Coming down and calming down from two hectic days at the London Book Fair, I’m sitting in our Harlech office looking out at the waves and the wind and the sunshine, and contemplating the immense power of books.
There’s no doubt the publishing world is in turmoil, with fewer people buying books, ebooks taking an ever larger slice of the pie, bookshops closing every week and a general air of uncertainty hanging over everything. This of course adds to the excitement, and there is, as always in publishing, this sense of ambiguity — are we in the right business? Should we be looking forward? Or over our shoulders?
Two companies expressed an interest, however veiled, in acquiring fotoLibra. Of course there’s a world of difference between acquiring and buying, but it’s interesting to see that some firms are discreetly expanding, and not necessarily in their core disciplines. I should add that these are the first signals of this type we’ve seen in nine years. Flattering, I guess.
To get an indication of the measure of hope in the business, I posed a theoretical question: “If you personally had fifty thousand to invest, would you put it in a firm making printing machinery or a firm making screens?” No one answered directly. Everyone nodded slowly.
There is a rearguard action. At the fair advertising king Maurice Saatchi launched his Books Are My Bag campaign, claimed to be the biggest ever promotion of bookshops. Who doesn’t love a bookshop? But we’re all buying online, and condemning them to a slow, lingering death. Asked to name my favourite bookshop, I hesitated — there used to be two in Crouch End, now there are none.
It’s not because everyone is buying ebooks. An ebook is still a book; it’s just presented differently. And the only ebooks that are selling are fiction. Illustrated ebooks, as we have found out to our cost, are hard to shift. Heritage Ebooks, which we launched with great hope and wonderful images from fotoLibra photographers, has struggled to find a market. We did a deal with The Folly Fellowship, an organisation concerned with the history and preservation of this curious aspect of Britain’s architectural heritage, to give their members a thumping great discount on the purchase of any of our forty Follies of England ebook titles. How many folly enthusiasts took up the offer? None. Not one. Zilch. That is disheartening.
But The Guardian tells me they’re now doing a feature on our Heritage Ebooks, illustrating ten of our ebook covers. That would be nice. I’ll believe it when I see it. BREAKING NEWS: They’re not doing it. Our ebook covers are Portrait format, and they said they needed Landscape. The covers have lettering on them — the book titles, actually — and they wanted them without lettering. It turns out what they really wanted was ten free photographs of follies.
Despite all this doom and gloom, the London Book Fair was humming. Large companies had dozens of tables, each one with four people talking intently with heads bowed. Business was being done. Smaller firms were concentrating just as hard. The only oases of quiet were to be found in the Arab quarter: huge, lavish, glittering, empty national stands, as depopulated as the deserts.
I captioned this piece The Power Of The Word. The word has more power to stimulate the imagination than the image, I regret to admit. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “People remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and 50% of what they see and hear.” But we’re not told what sort of people they asked. These aren’t book people.
Book people feed on words. I’ll give you an example. I’ve known my old pal Mike for over forty years. We haven’t been in touch a lot since he left publishing, but we hooked up last Christmas and resumed normal service. For a Significant Birthday he was planning a tour of Japan. His highlight was going to be queuing outside a bookshop to be the first to buy Haruki Murakami’s new novel. That was, to borrow a phrase from Gilbert Harding, his Sole Purpose of Visit. What power can there be in words to drag a foreigner halfway around the world — literally! — to join (or in Mike’s case, form) a queue outside a Japanese bookshop? I wish I had readers like that. He’s still out there, by the way, and blogging about it as he travels around the country. You can read his adventures here. Oh — and he left book publishing to become a film-maker. Images for words.
So this week was the book fair. fotoLibra’s major source of income is from book publishers. Next week will be the picture buyers’ fair, fotoFringe in King’s Cross. It will be a busy week for us. And there will be some interesting NEWS from fotoLibra.
This story comes from the Consumer Champions page in The Guardian this Saturday:
Why can’t we use Google images on our website?
I set up my sister’s website and used two Google images. It said nothing about copyright – but now Getty has billed us £950.
In August 2010 my sister asked me to design a website for her hair and beauty salon.
