Brexit has been on the Brit's lips for the last few years, whether you agree with leaving the EU or not, I'm sure relieved it won't be in the news much more. But before we depart the topic, we must first study the implications for authors. Today, Alliance of Independent Authors news editor, Dan Holloway is here to explain exactly what the impacts are for indie authors.
The Ultimate Guide to Brexit for Indie Authors
One of the issues with the post-Brexit trade agreement is that, to put it in terms we all understand, it could have done with a good editor. It’s not just that it’s 1246 pages. Although that is certainly a thing that’s made my life interesting preparing this! Most of you will have heard by now about some of the more egregious elements – such as the reference to modern tech systems like, check notes, Mozilla. There’s also the sheer unwieldiness and structural complexity. One reason for this, as the UK government website states at one point, is that “these changes are different for each sector and differ in each member state of the EU.”
I couldn’t possibly hope to cover every eventuality in this guide, so I have included a set of links to the relevant pages of the UK government website for those of you who want/need to carry out the fullest detailed research.
I have taken the approach of laying this guide out as a detailed FAQ. Because of the “different in each country” issue explained above, it won’t be possible to cover every individual trading possibility. What I have tried to do rather is to cover each kind of trading arrangement that as indies we may find ourselves in. For each, I have outlined the key points of the trade deal, and where local factors may create differences, I have tried to outline what those factors are. Most of the time, this will relate to sales tax, something we are already familiar with.
If you are concerned about not being able to get on top of everything you need to, it is a good rule of thumb that whether you are in the UK or the EU, dealing with imports from or exports to the other country or block will be very similar to how it was dealing with countries outside the EU prior to 2021.
The scenarios I have addressed are:
- Importing and exporting physical goods
- Importing and exporting digital goods
- Importing and exporting services
- Touring and performing
- Copyright legislation
- Data protection
Navigating the Information to Find What’s Relevant to You
Your basic navigation page on the UK government website should be this one – which provides an overview for all creative industries. You should also keep this page for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport open. The guidance on the UK government website is arranged rather like Netflix. That is to say, there is a series of specialist advice pages, each of which might apply in various situations. These are like the films on Netflix. Sitting above these there is a series of contents pages for different sectors, listing every one of the advice pages relevant to that sector. These are like the categories on Netflix, and as with Netflix that means that individual pages may find themselves listed in multiple contents pages. Unlike Netflix, sadly there is no “my list” – or even “recommended for you”. That is the gap which the structure I am using is, in essence, trying to perform.
Introduction: an overview of what has changed
This is a very short bullet point guide to key changes. Visit the sections below for more information. And follow the links to the relevant websites for the full details.
- In areas like copyright and data protection, the UK and EU remain pretty much aligned, but there is a duplication of legislation rather than one set of rules, and you may need to do some things twice as a result.
- Sales of digital goods will be largely unaffected.
- Platforms like Amazon will take care of the paperwork for digital sales of ebooks and audiobooks.
- Sales tax accounting for digital goods such as book covers, image files, or direct sales of ebooks will remain the responsibility of the seller.
- But moving goods for sale between the UK and EU will be more time consuming because of the need for customs declarations.
- It will also be more expensive, with import duties, sales tax liabilities, and some couriers increasing carriage charges to cover their own administrative costs.
- Providing services such as editing will be subject to the individual rules of each country you are in or deal with.
- Touring will become more difficult because of the lack of an artists’ exemption on the need for work visas.
- It will also be more difficult to take things with you on tour to sell, with added customs paperwork and costs.
- Moving goods in and out of Northern Ireland is a particular case, both for those in the rest of the UK and those in the EU, with customs paperwork at the crossing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland but not the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
- For those who are neither in the UK nor the EU, you are likely to need to familiarise yourself with two separate ways of doing things rather than a single system. Even where the rules remain similar, such as with data processing, there are two sets of regulations.
Trade Between the UK and Countries Outside the EU
The change in relationship between the UK and the European Union obviously primarily affects trade between those two parties. And that’s what this guide will focus on. But of course the UK, by withdrawing from the EU, has withdrawn from all the trade deals in which the European Union was a partner. So trade between the UK and those other trade partners of the EU will also, inevitably, change in the years to come. For now, though, the UK’s dealings with these countries will continue much as it was before. The UK has a series of measures in place designed to ensure existing relationships with these countries continue for varying lengths of time. These take a variety of forms, from temporary bridging measures to memoranda of understanding and fully ratified treaties. You can find a country by country list on the UK government website. This will, inevitably, be a changing landscape as transition arrangements either lapse or turn into new agreements. We will, of course, keep you fully updated.
