Launching the Nunslinger

Today I headed into Bristol for a launch event at Forbidden Planet. It was for Nunsligner by Stark Holborn. Stark is a pen name of a local writer, and Nunslinger is a rather unusual book. To start with it is a Western. Also it is written as a collection of 12 longish short stories, with an overarching story arc. Westerns about nuns are by no means unknown, but Stark thinks this might be the first one in which the nun is actually serious about her faith, as opposed to it being something that gets abandoned very quickly under the pressure of life in the Wild West. I understand that the individual stories were released as ebooks as Stark was writing them. That’s an interesting pressure to put yourself under.

I haven’t had time to read the book yet, but judging from the extract we heard at the launch I am expecting it to be very good. Stark will be reading at BristolCon Fringe in February and as long as the date doesn’t clash with my having to be in Manchester for LGBT History Month I’ll be there and hope to podcast it.

While I was in store I picked up the latest Bryan Talbot graphic novel, Grandville Noel. I read most of it on the train home and finished it quickly thereafter. Bryan is on fine form, and the book contains some interesting information on the history of the Grandville world. Highly recommended.

Posted in Books, Comics, Readings | Leave a comment

What Exactly Constitutes a Terrorist Threat?

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen me taking a renewed interest in the case of Monica Jones. She’s an American trans activist whose case I wrote about back in April. Recently Monica flew to Australia to do some research on AIDS as part of a college course she has been doing. As this Advocate article reveals, she was stopped at Sydney airport and deported because her name was on a no-fly list as someone as someone who might be considered a “possible threat” to Australia. Gosh, is she a terrorist? Well, I guess that depends…

You see, Monica is in trouble with the law back home in Arizona. She has been found guilty of “manifesting prostitution”, which basically means that a police officer saw her in the street and decided that she was soliciting. No other evidence than that is required for conviction. In other words, Monica was found guilty of walking while black and female. And for this she was put on a no-fly list and barred from entering Australia.

Oh, and she’ll fail her college course because she was unable to complete the research.

Just what are you afraid of, Australia?

Ah well, at least she didn’t have a Hugo in her luggage. And I’m not even going to start on the whole saga of a TV crew being tipped off about her being stopped and Aussie immigration then using that as part of their excuse for deporting her.

The point is that these days we are living in a “Your Papers, Please” society, and the less privilege you have, the more likely it is that you will suddenly find that your papers are not in order and you no longer have any rights.

Posted in Australia, Current Affairs, Gender | Leave a comment

North by Southwest – Final Week

My pals at the North Bristol Writers Group are into the final week of their crowdfunding campaign for the North by Southwest anthology. They need less than £200 to get fully funded, so do please consider backing the campaign. There will be stories by Roz Clarke, Kevlin Henney, Ian Milllsted, Pete Sutton, Justin Newland and Desiree Fischer, all of whom you may have heard on BristolCon Fringe podcasts. There will be art by Claire Hutt. And in particular there will be a new steam-powered programmable war elephants story by John Hawkes-Reed.

The ebook is only a fiver, and remember, after January 1st it won’t be possible for EU-based companies to use crowdfunding with digital rewards because of the cost of VAT compliance. Get this while you can.

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Hola Hispacon

Spain’s annual SF convention is taking place in Barcelona this weekend. The Guests of Honor are: Christopher Priest, Ian Watson, Aliette de Bodard, Nina Allan, Karin Tidbeck, Félix J. Palma. I’ll be interested to hear reports of it, as I’m hoping to be at the Eurocon in Barcelona in 2016. More immediately, however, I would love to be on one programme item. It is about Alucinadas, the first ever women-only science fiction anthology in Spanish. Many of the contributors come from Latin America, including Angélica Gorodischer. You can read more about the project (in English) on the very fine Sense of Wonder blog. There is also a brief note (in Spanish) on Amazing Stories. (And kudos to Steve for having a whole Spanish language section these days.)

Posted in Conventions, Feminism, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

A Brief #VATMOSS Update

Thanks to the fine folks at Enterprise Nation, Juliet McKenna was one of many concerned people who got to meet a bunch of HMRC and Treasury bods in Westminster yesterday. As you’ll see from this report, Wizard’s Tower got mentioned. That also led to our getting a mention in the Financial Times today. It is behind a pay wall and they got their facts wrong, but hey, my little publishing company got mentioned in the FT.

It is a little early yet to know exactly what will come of this, but from what Juliet has told me we have at least been listened to, rather than getting fobbed off with platitudes as has been the case before. Also the government now has a much better idea of the scale of the problem.

