PrintThe province with the worst literacy rate in Canada is about to make it even worse. Newfoundland paper The Telegram reports that, starting in 2017, the province will apply the combined 15% Harmonized Sales Tax to printed books, which had previously only had to pay the 5% federal portion of the tax. Adding the additional 10% provincial sales tax will effectively bump the price of a $20 hardcover from $21 to $23. The story notes that e-books had already been charged the full 15% HST rate.

Newfoundland’s neighboring provinces Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island had previously considered applying HST to books but dropped it after a public backlash. Newfoundland’s bookstores, authors, and publishers are all up in arms over the decision.

“We’re hoping that once we present our case to (our government), that they, too, will back off on this,” said Donna Francis of Creative Book Publishing. “We’re hoping this is the beginning of our government not going through with it.”

The Telegram opinion columnist Russell Wangersky sees this as yet another burden dropped onto an already struggling industry.

Even so, I think the new tax is something the government should reconsider, if for no other reason than because it adds another burden to an industry that’s suffering from everything from eBook piracy to internal industry changes. Heck, we even live in a strange world where universities and colleges — institutions that depend in part on the hard work of writers and publishers — believe it’s their divine educational right to steal the work of writers by photocopying, and then selling to students, course packs of copyrighted works. (Imagine applying that business model to any other supplier: “Hi, we don’t want to pay for beer, so we’re simply going to empty your beer truck and your goods ourselves. Because, education!”)

He sees the new tax eroding sales by 15 to 30% based on results in other provinces.

I find it interesting that people are protesting charging these rates for printed books, but there’s not much mention of the fact that it’s already applied to e-books. I would think that would even be worse for people like self-published authors, who might not be able to afford to publish print editions. But then again, given that they would usually set their prices significantly lower than hardcover rates, it might not affect them so badly.

In any event, if the protests aren’t successful, bumping the price of books further will not help Newfoundland’s already low literacy rates.


  1. Not very bright. Books are easy to buy online The result is likely to hurt existing bookstores in the province two ways:

    1. Those who’d have bought a print copy locally may buy an ebook online instead, particularly if they can get it from a retailer under no obligation to collect sales tax.

    2. Those who insist on a print copy may also buy online instead, again particularly so if that means the retailer is under no obligation to collect that sales tax. To avoid or lower the added cost of shipping, they may buy several books at the same time.

    When those sales go elsewhere, Nova Scotia not only loses the taxes not collected, it loses the money that a local purchase would add to the community.

    It does appear that Amazon charges the full HST tax on items sold to Nova Scotia:

    There’s an easy workaround though if you have a friend somewhere that Amazon doesn’t collect taxes. Just have them buy it and gift ship it to you. Then repay them later.

    When taxes get too high, it becomes worthwhile to evade them and often that means less money is collected by higher rates.

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