We found two striking images on Google and used them. We rejected those which had “copyright” or similar words, or where the identity of the model was obvious.
Three months later, Getty Images wrote claiming the photos were subject to its copyright. She was asked to remove them immediately and to cease and desist from further use. She was also billed £950 for “unpaid licence fees”, an enormous sum for a local business.
As I reckoned the images were worth about £50 at most, and were only on the site for three months, I ignored this demand. Getty sent a heavier letter in January 2011. In June, she received a “notice of case escalation” and the fee demanded was now £1,149.50, an impossible amount to pay.
We heard nothing more – I thought Getty had realised there was little point in chasing this – until December 2012 when debt collectors sent a threatening letter. Is this a big organisation trying to beat up a small business? BF, Shrewsbury
Getty Images collects fees for photographers whose work is used.
They have to earn their crust – and pay models, make-up artists, lighting technicians and others involved in a shoot. Using their images for free is copyright theft. But Getty Images acknowledges that when non-professional web designers try to find artwork through a search engine, it can be unclear what – if any – fee there is to pay, and even more unclear how to pay.
Phrases such as “These images may be in copyright” could apply to all, or none, of the images viewed. In your case, you selected two pricey images at £475 each to use for six months.
Getty accepts that you would not have taken these had you known the cost. These images were “digital rights managed” and their use is easily detectable.
You could, however, have chosen “royalty-free” images which would have given you a lifetime’s use for £10 to £20.
There are a number of websites to consult before using images [and here the left-leaning British newspaper The Guardian provides links to two American-owned websites].
Getty accepts “that there are many small businesses and image users that are new to licensing content” and says “it is not our core business to chase hairdressers”.
And while it called in debt collectors, it has not sold them the debt – it remains a matter between Getty and you.
Following our call, it has reassessed the situation. It says it is unfair for those involved in the shoot to be unpaid, but it is willing to cut the bill to £500 as a compromise solution.
We feel that this is reasonable.
Ah, poor dab! A big organisation trying to beat up an ickle-wickle image thief? The ‘compromise solution’ is more than reasonable, I’d say. I wonder what the complainant thought of that?
“As I reckoned the images were worth about £50 at most, and were only on the site for three months, I ignored this demand.”
So that’s all right then. This ignorant, selfish, greedy web designer is complaining because her theft has been uncovered. And by complaining, she has managed to get her bill reduced by £450. Result, I’d say.
The Internet is a wondrous thing, God wot, but it has led to a number of unforeseen situations. Firstly, the value of a photograph has plummeted. Secondly, previously honest, trustworthy individuals now feel no qualms about stealing images, music, films and games on the basis that “if I can see it on my screen it’s mine.”
It’s interesting, but hardly surprising, that the people who have commented on this complaint on The Guardian’s website have all been critical of the complainant.
Photos cost photographers to take. The photographer will probably have had to pay for equipment, studio / lighting hire and models. What you thought the photos were worth is irrelevant. As is the excuse that you were not professional. It saddens me that the Guardian would run an ill-thought out and unbalanced piece like this that completely undermines an industry that has it tough enough already.
And Baldur McQueen comments
“….I reckoned the images were worth about £50 at most…”
I love that
I do wonder if I could do the same at the Hair & Beauty Salon?
“…. I reckon this haircut is worth a fiver at most, so I’ll pay you nothing…”
Good on you both.
I’m thinking maybe we should have a Copyright notice on every fotoLibra page. We should never overestimate the intelligence of users.
fotoLibra is to Getty Images as plankton to a whale, and we do not have cadres of sharp-suited lawyers we can order to jump at our command. And obviously we can’t police illegal image usage around the world.
But we are prepared to go to law in the UK on behalf of our Pro and Platinum members in good standing who can show us proof of UK commercial usage of any of their images which had earlier been uploaded to fotoLibra. This is strung about with conditions, alas, which is not as good as we would have liked, but it is a strong gesture of intent. Where we have had sufficient evidence to go before the Small Claims Court on behalf of our Pro and Platinum members, we have done so — and we have won every time, and got the money.
