In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway takes a look at pressure to end sales tax on audiobooks in the UK and publishing's paper crisis.
Do tune in and listen to the latest Self-publishing News podcast, just out. Howard and I have been talking about the German study of young people's reading habits. We had a particularly interesting time thinking about what the increasing clamp down on TikTok in the US meant for social media's reading culture and fiction-centred aesthetic groups (of special note because of the platform's prevalence in driving reading in Germany).
Pressure Grows to End Audiobooks Sales Tax Anomaly
I seem to remember a time when sales tax was a regular feature in the news. It feels as though “interesting times” have intervened a lot since then. But sales tax has pushed its way back into the news this week. Specifically, sales tax on audiobooks in the UK. The UK’s sales tax on books has been a tad on the eccentric side for some years. Print books are historically exempt from VAT (the UK’s sales tax). For many years, ebooks were an obvious anomaly. The UK’s revenue service considered them digital goods rather than books, and as such, they attracted sales tax. That finally ended on 1 May 2020, when ebooks moved to a zero rating.
But that left audiobooks. As the audiobook market has grown, the disparity has become more obvious. An unlikely alliance of government MPs, literary figures, and charities is calling for the sales tax on audiobooks to go. They argue that audiobooks are essential to make books accessible for visually impaired readers. Having sales tax on the only form of book those readers can access is, they claim, unfair. And the group has secured a parliamentary debate. It will be interesting to see if the UK takes this further step in recognising that audiobooks are, to put it bluntly, books.
“We look forward to the outcome of this debate. Indie authors are putting a lot of time, money and effort into having audiobooks available for their readers and of course having a book in audio format doesn't just mean another product in their portfolio but also better accessibility, which is very important to ALLi as part of ethical authors looking after their readers.” Melissa Addey, ALLi Campaigns Manager
Breaking: Self-published Author Fiona Scott-Barrett Shortlisted for Inaugural ADCI Award
Fabulous news for indie representation. Today saw the announcement of the inaugural shortlist for the Society of Authors' ADCI Award (Authors with a Disability or Chronic Illness). The award celebrates positive representations of disability in literature. It's fabulous to see Fiona Scott-Barrett on the shortlist for her self-published title, The Exit Facility. Fingers crossed for the award announcement.
Print Publishing Still Faces Paper Crisis But Opportunities May Emerge
One of the issues I’ve reported on several times in recent years surrounds the difficulty printers face in getting hold of paper for books. It’s never a particularly headline grabbing story. But that is one of the things that makes it such a dangerous issue. Every printed book needs paper. As do many other things we take for granted in life. Global supply chain problems, competing demands, and the fact that books have always required a certain kind of paper mean that the printing industry is very vulnerable to a fragile marketplace. Add to that the increasing global awareness of the need to protect existing trees, not just plant new ones as part of solving the climate crisis, and you get a very vulnerable situation indeed. And you get it as a backdrop to an industry that is still being bullish about its print offering. That celebrates the success of bricks and mortar stores. Which rely on print.
This is the backdrop to an important debate at the Book Industry Study Group’s Annual General Meeting. Mark Williams has a fascinating post that draws on and contextualises Gayle Feldman’s piece on that AGM in The Bookseller. Print is still the dominant way in which people buy books. But the printing and paper on which this part of the industry relies has not remained stable. As the pandemic (not to mention the Evergiven crisis) showed, reliance on printing in China and elsewhere in Asia means supply chains can collapse very easily. And paper is a scarce resource. The book industry relies on the same paper mills that other industries rely on. And is somewhat picky about the paper it uses.
Vulnerable print supply chains
There was also an overprinting issue during the pandemic. New warehouses opened up across the world. The driving force behind this was a world locked down that learned to rely on delivery. Just-in-time supply chains seemed risky. So people stockpiled those warehouses. And that included filling them with books. Which has helped neither the industry’s returns and sustainability problems. Nor the availability of already hard to come by paper. There are some glimmers of hope, though. Scholastic’s Kevin Spall has embraced digital publishing, increasing the number of books printed that way from zero to 6 million.
Indie authors often rely on print on demand. That can feel like a burden. But in this changing environment, it might be a bonus. And as more publishers realise they may be forced down this route, the differentials that make us uncompetitive may come down. As returns become, as they surely will, as unacceptable as smoking in public buildings, bookstores and distributors will no longer be able to insist upon them. And another barrier we face will go.
Harper Collins Ready to Use AI Narration in India
Meanwhile, audiobooks provide the context for this week’s surprisingly minimal (at the time of writing) AI news. Mark Williams has a really interesting story from Harper Collins, India. This is one of the world’s biggest publishers and, of course, one of the world’s biggest potential markets. Harper Collins India’s CEO Ananth Padmanabhan seems to be a big fan of AI audiobook narration. And he is ready to use that technology. Any delay will just be in getting the voice patterns exactly right.
This raises some of the fundamental questions at the heart of the AI debate. India is a huge market. Making the vast majority of books not currently published as audiobooks available in that format would be a massive step for the industry. And for readers. But doing so through technology rather than human narrators sends another message about who is, and who is not, part of the modern creative industry.
TikTok Sues Montana Over Ban
TikTok is the book world's social media of choice. So Montana's ban on the app has caused a lot of concern. Effective from January, the law effectively treats TikTok like recreational drugs. That is, you will be able to use TikTok (if you already have it). But you won't be allowed to download it or offer it as a download. TikTok has now decided to fight back. It will be suing Montana, claiming the new law is unconstitutional because it violates First Amendment protections for freedom of expression. It's fair to say a lot of people will be watching the outcome with anticipation.Kindle Unlimited raises subscription price by 20%, and other top #selfpub news stories for #indieauthors, in one quick read, by #ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway @agnieszkasshoes #digitaleconomy #publishingopenup Click To Tweet