“Rather than imagining a new ineffective tax, the book industry must reinvent itself”

“Rather than imagining a new ineffective tax, the book industry must reinvent itself”

LThe Ministry of Culture and the French Society for the Interests of Written Authors (Sofia) unveiled the April 12 a study on the second-hand book market : growing rapidly since 2019, it represents around 20% of book sales and 10% of turnover. Following this study, Emmanuel Macron announced a proposed tax on the sale of second-hand books, in particular in order to “allow our authors, publishers and translators to also receive better help”.

The fragility of the economic balance of the new book market is real. Indeed, many publishing houses struggle to achieve or maintain satisfactory levels of profitability. Authors, for their part, rarely receive more than 8% of the sale price of a novel (i.e. 80 cents for a 10 euro book), and much less in other sectors, with ever smaller advances, which can be reduced to 1,000 or 1,500 euros per title. It is therefore legitimate to seek solutions to better remunerate those involved in the book industry.

But is a tax on second-hand books the solution? Vincent Montagne, president of the National Publishing Union, indicated on France Culture that only large groups (Amazon, eBay, Rakuten, Momox, etc.) would be targeted by a 3% tax. However, taxing only platforms seems attractive but unrealistic.

Booksellers the first to be affected

First, the law does not allow such discrimination between companies, and the tax concerned would therefore be without distinction between large international groups, small and medium-sized French companies, social and solidarity economy organizations, etc.

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Then, remember that Amazon, eBay and Rakuten do not sell books! These sites offer a marketplace to second-hand booksellers, who pay them a commission. It is therefore these booksellers who would be affected by a possible tax.

Finally, the share of these platforms in the sale of second-hand books has declined significantly: they represent less than 10% of second-hand sales, compared to 30% for sales between individuals, particularly via sites like Le Bon Coin.

0.03% of revenue generated by this tax

Let’s do the math: if we managed to tax these platforms at 3%, which represent 10% of the second-hand market, which itself represents 10% of the book market, we would arrive at a total of… 0.03 % of revenue generated by this tax, to be shared between authors and publishers. The growth of the second-hand market is certainly shaking up the economic models of traditional players, but it is only one of the signals which indicate that the sector needs to reinvent itself.

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Mattie B. Jiménez

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