What we can’t do is sue private bloggers who use watermarked fotoLibra Previews, or organisations based overseas. Any Previews they may take have all got big fotoLibra watermarks, so everyone know’s they nicked the image, and who they nicked it from. In the UK we can certainly send them take-down notices and demand payment and a link through to the photographer’s page on fotoLibra, but the threat of having a County Court Judgement against them seems little deterrent to bloggers, who are often pseudonymous.
On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.
I don’t know if it’s age, cynicism or personal general grumpiness but there seem to be a lot more villains around now than when I were a lad.
If you run a shop, shrinkage is the name you give to shoplifting. I guess it’s endemic. If you run a website like fotoLibra, you make sure you are as well protected as possible from shoplifters, or hackers if we use a general term for web-based criminality.
To put it in terms that I understand, we have to stop thieves. We have two sorts — those who want to steal your photographs, and those who want to steal our money. The latter is far more common, I’m sorry to say.
Stealing photographs, first of all. The basic fact is they can’t, not unless they can design and mount an incredibly expensive and sophisticated assault on our firewalled servers. But frankly, we’re not Cartier or Tiffany. It’s much cheaper to buy an image from us than spend months trying to figure out how to steal it. So there’s little incentive. The few infringements we do spot are people using fotoLibra watermarked Previews on their websites, on the basis that if it’s on the internet, it must be free. On behalf of our Pro and Platinum members, we have successfully sued every commercial infringer we have discovered in our jurisdiction.
Stealing money is far more devious, and we fell for it once — and only once. This is how it works. First ‘You’ steal someone’s credit card details. Then You join fotoLibra as a free member and upload one picture. Then You join fotoLibra as a buyer, using the name on the stolen credit card. Then You buy the picture You’ve just uploaded for a humungous amount of money, using Your stolen credit card.
Unfortunately for You, we at fotoLibra scrutinise every sale carefully, and if something doesn’t look right, we pounce — unlike lethargic banks and credit card companies.
There was an incident last year when an Indonesian photographer uploaded a couple of images and six hours later two separate women in the USA signed up as buyers and bought his images for large sums of money. We notify photographers of sales every 30 days, but somehow our Indonesian chummy felt sure his images had been sold long before we would have informed him and pestered us daily to pay him ‘his’ money. We didn’t, and six weeks later the bank removed the entire amount from our account, citing credit card fraud. Strange that we never heard back from the photographer after we informed him a criminal investigation was under way.
Yesterday and today we made two big image sales, both of (I’m sorry to say) of unremarkable images, both uploaded by different Vietnamese photographers. One was bought for a great deal of money by an Australian, the other for nearly as much money by a lady in Leicestershire.
Now if my name is Gwyn Headley, I can’t for the life of me see why I should open a Hotmail account under the name of firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s just not logical. So when we saw the lady in Leicestershire — let’s call her Lulu Leicester — had ‘bought’ the image using the email address Debbie Derby the first warning bells began to ring.
We searched for ‘Lulu Leicester’ online, and found a telephone number for her. She is a respected academic. We rang her and asked ‘Have you recently bought a photograph from fotoLibra.com?’ No, she hadn’t heard of us. ‘Does your credit card end in 1234?’ Yes, it does. “Cancel it immediately,’ we said, ‘it has been compromised and has been used in an attempt to commit fraud.’
We haven’t contacted the Australian gentleman, but as he signed up as a buyer seven minutes after the second Vietnamese photographer joined up and uploaded his one photograph we suspect he’s probably not what he claims to be.
All this takes time and vigilance. The scam works this way: we pay 50% of the money we receive to the photographer, the thieves prove the use of a working credit card and go on to empty its resources in a matter of hours. Six weeks later (it’s always a little over six weeks, never any quicker) the banks wake up and deduct the money from our account, never informing us in advance.
The Australian purchaser tried three different credit cards in three different names before the fourth went through. We cancelled these transactions immediately.
We can track these people down — we know where they are — and we would be happy to pass the information on to the competent authority. The trouble is, who has the authority? And are they competent?
Wouldn’t it be nice if the banks were as alert as we try to be?