One of the reasons a trade deal was so hard to reach is the special status of Northern Ireland within the UK. Not only is this one of two UK territories to have a land border with the European Union (the other being the equally complicated Gibraltar). The Good Friday Agreement, which brought an official end to conflict between those who wanted a united Ireland and those who wanted Northern Ireland to be governed from Westminster, guaranteed that there would be no return to a “hard border” on the island of Ireland. This had inevitable consequences for customs checks on goods travelling between Ireland and Northern Ireland and, because of that, for customs checks on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The special treatment of this border affects customs more than anything else, so we’ll add a separate section there. The real thing to note, as with dealing with the rest of the world, is that treatment of Northern Ireland is subject to transition periods and also technological change. Much talk was made, for example, during Brexit negotiations, of computerised customs checks on the Ireland/Northern Ireland border. That has proven not to be possible currently, but may become so. So, again, we will keep you updated.
Importing and exporting physical goods
- If you are selling between the UK and EU you will need an EORI number – the UK government website will help you get one
- If you are sending goods to or from the UK, you will need to fill out a customs declaration – your courier can provide the form
- If you are buying goods from the UK there may be import duties to pay – as a seller you need at the least to make sure your customers know
This affects: People who sell physical books directly by post, and people who have their books printed overseas and shipped to them. It may also affect writers who take their books on book tours (see that section for details). Writers who sell to bookshops overseas and supply their books directly.
In short: The UK and EU have reached a free trade agreement, and you might think that means seamless sending and receiving of goods. Just like we had before. But free trade is only a part of what previously made up that frictionless process. If you remember back to the negotiations, there was a lot of talk about whether the UK would remain in a Customs Union with the EU. In the end it did not, and as a result of that, while there’s free trade, there’s also customs paperwork. And while there are – by and large – no tariffs, there are nonetheless import duties and administration which will increase the cost of trading between the UK and the EU. These changes may particularly hit small businesses such as indie authors who send a few books at a time, depending on the value of items being sent.
First of all, to trade across borders you will need an Economic Operators Registration and Identification number (EORI), which you can apply for online if you do not already have one. If you are based in Northern Ireland, see below as you will need a second EORI.
Once that is done, there are several different parts to bear in mind for each sale: customs declaration, sales tax, handling fees, and import duties. Whether or not you need to do or pay anything depends upon the items being sold, and the specific arrangements between the countries involved.
Anyone exporting goods will need to fil out a customs declaration. This is the paperwork that will enable your goods to cross the border as smoothly as possible. You will be able to find these online in your country as well as through your carrier. In the UK there are two forms – this one for goods worth under £270 and this one for goods worth more. As part of this, you will need to know the commodity code of the goods you are trading. You can find a list of codes by searching the tariff tool on this page. The code for books is 4901100000, while children’s books and coloring books is 49030000 for export, 4903000000 for import. There are some exceptions, such as maps, so do check if in doubt.
As a general principle, customs declarations are the responsibility of the seller, while sales tax and import duties are the responsibility of the buyer. That said, businesses selling direct to customers, which will be many of us, will often want to make things as easy as possible for our customers and that might mean including their import duties in the cost of any sale. Obviously this would create an exceptionally high level of burden for us. There are services we can use to tackle this for us, and many couriers will handle the charges as part of shipping costs. But the good news is that between the UK and the EU, any items worth less than 150 Euros sent direct to customers will be exempt from import duties. On the other hand, the Low Value Consignment Relief that used to mean there was no sales tax on items under 22 Euros in value no longer applies. There is an excellent detailed guide here.
These extra costs mean that shipping can be significantly more expensive. DHL made news in recent days, for example, by adding £4 to its most basic costs for shipping from the UK to the EU in order to cover administrative costs.
Advice: check, and check regularly, with your courier both whether they are willing to handle extra charges, and what the amount of those charges will be. Then decide how to include these costs, and your own administrative time for customs declarations into your pricing. Beyond this, you might consider adapting how you handle sales of physical books in your business model.
Remember: it is the origin of the goods that matters when it comes to these costs, not the business selling them. That means if you are able to get your books printed within the trading zone where they will by and large be shipped to you will be able to pass on a large saving in money to your customers and in time to yourself.
Northern Ireland – checks at UK/ NI border
- If you are selling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland you will need to sign a declaration that the goods are not going to the Republic of Ireland
- If you are selling from Northern Ireland you will need two EORI numbers, not just one
Northern Ireland is a unique case when it comes to trade in physical goods, as the introductory paragraph explains. You can find full guidance on this page, but here we’ll explain the basic principles, and how moving goods in and out of Northern Ireland differs from other parts of the United Kingdom.
The main way in which Northern Ireland differs from the rest of the UK is that whilst in other parts of the UK moving goods into or out of the European Union has become harder, for the time being at least there is little change when it comes to moving goods between the EU and Northern Ireland. This is because, as noted in the introduction, the Northern Ireland Protocol, designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement, provide for customs checks to be made when moving goods between mainland Great Britain and Northern Ireland rather than on the island of Ireland.
For specialist help with moving goods between the UK and Northern Ireland, you can sign up to the dedicated Trader Support Service here.
First, if you are exporting form Northern Ireland, the main difference is that where exporters from elsewhere in the UK require only one EORI number, you will require two, one with a GB prefix, and one that will begin XI, which indicates that your goods originate in Northern Ireland.
