UK Opens Third Annual ‘Love Audio’ Week, Not Loving VAT on Audiobooks

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

As the UK’s Publishers Association opens its ‘Love Audio’ campaign, London hasn’t taken the cue from Brussels and dropped its VAT rate on audiobooks.

Audio listeners in the London Underground–still waiting for audiobooks and ebooks to be taxed at the same rate as print. Image – iStockphoto: Pablo Paradiso

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

VAT Still at ‘Full Volume’
Last year at this time, we reported on the UK’s “Love Audio Week” promotion, which is an initiative of the Publishers Association’s audio publishers group, chaired by Dominic Gribben of Hodder Books. It’s slogan this year: “Books at Full Volume.”

Today (June 10), this year’s week-long campaign has opened in its third annual iteration, to run through Sunday (June 16) with more than 20 audio publishers engaged, in part in providing some audiobook clips for listeners to enjoy at the program’s site.

There are also some videos from various publishers, and a couple of articles about making audiobooks.

As the association is telling us, most of the week’s action is expected to occur as campaign activity on Twitter at the hashtag #LoveAudio. Nobody campaigns like our British colleagues campaign, and, sure enough, luminaries already have begun to chime in with testimonials about why they #LoveAudio.

As part of the announcement of the week, the association has provided some survey material collected for it by the research company Kantar, and much of it confirms the kind of understanding that studies from the Audio Publishers Association and others have revealed.

Most importantly, the lure of audiobooks seems to have to do with the convenience of being able to listen while doing other things. Users seem to feel that listening to books read to them while handling chores or drives or other activities means getting two things done at once. Multitasking experts may want to question just how much retention one may have when “reading” a book this way while doing other things, but the concept in the public mind seems supportive of audiobooks’ big increases in growth in recent years.

Indeed, one consumer, Elizabeth Masters, has chimed in this morning to talk about exactly that multitasking convenience and from a very beautiful place for it:

The top-line points the association’s information today emphasize are:

  • “According to the survey, the main barrier to reading is lack of time. Audiobooks offer a solution for these consumers by allowing them to combine reading with other activities.
  • “The majority (54 percent) of book buyers [surveyed] listen to audiobooks for their convenience, while 41 percent said they choose the format because it allows them to consume books when reading print isn’t possible.
  • “Twenty-seven percent of audiobook consumers listen to audiobooks at least once per week while 22 percent said they were able to retain information better if they listened to an audiobook.
  • “Seventy-two percent of those surveyed said they’d bought a book (in any format) in the last year, confirming that the UK is a nation of book buyers. The prevalence of audio, however, proves that consumers are increasingly exploring different formats for reading to suit their lifestyle.”
Another Campaign Might Be: ‘Free Audiobooks From VAT’

Publishers are jumping into the campaign fray, some with post-state-visit audio directed at Trumpian frustrations:

And in a prepared statement for the news media, we hear what may be the most interesting part for industry players of the Publishers Association’s efforts this year: taxation is still an issue for audiobooks and ebooks in the UK, even after the European Union’s Economic and Financial Affairs Council—called ECOFIN—agreed on October 2 to allow all EU member states finally to put ebooks on an equal footing with print in terms of value added tax, VAT.

As Publishing Perspectives reported at the time, the move corrected a decades-old problem in which  ebooks and other digital publications had been lumped in with software and other tech-related products, thus categorizing them as “electronic services” and placing them in a different taxation classification from print material.

“It’s imperative that the government removes VAT on digital reading products like audiobooks and ebooks. The publishing industry is committed to pursuing accessibility through digital innovation and this tax serves as a critical obstacle to this goal.”Stephen Lotinga, Publishers Association

This is the issue that at one point prompted the “A Book Is a Book” outcry on the Continent and led some member states of the EU to rebel against codified VAT regulations. As the change was made in October, Brussels’ top finance commissioner was tweeting, “An ebook is a book, an e-journal is a newspaper!” And the decision from finance ministers allows EU states to drop VAT rates all the way to zero if they wish on electronic publications, which have until now been taxed at a minimum of 15 percent.”

Indeed, it’s been anticipated that Warsaw would equalize its VAT rates on ebooks and print this month. But our correspondent there, Jaroslaw Adamowski, tells us that it’s a case of “not so fast” in Poland, as well. The legislation appears to be tied up with taxation work on other product classes including food and beverages.

You can hear some understandable UK market frustration in today’s announcement of the “Love Audio” campaign, in which CEO Stephen Lotinga is quoted, saying, “The audiobook sector continues to go from strength to strength as consumers look for new and exciting ways to incorporate books and stories into their everyday lives. Audiobooks are an essential companion for the everyday reader who is busy and on-the-go, like many of us so often are. They are a vital part of the publishing eco-system and allow consumers to tailor reading to suit their busy lives.

“This is why it’s imperative that the government removes VAT on digital reading products like audiobooks and ebooks. The publishing industry is committed to pursuing accessibility through digital innovation and this tax serves as a critical obstacle to this goal.”

It might be time, then, for the “Love Audio” campaign to be given some activist kick with a bit of guidance to the UK government, perhaps:

  • “Love Audio, So Stop Taxing It”
  • “Love Audio, Don’t Love VAT on It”
  • “Love Audio: Can You Hear Me Voting Against You for Taxing It?”

For the moment, however, the campaign is an upbeat and cheery affair, with Hodder’s Gribben, in his role as the Publishers Association’s lead on it, saying, “It is an exciting time for our sector and audio publishers across the country are more than up for the challenge, matching record-breaking growth with hard work and innovation.”

Once it’s finally known which way the Brexitian winds are blowing in the UK, it will then be clearer whether the industry is still working to align with ECOFIN’s decision on VAT for ebooks and audiobooks—or on its own to leverage the support of its tax codes.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Publishers Association is here, Audio Publishers Association is here, more from us on audiobooks is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.