Accountability, bonuses, bureaucratic, contracts, copyright, educational, EU, European, fotoLibra, global corporations, grants, grim, images, incentives, inflexible, Jude The Invisible, Jude The Obscure, monolithic, new possibilities, ordeals, organisations, outlets, overseas, photographers, picture libraries, procedures, procurement, public money, public sector, revenue, suppliers, taxes, Transparency, Welsh
A Happy New Year to you!
We’re always looking for new outlets to which to sell fotoLibra members’ images, and between Christmas and the New Year we had a very interesting meeting with an extremely high-powered yet friendly executive who lives close by fotoLibra’s Hertfordshire office.
There is a vast European educational and public sector out there which is largely untapped by normal picture libraries because like most organisations funded with public money, Accountability & Transparency in Procurement are their watchwords. This inevitably means routes to market are not so much Jude The Obscure as Jude The Invisible — there is no way a company such as ours can ring up a representative from one of these monolithic organisations and mutter “pssst! wanna buy some images?” We couldn’t even find out who to talk to.
Everything has to take place through bureaucratic procurement procedures, grim, inflexible ordeals which are less concerned about the quality, range and variety of the images we have to offer than discovering the number of ethnic Welsh people we employ and our policy towards recycling hard disks.
By the simple expedient of not paying taxes, global corporations can afford to employ the sort of people who love ticking all these boxes, so they get flooded with grants, incentives and bonuses as well as three-yearly contracts to be exclusive coffee and image suppliers to the Ruritarian Public Affairs Ministry.
We struggle on. Thanks to our executive friend, we now have at least an inkling of the riches lying out there, just beyond our reach at the moment. But we have more contacts who understand this world far better than our simple viewpoint, and we believe they may be prepared to help us.
Like every other picture library, our sales have fallen over the past three or four years, and we are doing everything in our power to restore lost revenue and explore new possibilities. If our photographers aren’t making money, we’re not making money, so we need to find out about these overseas procurement procedures fast. Even so, our friend warned us “Don’t expect anything to happen for three years. This is the world of bureaucracy, after all.”
We went on to the website of one of these organisations and found this rather good and clearly explained guide to copyright for picture users in the EU. I should point out that this was discovered on the English-language subset of a foreign-language quango’s website:
Information for image users
When will you have dealings with us? Virtually every publication, every website and every television programme uses images. Copyright law stipulates that the author’s permission is required for this. That permission is usually linked to a financial payment: image creators must, after all, live on the income from their creative labours. Apart from a couple of exceptions, publishers and producers are obliged to trace the creators of the images in order to ask permission for publication. The fact that this is not always easy does not detract from this obligation. Our agency enables the user to arrange this effectively in advance. Over 50,000 image creators both in this country and abroad are registered with us and we issue licences on their behalf. Our rates are harmonised with sister organisations abroad. Our agency arranges permission for publication.
Asking permission is compulsory Users are often confused as to what they can and cannot do under copyright law. The golden rule is: anyone who wants to publish someone else’s image must ask permission for this from the creator or their heirs. This obligation only lapses 70 years after the death of the artist. Hence the work of Rembrandt is rights-free, but that of Picasso is not. Anyone who publishes a picture of a painting by Picasso in a book or leaflet without permission runs the risk of having to pay damages.
That’s nice and clear and straightforward.
Not every government announcement has to be draped in the cobwebs of obscurity. And this was English as a foreign language. I wish I could write as clearly. I think we could work with these people.
What do other nations say when taking a photograph of people? Maybe some of our fotoLibra members in 161 different countries can enlighten me?
One person who’ll be smiling tonight is David Douglas Duncan, the great American war photographer. I must confess that as I’m not a photographic historian, I hadn’t heard of him, but his photographs of WWII and the Korean war brought him fame.
When he was 40 he introduced himself to Picasso, and went on to publish seven books of photographs of the great artist.
Now his camera, a Leica M3D, has just sold at auction in Austria for a record-breaking £1.4 million. Leica made the M3 from 1954 to 1966, and the D suffix was because this particular camera was made specifically for David Douglas Duncan. He wasn’t exclusively a Leica man; Nikon gave him the 200,000th Nikon F in recognition of his help in popularising the camera.
In 1986 you could pick up a Leica M3 with double-stroke advance in excellent condition for $125. What would it be worth now?
