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EU VAT regulation change and how this will affect publishers – a summary of priority actions

It is clear that the majority of EU-based publishers will be affected, whether directly or indirectly, by the new rules relating to charging VAT within the EU for digital products which come into effect on 1 January 2015. In the past, the UK publishing industry has been largely shielded from having to deal with the complexities of VAT, primarily because hard-copy books, journals and educational materials are zero-rated. However, with the explosion of digital content and the corresponding VAT implications, many UK publishers may well need to review their VAT position in any event as well as prepare for the increased complexities about to arrive in the New Year.

Process issues you need to address as a priority
With regard to the new rules, you will obviously first need to work out if you will be directly affected, and if so, how. The key factor here is to determine who actually makes the sale to the ultimate purchaser:

  • Publishers and sales agents will first need to identify all sales channels for digital products.
  • For each of these sales channels. you will need to confirm where the VAT liability arises, and whether there is any VAT due. For example with open access there may be no VAT liability in the first place if access is genuinely free of charge.
  • You will need to establish the contractual position in relation to each sales channel, which may be different depending on whether you are selling through Amazon, a subscriptions agency or through your own website, for example.

Where ebooks are sold through an ebook vendor such as Amazon or journals are sold via a subscriptions agency, it is usually assumed that the ebook vendor or agency is acting in their own name on behalf of the publisher.

In practice, however, publishers and sales agents such as Amazon need to be aware of the terms of the contractual arrangement between the three parties potentially involved, namely publisher, distributor and consumer, and they will also need to be aware of the respective nature of the roles played by each of them.

So, as publishers, you will need to establish precisely what the contractual position is with your distributor/s, and should not assume anything. Furthermore, you should also consider who the consumer thinks they are purchasing from as this may override the contractual position in the eyes of the tax authorities.

In the same way, you shouldn’t assume that the Mini One Stop Shop scheme (MOSS), the simplified mechanism for registering once and paying once rather than having to register and pay separately in each jurisdiction, is a one size fits all solution preferable in every situation.

On the face of it MOSS is the obvious choice, being an attractive alternative to registering in up to 28 Countries. However, there will be occasions where it might not be appropriate and separate registration would be preferable: for example, where a publisher also sells goods and other services or significant VAT is incurred in other countries.

But non-EU publishers currently operating under the VAT on E-Services (VoES) scheme introduced in 2003 will also be caught by the changes and will have to re-register under the non-Union VAT MOSS scheme from 1 January 2015 as VoES registrations will be cancelled with effect from 31 December 2014.

As a matter of priority, publishers should also be tackling relevant systems and procedure issues before the January 2015 changes take place, especially if they are not selling e-services solely through a platform such as Amazon. These include:

  • establishing how you confirm purchasers’ locations
  • deciding whether you are going to charge a single retail price, for example for sales to customers in the Euro zone, or whether your retail prices should vary to take into account purchasers’ locations. You will need to bear in mind that, if you opt for a single price method, it will be your responsibility to advise platforms such as Amazon what the net price and VAT amounts are for each jurisdiction.
  • reviewing and even renegotiating sales contracts, where the parties involved wish to protect their own positions.

You will need to identify the implications of your choices and ensure that you have understood the full impact. For example, let’s look at an illustration involving sales to Luxembourg, the UK and Hungary: if you decide to charge the same retail price in each country, the different VAT rates will mean that, although the consumer is paying the same amount, the net receipts will differ significantly. You may wish to take account of this variable outcome in your sales and royalty contracts.

Systems issues you need to address as a priority
The first thing to do is to make absolutely sure you have identified all the relevant systems. You may think it’s obvious but you may be surprised when you think it all through quite how far-reaching the required changes may be.

You will almost certainly have your own website which may or may not provide an ecommerce facility. However, your products are likely to be sold via third-party websites and you need to be absolutely clear on both the contractual position and the presentation to the consumer in these situations to ensure you are not liable for the VAT processing. The VAT authorities have stated that it is the responsibility of the “platform” to report and pay the VAT but there appears to be some confusion over what constitutes a “platform” in these circumstances and whether the “platform” or the publisher is actually the vendor to the consumer.

Your sales invoicing systems are obviously going to be affected and, even if you have outsourced your order processing and stock control, you will probably be continuing to undertake at least some invoicing in-house – bulk deals, contract publishing, rights sales and so on.

Your accounting systems are vital in addressing the EU VAT changes as they are going to be the final repository of your VAT position and will probably be the mechanism used to control payment to the tax authorities. You should review without delay whether they will be able to meet the demands of the new EU VAT regime.

Your production and bibliographic data systems tend to be your central repository of product information and are also the mechanism you probably use to disseminate information about your products to the outside world – aggregators, websites, Amazon and the like. These obviously need to be capable of capturing and distributing the additional information you may need to meet the requirements of the new EU VAT regime.

Once you have identified those systems that are likely to be affected, you will need to specify the changes you need to make. Here is a summary checklist:

  • The first and most obvious one is the calculation of the appropriate VAT amount. To do this, your system will need to be able to recognise where the purchaser is located and what rate of VAT to apply.
  • Secondly, and equally importantly, your VAT calculation mechanism needs to provide the relevant VAT reporting. This may go beyond the level of detail you are currently producing.
  • Thirdly, your systems need to offer highly flexible facilities to both calculate and store the necessary retail and other prices for each relevant jurisdiction particularly in order to deal with variable VAT rates in the Eurozone.
  • A key area to review may also be the transfer of information between different systems whether that’s between you and, for example, Neilsen or Amazon, your bibliographic data system and yours or someone else’s website, all your sales systems and your accounting system and so on.
  • You should also review the reconciliation and auditing facilities built-in to your systems and processes and implement/improve these where necessary. (This may not be something that currently exists at all in, for example, your ecommerce systems.)
  • And last, though by no means least, you need to factor in the difficulties you may face with any required software development. You obviously need to make the software changes in advance of the drop-dead deadline of 1 January 2015 but you cannot implement the changes until that date in your live system. However, in the meantime you may need to make other changes to your systems and you will either need to develop two systems in parallel or try and develop the VAT changes in such a way that they can be slotted in at the last moment.

In summary
So, in summary, the first thing to do is identify the operational areas and IT systems likely to be affected by this change and establish your contractual positions. Secondly, you should take appropriate professional advice – there is no substitute for this. Thirdly, you need to be engaging already with your software development partners on what’s involved. Once you’ve taken these initial actions, you should then be in a position to put together and implement your EU VAT action plan.


This article has been prepared for the Firsty Group by PKF Littlejohn LLP. It has been prepared as a general guide. No responsibility for loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of any material in this publication can be accepted by the author or publisher. For specific advice please contact PKF Littlejohn LLP’s tax department at

PKF Littlejohn is a member of the PKF International Limited network of legally independent firms and does not accept any responsibility or liability for the actions or inactions on the part of any other individual member or correspondent firm or firms.

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