Second, whilst you can move goods from the UK to Northern Ireland “freely”, this is not without paperwork. In particular, because of the unique positioning of customs checks, a key piece of paperwork is a “no risk” declaration you must sign. This is a guarantee that the final destination for your goods is in Northern Ireland, and that they will not subsequently – to the best of your knowledge – be moved to the Republic of Ireland across the customs-free border. One situation in which this may particularly apply is when you are selling books to a bookstore near the Irish border. In this case, it may be wise to include in the terms of your agreement with the bookstore that they take responsibility for the destination of goods they sell. It is a level of complexity beyond what there is good literature on, but I would advise that this is a reason why it may be simpler to sell to such shops, rather than sending on sale or return consignment.
Importing and exporting digital goods
- Platforms like Amazon will continue to handle tax issues for you
- If you sell direct, you will continue to be responsible for handling sales tax
This affects: All of us, probably. The largest group will be those of us who sell ebooks and audiobooks. It may also affect some of our partners, and those who buy from them – in particular cover designers and illustrators, where what is sold is an electronic file (as opposed to editors or overseas-based researchers, who may swap files with you but are selling a service).
Your key information page is here.
In short: If you sell ebooks or audiobooks through a platform like Amazon. The platform will continue to be responsible for handing administration such as sales tax. If you provide electronic goods directly, whether that’s downloads from your website or commissioned items such as cover designs, you will continue to be responsible for charging sales tax at the appropriate rate. If you purchase files such as cover designs, your supplier will be responsible for charging you the correct amount of sales tax, and you will be responsible for reporting this in your home country.
Importing and exporting services
- Most things remain unchanged, but you will now need to check local regulations where your client is based. The UK government website has links.
This affects: Those of us who use, or provide, the kind of support on which many writers rely. That would include those who provide editing, formatting, website, or virtual assistance support. Also people engaged in background research, for example on a location or material in an archive. It would not include illustrators, cover designers, or voice artists where the thing being provided is a digital piece of work. Nor would it include researchers where what is produced is a finished article for a non-fiction manuscript or a tabulated file for use as an illustration. Web help is a good illustration of the difference between a digital good and a service. While a logo for use on a website is clearly a “good” rather than a service, a fully-formed website is almost always going to be a service, because what you are paying for will inevitably be an arrangement of content at least some of which was provided by you rather than the underlying code.
In short: There will be some differences you might notice, though you will not need an EORI number. Where you are providing digital services – for example editing – and you rely on shared platforms or software with your client (or vice versa with your editor), there might be some issues, depending on your provider. Previously, if a cloud-based piece of software worked in one place it would work in another under the portability of online content rules. So you would have been able to set up access for a client to use what you use. This may still happen but is no longer guaranteed, as the portability guarantee rules no longer apply in the UK (see here).
You will also face restrictions if you need to travel to visit your client. There is no longer freedom of movement, so traveling to carry out work will become very difficult. Expect even more Zoom.
Finally, the fact that the UK is no longer part of the European Economic Area (EEA) means that there is no longer a single set of regulations governing services. Instead, you will need to familiarize yourself with local regulations in each country you deal with. You can find guidance here and links to each local set of regulations here.
Touring and performing
- Taking things overseas to sell will require customs declarations. You may want to have books sent on by your printer directly
- Work visas for touring artists remain an unresolved issue but at present those who are paid to perform will find getting visas hard
This affects: Anyone who travels in their role as a writer. That could be travel for research, travel to promote a book, or travel for live performance of your work. It will also affect people who teach writing at retreats, or summer schools or cruises.
In short: If you are taking part in a book tour, and you will be selling books as part of that tour, you will need to fill out a customs declaration if you carry the books with you when you travel. Your printer may be able to handle this for you, either if they are based in the same trading area as your audience, or if they are able to handle transportation of books to, for example, the first venue.
- The rules won't fundamentally change but the lack of a single set of rules may mean more paperwork to protect your rights
This affects: All of us who create content. And, indeed, those who use content, such as podcasters or meme creators.
In short: the protections which people enjoy under copyright law are not changing in ways that would affect indie writers. Nonetheless, some of those rights for UK rights holders will no longer apply as a result of EU but as a result of newly-implemented UK processes. That means – a common theme – that to hold the same rights you previously held you may need extra paperwork. As far as I am able to ascertain, the only scenario in which this is likely to affect us at all is around orphan rights. These are rights to publish works whose rights holders cannot be traced. At present, some institutions are given an exception to rules that stop them publishing these works under EU law. UK institutions will no longer have these rights and must remove any works affected and reapply for the same rights under the new UK scheme. Details are here if you think this may affect you.
Anyone who holds intellectual property other than copyright (such as patents or trademarks) is likewise likely to find their rights remain the same but require extra paperwork as they will now need to be protected in two jurisdictions rather than one. Full guidance is here.
- What you have done for GDPR will continue to work
Read more here.
This affects: anyone who processes personal information. Most commonly among indies this will be those of us with mailing lists. It is also applicable to those whose websites use personalised cookies.