The most expensive camera ever sold was also a Leica, the prototype Leica O-series from 1923, also sold in Austria in May this year for €2.16 million. That fetched $25,000 in 1986.
How much will your prized Canon or Nikon be worth a few years down the road? I’ve got my eye on another Leica M3, a gold jobby as distinct from the common-or-garden chrome or black versions. I think I know where it is, too — it’s inside Buckingham Palace, property of HM The Queen.
I wonder how much THAT would be worth?
“Pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap” was the old Tesco motto, and that’s how buyers get seduced by microstock. All you can see when you first look is A DOLLAR PER PICTURE. Irresistible, thinks the picture buyer’s boss or client. Use them.
Look what happens if we pick a fotoLibra picture at random. Let’s chose FOT373296. I’m throwing a dice to get this number, which is why there’s no zero in it. It turns out to be a photograph of Rowley Waterfalls in Lancashire by Simon Wimbles. Now say I am a publisher and I need a photograph of Rowley Waterfalls. Let’s try Shutterstock. They have none.
Let’s try a few other big name microstock agencies.
iStockPhoto (owned by GettyImages): none
fotoLia (wonder what inspired that name?): none
OK, that was too hard. It seems that the only picture of Rowley Waterfalls you can buy is from fotoLibra. And it will cost you more than a dollar.
Let’s try FOT432625. This is an aerial shot of Heathrow Airport by Michael Webberley. That’s better — the microstock agencies are sure to have Heathrow. And they do:
Shutterstock: 43 images, 2 aerial shots
iStockPhoto: 37 images, 1 aerial shot
fotoLia: 31 images, no aerial shots
Dreamstime: 54 images, 2 aerial shots
I swear to you that this image was chosen at random. Tiddly fotoLibra, by comparison, has 183 photographs of Heathrow.
So if I want an aerial shot of Heathrow for a double page spread in my glossy magazine, here’s my selection from Shutterstock:
Neither of these are very good. They don’t show me Heathrow Airport. Let’s try Dreamstime:
Two like this. Portrait, not landscape.
More reservoir than airport. Anyway, I’ve had enough, the boss has told me to buy from those places which have pictures for a dollar, so here goes.
I don’t want to subscribe to buying 1,000 pictures a month, I only want one high-quality aerial shot of Heathrow Airport. Once I’ve waded through all the options, these are the prices I think I can get these images for:
Shutterstock: Not allowed to buy a single image. I can however buy an enhanced licence for two images for £119. So this picture will cost me £119.
iStockPhoto: I need to buy credits. This costs 20 credits. I can’t buy 20 credits, I can only buy 26 credits for £31. So this picture will cost me £31.
fotoLia: Nothing that I wanted, but if I needed an image at this size, it would cost me 16 credits. 20 credits are £21, so that’s what it would cost.
Dreamstime: 54 images, 2 aerial shots
agnostic, bigot, bigoted, Britain, colour, culture, educational, European, fotoLibra, gender, hala, image requests, Israeli, Jewish, kosher, learning materials, liberal, members, Middle East, monocultural, Moslem, multicultural, photographs, Picture Call, professional, publisher, racial insinuations, religion, stupidity, textbook, tolerated
One of fotoLibra‘s unique features is the Picture Call sent out to all members, listing the photographs our clients are actively searching for. If you’ve been a member for a while, you know that it would be hard to create a more diverse and random set of image requests. There’s something for everyone, from landscape photographers to people pix.
And because Britain is home to the world’s most internationally-minded book publishers, we have requests to supply images in books produced for every market, every culture. In multicultural Britain we are inured to butchers selling kosher or halal meat; in monocultural societies any deviation from the prescribed pattern is seldom tolerated.
So when a large and well-established publisher comes to us with a big picture call on to which is bolted a few strange (to our British eyes) conditions, we shrug and send it out. We don’t condone the request by doing so; we are agnostic as far as our clients’ requests go (although we will exclude pornography).
One recent request asked that in the images there should be:
- • no women and men together
- • no women looking at the camera
- • no bare arms, legs or chests
for images to be used in a textbook designed for the Middle Eastern market.
