As reported in The Bookseller, UK Booksellers Association CEO Tim Godfray has circulated a rather interesting Christmas message to members, highlighting some key priorities for the BA that appear, on reflection, a little odd – when set against those members’ actual interests.
Godfray sets out to stand up to European Commission pressure to increase VAT on books. “We have to ensure that nothing is done to change the current VAT arrangements for printed books in the UK and Ireland in 2014,” The Bookseller quotes him as saying. But the EC seems more concerned with pushing countries like Luxembourg and France into line on EU standards on ebook VAT than raising UK book VAT lately. Still, anything anti-EU seems to run pretty well in England these days.
As quoted in The Bookseller, Godfray also commits the BA to protection of copyright. “This is the cornerstone of our industry,” he says. “If copyright is weakened, fewer sales will ensue, adversely affecting authors, publishers and booksellers. Piracy is a big issue, but so too are those who believe that consumers have a right to intellectual property without paying for it.”
Well and good, except … I’m not sure how many outside a few radical Pirate Bay Party types still believe that consumers should have a right to IP without paying for it – except (and I wonder how revealing Godfray’s slip about this is) when that content has been made available for free by the producer.
And why should this be a concern of booksellers in any case? The BA, last time I checked, represents bookstores: sellers of physical books. Its ebook services appear to be primarily – and properly – devoted to “helping BA Members participate in the eBook market” via the National Book Tokens scheme. All forms of digital reading, whether paid or pirated, are in principle direct competition to its members. That may be a sad fact of life, but it does hint at divided priorities within the BA. Every Kindle or Kobo sold through a BA member bookstore does help remedy that situation, but it can only do so much while Amazon and other online book vendors are still undercutting brick-and-mortar sale prices.
Does the BA expect favors from the publishing industry in return for backing its stance on copyright? Are legions of ruthless copiers about to rush to bookstores and photocopy facsimile print books to take away their business? Is this really the battle that the BA needs to be fighting right now?
At least Godfray has committed the BA to pressing harder for a new model on business rates. That seems far more likely to benefit BA members than chasing other people’s targets.