While the possibility of getting the UK government onside is encouraging, these regulations are EU-wide, and we won’t be able to fix the problem without taking the campaign to Brussels. I have spent part of today emailing friends in Europe trying to find out how other countries are tacking the issue. If you happen to know anything about the situation in other EU countries, please get in touch.

Posted in Current Affairs, Wizard's Tower | Leave a comment

Crowdfunding and the #VATMOSS Mess

Some of you are doubtless sick of all this VAT stuff by now, but it is consuming my life at the moment so I have nothing much else to write about. Sorry.

The current view is that a small press will probably be OK, and an individual writer will definitely be OK, if they stick to selling through VAT-compliant marketplaces. We think Amazon will be deemed compliant. So far so good. We don’t have to register for VATMOSS, as long as we close any direct sales outlets and stop selling through non-compliant stores. But what if the press wishes to raise money in some other way, such as a project on Kickstarter, or via Patreon?

This is where things start to get very murky, because it isn’t clear that anyone at HMRC knew what crowdfunding and patronage were before we started telling them. They certainly don’t seem to have appreciated how important these things are becoming.

With regard to crowdfunding, there is a lot of hot air blown over the subject of whether rewards count as “sales” or not. People go through all sorts of verbal gymnastics trying to prove that rewards are an investment in the company, or a donation, or some other thing that is not taxable. None of the accounting advice I have seen has any truck with this sort of thing. (See here, for example, or Suw Charman-Anderson writing for Forbes). Kickstarter even explicitly warns users that some rewards will be subject to VAT.

However, crowdfunding platforms do not view themselves as marketplaces. Even the UK-based ones I have looked at explicitly state that they exist only as a means to help users run campaigns. They do not collect VAT for you.

Now HMRC says that it is the responsibility of the marketplace to undertake VAT collection, so what they are going to make of this remains to be seen. Until something happens, however, it seems pretty likely that anyone in the EU offering digital goods as rewards in a crowdfunding campaign will be selling services directly to the customer and must register for VATMOSS, with all of the vast burdens that entails.

Patreon is rather different, in that you are generally not explicitly paying for something. For example, I can listen to Galactic Suburbia whether I back them on Patreon or not. And the various rewards on offer, in the form of more and better podcasts, are also available to everyone, regardless of patronage. (Update: at the highest backer level there’s an actual gift, but it is a paper fanzine so that’s goods not services.) So, could I put the Salon Futura podcasts up on Patreon and get money that way?

Sadly, I don’t think so. You see, podcasts are digital services, and thus if I get money for them they are liable for VAT. There are some tax rules about being allowed to receive small gifts tax free (up to £2500 a year), but those appear to apply only to charities, not businesses. HMRC would class the money received as a benefit, and benefits are taxable. I would certainly pay income tax on Patreon money if I got any.

The annoying thing is that none of this would matter if ebooks were classed as goods, or if there were a VAT threshold for cross-border digital services sales the way there is for cross-border sales of goods. As I explained yesterday, I can’t see any way that HMRC and the EU will change the classification of digital products, because the large media companies want them classifies as services. But I have yet to hear any sort of rational explanation as to why the thresholds are zero. If all EU countries have high thresholds for cross-border goods trade, why can they not do so for digital services? Why is there this specific attack on the digital economy?

Posted in Current Affairs, Wizard's Tower | 1 Comment

Why #VATMOSS is a #DRM Issue

Another day, another set of confusing and contradictory messages about what will and will not be allowed from January 1st. There is, for example, this article in the Telegraph, which claims a victory for campaigners but is actually nothing but HMRC spin, presumably fed to the Telegraph by them. Firstly, any solution that requires micro businesses to register for VAT is a disaster. Only having to do so for sales into the rest of the EU is no help. Also, when we had the Twitter seminar on Monday, HMRC insisted that, in order to split reporting in the way that the Telegraph article suggests, the two parts of the company would have to be legally separate entities. You can’t do that if you are a sole trader, so at least one part of the company would have to be separately registered as a company. Yet more expensive red tape that people won’t have the time to deal with before January 1st.

What I want to talk about here, however, is a fundamental question that lies at the heart of the whole debate: whether digital products are “goods” or “services”. It is important because the EU has very generous revenue thresholds for selling “goods”, below which registration for VAT is not necessary. In contrast the revenue thresholds for selling “services” are zero, so everyone who sells them has to register.