This doesn’t trouble me unduly, although personally I do find it sad that there are people who still think like this in the twenty-first century.
But one fotoLibra member found it too much to bear. He wrote to Jacqui Norman, who had sent out the Picture Call:
I have been thinking about your picture calls and really do not have a polite way of responding to some of them. I am Jewish, Israeli, liberal minded, not bigoted, and strangely professional. I do not understand or want to understand your requests for what are bigoted, probably Moslem countries. I may be the only one who finds them ridiculous but I would appreciate not being part of this stupidity. I do not remember ever refusing work to anyone with such or under such conditions. Having such requests is insulting and I prefer not to play the bigot’s game.
Colour or gender or religion cannot be a part of my metier or behavior. Please refrain from sending me any more such requests. I would not mind at all if you review my request, find it lacking or maybe even agree and publish it on your blog. All the racial insinuations on the list of requests are not a figment of my imagination. After many years in the business I can read between the lines as can so many others.
Thank you for your message and for sharing your thoughts with us. One of our major customers is a very large European educational publisher which supplies text books and learning materials to countries throughout the world. We feel that helping them to produce reference and teaching tools for Middle Eastern students may ultimately improve their understanding of different cultures and peoples in other parts of the globe.
Through our picture calls we seek only to tell photographers what images are being sought at the moment, not to judge or express our own opinions. We regret that you consider a few of these requests insulting or racially inappropriate; they are most definitely not intended to be.
Our member responded:
I have no intention of educating the world or making anyone amenable to my point of view. I do not “doctor” photographs or “stage” them in order to please the bias of a customer. I have found that loss of credibility is infinitely more important than a few cents in my bank account. Your customer is, I doubt, as naive as you make them out to be. Doctored or staged images will only confirm a biased view of the world to those asking for such and will be found out.
Please exclude me from such requests. People’s bias or their points of view are their own concern. I have no intention or presumption improving my customers’ understanding.
I have no problem in ending whatever relationship I have with your company. I cannot afford to be included and find my credibility to be more important. Please refrain from offering any of my work to any of your customers.
I apologise that our picture call and my subsequent email seem to have given you the wrong impression. Of course we are not asking you or any of our photographers to doctor or stage images, nor would a respected publisher consider using such images in an educational book. At the beginning of the picture call, we simply mentioned things that photographers should avoid when selecting images for submission to this particular project.
We can exclude your images for sale to or for use in the Middle Eastern market if you wish us to do so. If you prefer to cancel your membership of fotoLibra and remove all your images from our archive as a direct result of this, then we should be extremely sorry.
The photographer replied:
Maybe you did not understand me. I do sell a great deal of my work in the Middle East, even to countries which do not allow me to visit them. But my relationships are not only cordial but very correct. They know that my images are not staged or doctored in any way, even if the subject does not flatter my country. I cannot understand losing this credibility. They have never asked me to enhance or change the truth of the images I send them, knowing full well that would be the end of our relationship. When my images are different to their expectations they always acknowledge and thank me for showing a different point of view, which they do not usually expect.
I would prefer to cancel my membership and please remove all my images from Fotolibra. I have never qualified my work with any sort of exclusion zone and do sell and present my work without and preconditions.
And there it rests. I thought Jacqui expressed the situation well. And before I posted this blog, I showed the text in its entirety to our photographer, to solicit his comments. They are included as the first comment to this blog, posted by me to preserve the member’s anonymity.
I think that a request such as
- • no women and men together
- • no women looking at the camera
- • no bare arms, legs or chests
does not require staging or doctoring in any way, nor does it breach many peoples’ view of human rights. Like most of these requests, it’s just a cultural thing, and seldom has any basis in the scriptures of the adherents.
What do we do? fotoLibra has over 20,000 registered photographers, and this Picture Call has provoked one complaint. We don’t want to lose him, but we can’t forego the possibility of making 300+ picture sales for our members because one person is offended by the terms and conditions in a Picture Call.
I don’t think these conditions are particularly onerous or indeed unacceptably bigoted. I may be wrong. I’m sure there could be some requests where Jacqui would draw the line, but I can’t imagine any valued client ever asking us for such things.
What do you think?
Not a typo.
