a one-time adjustment for existing books published through KDP to move from VAT-exclusive list prices to list prices which include VAT, and will put those changes into effect starting on January 1.

Authors and publishers can change their prices at any time, but do not need to take any action unless you want to.

In its one-time adjustment, Amazon will add the applicable VAT based on the primary country of the marketplace to the VAT-exclusive list price provided.

  • If an author has set £5.00 as the VAT-exclusive list price for Amazon.co.uk, the new VAT-inclusive list price will be set at £6 because the applicable VAT rate in the UK is 20%.
  • If an author has set a consistent VAT-exclusive list price for all Euro-based Kindle stores, the prices will be different as there are varying VAT rates across Europe.

For example, if an author has a €6.00 VAT-exclusive list price for Amazon.de (Germany), Amazon.fr (France, Amazon.es (Spain), and Amazon.it (Italy) the list prices including VAT will be adjusted to €7.14 (19% VAT), €6.33 (5.5% VAT), €7.26 (21% VAT), and €7.32 (22% VAT) respectively.

Minimum and maximum prices for 35% and 70% royalties to include VAT

Minimum and maximum list prices to qualify for the 35% and 70% royalty plans under KDP will also include VAT.

For books published before January 1 that fall outside these new limits after VAT is included, Amazon will adjust the list price to ensure the book remains in the same royalty plan that was previously selected.

The VAT attack could mean the end of the £0.99 ebook in the UK market. If an author sticks with an inclusive £0.99 price, then the price basis for a royalty will be £0.83 and the 35% payment on this will be £0.29, compared with £0.34 previously.

Authors who keep their books priced at £1.99 inclusive of VAT will have a 70% royalty based on £1.66, which will see their earnings fall from £1.39 to £1.16 per sale.

You can check out the full list of minimum and maximum list prices for 35% and 70% inclusive list prices at Amazon.com.

How royalties will be calculated

Royalties will continue to be calculated based on the list price without VAT.

The amount of VAT depends on where the reader is located. Here are two examples:

  • For a book with a £6.00 VAT-inclusive price on Amazon.co.uk, for sales to customers in the UK, Amaon would apply the UK’s 20% VAT rate and the price used to calculate royalties would be £5.00.
  • The 23% Irish VAT rate will apply to purchases from Ireland, so a customer buying from Ireland would still see £6.00 but, applying the 23% Irish VAT rate, Amazon would calculate the royalty based on the VAT-exclusive list price of £4.88.

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Ebooks in the 70% royalty plan need to meet new minimum list price requirements

If you currently have one or more books in the 70% royalty plan that will not meet the new minimum list price requirements, Amazon  will adjust the new list price that includes VAT to £1.99 and € 2.99 to meet the minimum for 70% royalty.

For ebooks that are available for pre-order but scheduled to release after January 1, 2015, Amazon will pay your royalty as though VAT were still only 3%.

If you currently have one or more books scheduled to run a Kindle Countdown Deal in the UK marketplace during or after January 1, 2015, your book will still be eligible to finish that promotion, even if the list price does not fit the new requirements of being priced between £1.99 and £15.99, including the VAT.

Setting list prices for EU Kindle stores

From January 1, to make it easier to set customer-friendly list prices without having to calculate VAT for each country, authors will set list prices for EU marketplaces that include VAT.

Amazon is updating the KDP pricing grid to accept VAT-inclusive list prices.

Previously, if an author wanted to provide a suggested list price of £1.99, he or she would set £1.93 as the VAT-exclusive list price to account for the 3% VAT that would have then been applied.

Now, authors can simply enter £1.99 and Amazon will deduct the applicable VAT to calculate royalties.

On the pricing page, authors will see their suggested price without VAT displayed for the primary country of the marketplace to help them understand how royalties will be calculated for sales to customers from that primary country.

For authors who set their EU marketplace prices automatically from their US list price, Amazon will convert the US list price to local currency and that will be the list price that includes VAT.

For example, if an author sets the US list price to be $10.00, then Amazon will convert that price to Euros for the German marketplace, and assuming the exchange rate is 0.8, the Amazon.de list price including VAT will be €8.00. For purchases in Germany, Amazon will deduct 19% VAT and calculate royalty on a VAT-exclusive list price of €6.72.

You can read more about setting list prices for EU Kindle stores at Amazon.com.

If an author lists books with a lower list price on other ebook sites, Amazon will price-match those books to the lower prices.

Amazon is inviting feedback on these changes at Amazon.com.