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Europe calls for open standards on ebooks

kindle

By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 14 Oct 2011 at 10:38

The European Commission has taken aim at the ebook industry, calling for open standards and reduced taxes on electronic publications.

Neelie Kroes, vice-president responsible for the EU's Digital Agenda, told a meeting of the Federation of European Publishers in Frankfurt that consumers should be able to read books bought for one ebook reader on another device if they chose.

“As the e-publishing sector develops, we may also have to consider how to deliver interoperability,” Kroes said. “That might mean, for example, that people can buy content for any device from any supplier, transfer that content between their own devices, and keep possession of it even beyond the device's lifespan.

“That could deliver openness, freedom and choice for the consumer - with benefits too for smaller market players like independent bookshops. Open standards already exist in this field, but take-up is still low.”

I just cannot explain why ebooks and printed books are taxed differently

The address could be seen as a veiled warning to publishers and distributors that block content from rival device manufacturers, such as with Google's eBookstore, where purchases are not compatible with the popular Kindle from Amazon.

Tax breaks

Another wider issue that's been seen as holding back the ebook market is the price of titles, and although this depends partly on publishers the price is elevated further by governments applying VAT on electronic titles, while hard copies remain VAT free.

Kroes called on governments, such as the UK that imposes 20% tax on ebooks, to change the rules to bring them into line with paperbacks, which are exempt.

“We should ensure that public policy, for example tax treatment, does not distort the developing market, does not 'play favourites' between different technological solutions,” she said. “We need to work to converge the tax treatment of digital content.

“I just cannot explain why ebooks and printed books are taxed differently,” she said. “For the moment, in the majority of member state responses to the Commission's Green Paper on VAT, we have detected a really disappointing level of conservatism on this point.”

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User comments

About time to be honest, with the industry expanding so rapidly there needs to be uniformity of format to ensure a fair market place is achieved. Now if only this was enforced for music sales DRM as well....

By skarlock on 14 Oct 2011

Nice dream

By amicus700 on 14 Oct 2011

@skarlock

Music isn't so much an issue now (at least with iTunes and Amazon).

Video is still a major issue though.

By tech3475 on 14 Oct 2011

Nice to see the EU pushing things in the right direction.

By JamesD29 on 14 Oct 2011

@tech3475

As far as I was aware iTunes is still DRM locked which prevents non-Apple MP3 players from being able to use the service?

By skarlock on 14 Oct 2011

skarlock

no iTunes is DRM free. Any mp3 player can use the downloads. However they can't plug directly into iTunes and sync like an iPod. Have I got that right?

By TimoGunt on 14 Oct 2011

Quote: "I just cannot explain why ebooks and printed books are taxed differently,” she said. “For the moment, in the majority of member state responses to the Commission's Green Paper on VAT, we have detected a really disappointing level of conservatism on this point."

I can explain it: cash strapped government sees an easy way of getting more money from us.

By jgwilliams on 14 Oct 2011

How about removing VAT from all e-books that are not in a proprietary format? 20% would probably be enough of a margin to make vendor lock-in uncompetitive...

By stuarthamlin on 14 Oct 2011

I am not sure that it's fair to single out google for being incompatible with the kindle. Lots of independant publishers don't support kindle's format but do support epub. It would be a lot better if amazon started supporting epub than everyone else start producing their books for every format out there.

By JamesD29 on 14 Oct 2011

Not sure if they singled out Google

rather they might have been singling out the Kindle for not being more open.

Amazon have been trying to be rather closed & locked in from the start - one (very strong) reason not to buy one.

By greemble on 14 Oct 2011

Oh they'll make taxes the same alright...

they'll just start taxing us on books as well as digital content so that there's no disparity between the two.

By David1981 on 15 Oct 2011

What next, the democratic government of the EU mandating that you may not make or sell an e-reader unless it only uses open source formats?

By Phoomeister on 19 Oct 2011

Proprietory standards

I use the freeware program called Calibre (Windows/Mac/Linux) to transfer eBooks between all the different formats.

By Ampers on 24 Oct 2011

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