It’s an Australian charity which encourages men to grow a moustache during November, to raise money for prostate and testicular cancer charities.
I have never grown any kind of facial hair in my life — I’m not even sure I can — but I’m going to give it a go. It’s a worthwhile cause, and how hard can it be to grow a moustache in 30 days?
We will see. Here is the starting point:
and in 30 days or thereabouts a full fungal facial feature may appear.
I will stop shaving my upper lip on Thursday November 1st.
You may be relieved to hear that there won’t be any further updates on this fotoLibra Pro Blog, which in future will be devoted exclusively to things like lenses, picture sales and apertures (fat chance) but you may come across more mentions on the fotoLibra Groups on Facebook and Linkedin.
And if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll be hearing from me there as well. Otherwise — I won’t trouble you again. Thank you for your time in reading this.
3G, accountants, Amazon, American, Apple, bandwidth, Berwin Leighton Paisner, BLP, British publishing industry, broadband, City, clients, digital publishing, drive prices down, ebooks, Europe, fiscal neutrality, Foyles, gilt-edged, Government, greater good, Heritage Ebooks, HMRC, illustrated ebooks, KFC, law, lawyers, losing, Luxembourg, Macdonalds, photographers, picture libraries, Printed books, pro bono, Publishers, raise prices, standard-rated, Starbucks, tax, Tesco, UK, VAT, Waterstones, zero-rated
Printed books are zero-rated for VAT in the UK. Ebooks are taxed at 20%.
Publishers have taken a softly-softly approach to VAT on ebooks, fearful that if they kick up too much of a fuss the Government will awaken to the fact that printed books are presently zero-rated and slap 20% on them overnight.
Such a move would decimate the British publishing industry — and by extension picture libraries, photographers and all the industry’s ancillary suppliers would take a huge hit. It’s therefore unlikely to happen, but who can predict what a politician may take into his head to do.
City law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner has announced on its website:
“VAT treatment of ebooks – The firm is taking a groundbreaking case challenging HMRC’s view that ebooks are standard-rated for VAT purposes, in contrast with physical books which are zero-rated.”
Hard-nosed commercial firms like BLP do not take cases on pro bono, or challenge national or international law simply for the greater good. Therefore they’re doing this for one of their clients, and that client will have deep, deep pockets.
Who can it be? Who will benefit?
Well, the consumer will benefit if prices fall by 20% (they won’t). Publishers will benefit from a boost in sales.
But by far the biggest beneficiaries will be the retailers. Apple sells ebooks. Tesco sells ebooks. They will both see a hike in profits. BLP numbers Apple and Tesco among its gilt-edged list of clients.
Our digital publishing company Heritage Ebooks sells 50 illustrated ebooks from its site for every one ebook sold by the rest of the UK’s ebook sales outlets — Waterstones, Foyles, Tescos and so on — put together.
And for every one of our ebooks that we sell from our site, Amazon will sell twelve from theirs.
It is disproportionately huge. OK, so we’re tiddlers, microbes even, but I expect the proportions are similar whatever you publish.
Amazon has been subject to much opprobrium and contumely for selling ebooks to UK customers and charging the full 20% VAT while taking advantage of the 3% VAT they pay as a company based in Luxembourg. Like Starbucks, Macdonalds and KFC, large American companies have an aversion to paying their fair share of tax in Europe, and as their lawyers and accountants are sharper than ours, they can get away with it.
And now some organisation, through BLP, is challenging HMRC’s ruling on the grounds that charging different rates of VAT on print books and ebooks breaches EU law on fiscal neutrality.
Come on, this has to be Amazon. Who else could afford such a suit? And who else would profit more?
Amazon charge us, the publisher, for the bandwidth used when a customer buys and downloads a Heritage Ebook from them. Because our ebooks are highly illustrated, they have large filesizes and therefore incur high bandwidth usage fees. And because one or two books are downloaded via 3G rather than broadband, Amazon charges us across the board at mobile phone companies’ bandwidth fees.
The result is that for two of our titles, we are losing 10p on every sale made through Amazon because of their charges. Amazon are thereby forcing us to raise our prices.
And I thought their intention was to drive prices down.