EU VAT and the Consumer

I don’t really do politics here.

What I do is write about RPGs and other things that interest me. And while a portion of that is about theory and design of games, a good portion — at least when this blog started — is just about things I like to consume.

So this piece is about me as a consumer. Yes, it’s slightly political, but only because politics are getting in the way of my decisions about what I can and can’t consume.

VAT MOSS and Digital Sales

A lot of what I consume these days comes in digital form — without that I’d be unable to sample many, many games and ebooks from other countries. I’m a believer in the digital marketplace.

I’m also a believer in the small press, indie RPG and ebook scene. It’s easier than ever to write your own game, put it into a pdf and just sell it. That’s a great thing — not only are individuals wholly in control of their own creative content, they don’t have to content with logistical issues of printing and shipping.

(Some day I may be one of those small press publishers, but for now I’m just noodling about, writing drafts and enjoying other people’s content.)

Now, from Jan 1st 2015 there will be a change in the EU law that means VAT is levied at the country where the buyer is, not the seller. This is a measure to prevent big corporations like Amazon paying low VAT rates by locating themselves in member states with low VAT rates. Unfortunately it’s likely to have a devastating effect on small businesses who sell electronic goods. Not only could it affect the VAT threshold in the UK requiring registration, it also would require sellers to keep two identifying pieces of information from each customer they serve — identifying the country where the customer was when the purchase was made — securely for 10 years, on an EU-based server. Furthermore the measures that the HMRC think will help sole-traders — selling on platforms — not only divert profits from sole traders to those intermediaries (e.g. Amazon, the irony), but may not even be compliant or willing to comply.

There’s more information in various places. There’s a UK Facebook group, a petition directed at Vince Cable and another one directed at Pierre Moscovici, and several other great articles about why #VATMOSS is going to be a #VATMESS:

I’m sorry I don’t have time to curate them all, but they should be easy to find if you look. Last but important link is this survey:

I don’t have a digital business, but if you do, please look at it.

But anyway. Let’s set aside the concerns of the small business owner, even though I really feel for all my creative friends who are being affected by this mess. Let’s ignore the effects on the culture of creator owned and sold works, even though they’re my kind of people. Let’s just think about me, the consumer. What does this mean?

It means less choice. Projects never seeing the light of day. People unable to make a living doing creative stuff, therefore having to do much less of it in their spare time while they do a “real job” during the day. All because it’s so confusing and such an administrative burden that, for the individual creator, the joy at creating and selling their own work becomes ever so slightly less than the massive inconvenience they suffer to get it out to the public.

I’m not saying it will definitely be this bad. But there are people considering stopping digital sales at the start of next year because of the uncertainty around compliance and the fear of fines from EU states. Whether it’s because the administrative burden is real or just that this issue has been badly communicated, we’ve already lost out.

That’s why I’m boosting the signal here. I expect the handful of people who read this blog are going to be consumers like me, so you need to know. And you should support the creative people around you.

EU Flag