Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Taxing Knowledge

Nurul Izzah Anwar said that knowledge taxation is highly immoral, according to Free Malaysia Today.

The Malaysian MP for Lembah Pantai was referring to the goods and services tax (GST) exemption for certain print books such as school exercise books, dictionaries, textbooks, illustrated children's books and religious texts when the new tax comes into effect next year in April. She felt the tax on books would "discourage a healthy reading culture, and result in knowledge being 'reserved for the wealthy'."

"Knowledge is not a privilege: It is a right," she stated. "The government must classify all books, regardless of category, as a zero-rated item under the GST."

Upon my tweeting this quote, someone asked whether GST will be applied to e-books. Apparently not, if this report is valid.

...the Customs Department made it very clear that e-books will not have GST. This is due to the nature of the product that does not have tangible components and chains of production.

Amir Muhammad also said that e-books were GST-exempt during a panel discussion at the George Town Literary Festival, and exhorted the audience to buy more e-books (including those from his Fixi imprint, one supposes).

While it's good that GST is not imposed on e-books, I have a wee problem with this bit: "does not have tangible components and chains of production".

This might apply for e-books are solely published in digital format, such as direct uploads to Smashwords, but what about digital versions of print books? Don't those originally have tangible components and chains of production?

That being said, I am, for several reasons, concerned about the imposition of GST on printed material. Physical books are already expensive and anything that adds to this cannot possibly be welcomed by consumers.

The shift to GST-exempt e-books might save some pennies, but studies are beginning to suggest that print-free reading might not help the brain absorb and retain information.

When the e-book came about, people were all about the imminent death of print. These days, however, they're saying that the death of books - and print in general - "has been greatly exaggerated".

I'm hoping it stays that way for a long time, come hell, high water, and GST.

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