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The purchase of some printed items is zero-rated whilst others are standard rated. Since May 2020, electronic versions may also be zero-rated, with a small number of exceptions.
Below is a list of some of the zero-rated items and standard items:

Books (are zero-rated and therefore no VAT is charged on the purchase)

Certain other printed material is also zero-rated including:

  • Booklets
  • Brochures
  • Pamphlets
  • Leaflets
  • Newspapers
  • Journals and periodicals (including magazines)
  • Music scores and
  • Maps

Electronic publications (E-books) Since May 2020, these are also zero-rated, including:

  • E-Books
  • E-Booklets
  • E-Brochures
  • E-Pamphlets
  • E-Leaflets
  • E-Newspapers and
  • E-Journals and periodicals (including magazines)

NB: There doesn’t have to be a printed copy of the publication in existence for this VAT treatment to apply.

Items excluded from zero-rating:

  • E-publications that are wholly or predominantly (more than 50%) devoted to advertising, audio, and/or video content 
  • E-audiobooks
  • Digital music manuscripts, maps, and charts 
  • An e-publication that is predominantly for completing (for example, an electronic diary), unless it is an electronic version of a printed book whose supply is already included within the zero-rate
  • E-book readers 
  • Software (for example, an “app”) used to access e-publications 

Open Access

Where research outputs are distributed online via a dedicated open-access publisher, fees payable to the publisher are subject to Standard Rate VAT. If the publisher is based outside the UK, this will be via the reverse charge process (CUFS tax code ‘SERVICES TAX’) – see Purchasing services from outside the UK

Read and Publish

Read and Publish arrangements can differ depending on the specific details.  Generally, a charge is made that covers both a publishing fee (standard rated) and a read fee (zero-rated).  The specific arrangement and the way in which it is invoiced will influence the VAT liability.  

Some publishers have agreed a specific split with HMRC:

If invoiced as 2 separate supplies:

Publish element Standard rated
Read element Zero rated

If invoiced as a single supply, it is likely to be Standard rated.

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