At first sight it would seem crazy to suggest that an ebook, and MP3 of a song, or a jpeg of a photo, is a “service”. The physical products are very clearly goods. How does digitizing the product transform something from a “good” to a “service”? HMRC is getting itself tied in knots trying to establish how an ebook becomes a “service”. If you put it on a CD and mail it then is definitely isn’t a “service”. If you manually attach it to an email and send it then it may or may not be (HMRC people seemingly can’t agree amongst themselves on that one). But if you download it from a website then it is definitely a “service”.

Then again, for some time now, large corporations have been intent on establishing that digital products are indeed “services”. That’s because they are desperate to move us from a world in which we are able to own products — books, record, and so on — to a world in which we only ever rent a license to use products. They have been moving us from buying “goods” to buying “services”.

The way in which publishing companies distinguish between a “good” and a “service” is party with DRM (and partly by the terms and conditions under which the product is sold). By applying DRM to a book a publisher is saying, “this is not something you own and can copy or give away, it is something we own, and are renting to you”.

That’s not the way I publish my books. When I sell you a book I am still selling you a product. When you buy that file from me, you own it (though you don’t own the creative content as that’s covered by copyright). I am by no means the only publisher to operate in this way.

Logically, DRM free books ought to be goods. But can you imagine the chaos it would cause if a book with DRM was subject to VAT, but a DRM-free book was not? Not only would the DRM-free book be better value, but it would be cheaper too. It would be political dynamite for any country to make that distinction. So instead they have settled for the simple option of classing all ebooks as “services”. And now that they want to apply Place of Supply rules to VAT charged for those “services” they have got themselves into this ridiculous mess.

It is possible that this is a way out for me, in that I can argue a case whereby my books don’t become “services” until they are sold to the consumer. Therefore, if I only sell through VAT-compliant marketplaces such as Amazon, I don’t have to register for VAT. But I have no idea whether HMRC will accept such an argument, nor do I have any faith in their willingness to even consider the question. And without any assurance that I’m operating legally, I’ll need to take steps to move the business outside of that law.

Furthermore, there are all sorts of good reasons why digital microbusinesses might not want to sell solely through Amazon and its ilk. They might have products that such platforms aren’t set up to sell. They might not want huge corporations to have control over what they sell and how they sell it. In practice what HMRC is doing is the equivalent of saying to a small farmer that she can’t sell her crops at a market stall, she has to sell them through Tesco or a similar supermarket. What we need is a revenue threshold below which microbusinesses don’t have to register for VAT, regardless of what they are selling. Anything less (Telegraph please note) is a defeat.

Posted in Current Affairs, Wizard's Tower | 3 Comments

Join the #VATMOSS Fightback

I have updated yesterday’s post to explain the Byzantine reasoning why digital products are apparently not eligible for the VAT thresholds. In the meantime, Juliet has set up a protest group to try to force HMRC to take notice of the very many businesses that it will destroy. If you are affected in any way by VATMOSS, please sign up here.

There are also some guidelines as to how to best go about writing to your MP or MEP about this. This will affect all of you in the UK, because one of the effects of this will be that Amazon has to charge 20% VAT on ebooks rather than 3%. They’ll try to do that by squeezing authors and publishers, which will hurt your favorite writers, but inevitably prices will rise too. If small presses were allowed to claim VAT exemption we’d be allowed to sell you ebooks VAT-free. Having no exemption threshold means that we can’t do that.

Posted in Current Affairs, Wizard's Tower | 2 Comments

The #VATMOSS Mess Enters Looking Glass Land

The biggest problem that all of us struggling with this issue have is that we simply can’t rely on information we are given. I’ve mostly given up researching it and am instead looking at the issues involved in selling Wizard’s Tower to someone outside of the EU. Juliet McKenna, however, has been beavering away. And the more she finds out the more like Looking Glass Land the whole thing becomes. Take this, for example:

Yes, that’s right. On the one had we are being told that we should prevent people in other EU countries from buying our products if we can’t charge the correct VAT rate, and on the other hand we are being told that such discrimination may be illegal.

Meanwhile folks in other countries are getting worried about having to register. Here’s Howard Tayler:

So, no Shlock Mercenary for you, EU readers. And HMRC is quite adamant that non-EU suppliers MUST register, no matter how small their business.

Does that seem crazy to you? Well actually it is. No sane European government would do that. It just isn’t practical for a government to worry about collecting VAT on the sale of 40 knitting patterns a year, let alone take legal action in Canada to enforce it. So I don’t think that Howard, or anyone else outside the EU, has anything to worry about unless they have an EU-based subsidiary, or they sell huge amounts of product. The obvious proof of this is that non-EU countries have been liable to charge VAT under the Place of Supply rules since 2003. To my knowledge, no non-EU small business owner has been arrested over this.

