Vinyl instead of CDs, and books instead of eBooks? Yes, due to the taxman…

The past 6 months I’ve bought about as much music on vinyl (LP if you will) as I bought on CD and/or as digital download. That was a bold move, but it feels good to hold these large covers again, have a readable sized lyrics sheet and force yourself to listen to music because every 20 minutes you have to flip a record. Nostalgia perhaps, but it works for me – even if new vinyl is more expensive than the same album on CD in many cases (which is somewhat covered by the fact that the vinyl often comes with a CD included, or a download link).

For books, I took the opposite root a few years ago, when I bought an Amazon Kindle – which was later (after my son stepped on the screen) replaced by a Kobo reader and some Kindle-to-ePub conversion software. Instead of further filling the living room and the study with books, I filled my laptop and my e-reader with e-books. That seems to slowly come to a halt now, thanks to our dear elected politicians in The Hague and Brussels, and the officials of which they are the marionettes. What happened? Well, since January 1st, just like for digital music and other ‘e-services’, VAT in the EU is calculated based on the country of the buyer instead of the seller. That means the eBooks I used to buy in the US or UK are now charged with 21% VAT instead of the much lower US or UK rates. So far so good, if the e-books I bought had been available in The Netherlands I would’ve had to pay that too – but Amazon (my preferred supplier of 20 years) had no Dutch web site so that was no issue.

Now that this has changed however, I found out that there are more (and equally annoying rules and regulations in place) that hinder me. Apparently, due to copyright protection, I cannot order e-books from the UK, although I can from the US. What bothers me more actually is that the new prices reflect very clearly that I do not only have to pay Dutch VAT now, but also a bunch of other taxes and surcharges. I complained about the price difference at Amazon, but even the friendly lady working there, who called me less than an hour later, could not explain all of that.

Just to show what I mean – here’s what happened. I wanted to buy the book Rocking the Classics by Edward Macan. An English book, so I went to Amazon UK. Nice, the e-book would cost me 10 pounds. However, after logging in, I got the message it could not be ordered outside the UK, so I had to go to Amazon.nl, the Dutch site.

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Amazon UK, without taxes

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Amazon UK, cannot buy from outside UK

On Amazon.nl, the book was on offer for almost 54 euros, over 4 times as much as the UK price. Our local VAT is 21%, so what explains the other 279% price raise? I have no idea, and I’m not sure I’m even willing to investigate this. Then the lady from Amazon Netherlands called and explained that VAT and other charges apply, and that these become visible after logging in and entering a Dutch address on Amazon.com.

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Dutch site – EUR 53,96 (four times as much as in the UK)

So, I went to Amazon.com, the US site and indeed (after removing some cookies) I found that the same e-book costs 19 dollars there. Then I logged in and suddenly the price because 60 dollars, roughly 53 euro indeed. With VAT applied, I could’ve understood 25 or 26 dollars, but this is double that.

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Amazon US: 19 dollars is a bit more than 10 pounds, but UK doesn’t apply VAT to books, so that’s understandable

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Amazon.com price for EU countries is 60 dollars – 21% VAT I can understand, but what is the rest about?

So, what did I do? I found out that VAT on e-books in the EU is higher than on real books, because European law considers them electronic services instead of books. A lobby is ongoing to change that by 2020, but I still have no clue what the other additional charges are. For now, I decided to take the same route as with music and move away from digital if I can or at least if the price gets too high. I ordered the hardcover edition of the book, which cost me 38 pounds in the Amazon UK store, but at least I can be reasonably sure that the additional money is not going to inexplicable surcharges (at least that is what I tell myself now).

Often, I feel a an urge to leave Europe behind and move to Canada, New Zealand or South Africa, and on days like this that urge gets even stronger. Unfortunately, I have no guarantee that things are better in these places…

Closing note: Amazon Netherlands will, based on this, consider adding more explicit information about taxes and charges on their web site. Let’s hope they go beyond considering it.