What’s different now is that the same rules are being applied to EU-based businesses, and that HMRC insists that every business has to register, no matter how small. Their rationale for this is that they cannot control laws in other EU countries. While the UK might have a threshold of £81k turnover, below which a business need not register for VAT, other countries might not be so friendly to small business. I quote from their recent FAQ on the subject:

B2 Why can’t there be a minimum VAT threshold like in UK? #VATMOSS

Within limits, each Member State decides on its own VAT threshold, and we cannot impose our threshold on them. #VATMOSS

And they are right. Hang your heads in shame, Spain and Sweden, both of whom have zero thresholds.

But wait, did you click through on that link? Did you read what it said at the top of the page? OK, for those of you who didn’t, here are the important words:

Generally, non-resident businesses that must register for VAT in another EU state face a nil registration threshold. A major exception to this rule is e-commerce to consumers, where foreign EU retailers have special EU distance selling VAT thresholds.

I’ll repeat that. Special EU distance selling VAT thresholds, which apply solely to digital transactions. Here they are. And guess what? None of them are anywhere close to zero. All of them would easily allow a micro-business such as Wizard’s Tower to keep trading.

Now that site I have been linking to is not an official government site. It is, however, very comprehensive and seemingly well informed. For example, just last week they reported that Google would be changing their terms of business to be properly VAT-compliant under the new rules. That’s a big relief.

So what exactly is going on here? It is, of course, entirely possible that HMRC is far better informed than most, and they know that the distance-selling VAT thresholds will be lowered as of January 1st. On the other hand, we could be dealing with a dishonest government seeking to put the squeeze on small businesses and sow distrust of the EU by pretending that EU regulations are much more draconian than they really are.

Update: I see that the page linked to above now notes that thresholds are zero for “electronic services”. Believe it or not, that means all digital sales. As Juliet notes here, that makes a certain amount of sense for a book or movie that has DRM, because you are buying a license to view it, not the object itself. It makes no sense whatsoever if you are simply selling a file. And indeed HMRC says that such things are not “services” if they are manually emailed to the customer rather than directly downloaded. Honestly, it makes quantum physics seem easy.

Just to re-iterate what I said at the beginning of this post, the main issue here is that it is impossible to tell what it is safe to do and what it isn’t safe to do. HMRC will not issue guidance, but they will prosecute if you get it wrong. No one has any idea how governments will cope with tens of thousands of very small companies trying to register to charge VAT, and HMRC seems perfectly happy with the idea that all of those companies will be forced out of business.

Posted in Current Affairs, Wizard's Tower | 4 Comments

The #VATMOSS Mess That Keeps On Growing

Yesterday HMRC hosted a Twitter chat to answer questions about the new VAT rules that I blogged about the other day. A little clarity has been obtained, but far more confusion has been sown. Juliet has a blow-by-blow summary of some of the answers. I’m going to try to give a more high level view.

First up, as I suspected, the petition that is being passed around is largely a waste of time. HMRC cannot unilaterally decide to have a VAT liability threshold for the whole of Europe. We are bound by the laws of the countries that we sell into, and that’s that.

HMRC also confirmed that companies outside of the EU are liable and must also charge VAT on all sales into the EU. (Yes, this does mean you, Alisa). However, the chances of them actually enforcing this are pretty low, especially as most of the sales will come via third party platforms and so will be covered.

The good news for many people is that if you sell only via third party platforms such as Amazon then you should be OK, because they will charge the correct VAT rate for you, and you don’t have to worry. Except that by no means all of these platforms do this, and if they do they may not do it correctly. HMRC avoids questions about having an approved list of platforms, and instead says it is our responsibility to read the Terms & Conditions to make sure that the platform complies. Many of these platforms are US-based and may not care too much about getting it right. Google Play is apparently not compliant, and if they don’t play ball, what chance is there that others will?

There is another wrinkle too. In theory VAT applies at all stages in the supply chain. If there are business-to-business transactions, the selling business charges VAT, and the buying business claims that VAT back from the VAT their charge their customers. It isn’t clear to me why someone selling through Amazon doesn’t have to charge them VAT, but presumably some sort of ruling exists. My guess is that any such ruling will be dependent on the person selling through Amazon being the originator of the product. That is, Amazon is not buying an ebook from you, it is buying the right to publish your words. But that isn’t the case for me. I’m publishing house, not an author.

I am pretty sure that once HMRC gets their heads around that concept they will decide that I have to charge Amazon VAT on the books I sell them. Amazon, however, persists in assuming that everyone who uses their online publishing service is a sole author. That’s the way they want the world to be: just them and authors. So I’ll have to charge them VAT on the books they sell, but they won’t acknowledge that they have paid it and they’ll add yet more VAT onto the price before selling it. Which means customers will be taxed twice.

There are problems with registering for VAT too. I could be a good girl and sign up to do this. Except that if I want to carry on doing direct sales I have to provide two independent sources of proof of the location of each customer (and keep this information on file for 10 years). One such item should be the IP address from which the product was purchased. PayPal does not provide this information, so I’d have to work out how to get it myself, or pay for a more sophisticated ecommerce system that will do it. Of course I closed the original bookstore because I wasn’t doing enough business to afford the fees from Shopify.

HMRC hasn’t begun to think about the Data Protection Act implications of this.

So yes, direct sales are definitely a non-starter from January 1st. Amazon will be laughing all the way to the bank.

HMRC did try to be helpful. There are ways around the regulations. It is OK if you just take orders on your website, and then send the product to the customer via an email that you type yourself. Quite apart from the dragging us back into the 20th Century involved, there’s the small matter that the convenience of direct downloads is one of the main reasons why people shop at Amazon. An online bookstore that doesn’t offer direct downloads is dead in the water.

It gets worse. I tried to ask HMRC about crowdfunding and Patreon. They didn’t reply, probably because they had no idea what I was talking about.

Again, once they get their heads around all of this, they will almost certainly decide that such sites do have to charge VAT on all sales into the EU. They are not going to be impressed by claims that these are “donations” with free gifts attached. Currently Kickstarter is the only platform I know of that tries to do VAT correctly. I have been nervous about using them in the past because they insist on charging VAT on sales into Europe even if the seller is not VAT-registered. I can see now why they do that, and from Jan 1st it will be mandatory. But there are other complications with using Kickstarter from the UK that mean I really don’t want to use it.

Obviously I’ll be discussing this with all of the authors whose work I publish, but it certainly seems like something will have to give. The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that the only viable option is to sell Wizard’s Tower to someone outside of the EU.

Posted in Current Affairs, Wizard's Tower | Leave a comment

The Thanksgiving Post

Hello, American friends, I miss you.

However, in the grand tradition of today’s festival, I am watching NFL on TV, and I am thinking about what I am thankful for.

The list is pretty short, because the latter part of this year has been spectacularly shit. I am, however, still alive, still healthy, and Kevin still loves me. I try to remember these things in amongst all of the family drama, fannish drama, VAT rule changes and other things that are keeping me awake at night.

Short term, however, I am particularly grateful for one thing: I have a copy of Guardians of the Galaxy on Blu Ray, and I am going to watch it tonight. It is, I suspect, pure escapism, but it is funny, and has a kick-ass sound track. It also has Rocket, and Groot. That’s just what I need right now.

Posted in Movies, Personal | 1 Comment

Ancillary Justice at Mr. B’s

Yesterday evening I attended a meeting of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club run by Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. The book under discussion was Ann Leckie’s multi-award-winning Ancillary Justice. I had recommended it to the group months ago, but they chose to go with another of my choice’s — Sheri S. Tepper’s Grass — instead. Now, with all of those awards behind it, Ancillary Justice was back on the menu.

I’m delighted to report that everyone at the group was pleased that they had read the book. Some, inevitably, had had difficulty getting into it. The lack of information about characters’ gender is hard to get used to if you have grown up in a society that uses gendered pronouns. Most people who read the book, including me, start out by trying to guess what gender the characters are. Eventually most people relax into the story and stop doing that. The few bad reviews that the book has had appear to be have mostly been written by people who were unable to do that.

One thing that did interest me is that a few of the group, presumably quite subconsciously, constantly referred to the characters as “he”, despite everyone in the book being referred to as “she”. These people were all women. It just goes to show how deeply ingrained the default-to-masculine idea is.

The only major complaint raised was about The Gun (you’ll know what that means if you have read the book, and I’ll try not to give too much spoiler if you haven’t). Basically The Gun is a piece of alien technology so advanced that no one in the Radsch (the human space empire) can understand how it works. Most of us were OK with that, but for one person who likes his SF neatly explained it was an unwelcome intrusion of magical technology.

Ancillary Sword is now available, and I think most of the group are going to buy it and read it. However, before then we have the January meeting coming up, and the chosen book for that is Mythago Wood. I’m really looking forward to reading it again. And we’ll all be buying the brand new 30th anniversary edition, complete with Neil Gaiman’s new introduction.

Posted in Books | Leave a comment

William Gibson at Toppings

Yesterday evening I headed into Bath to see William Gibson at Toppings. It was a very interesting evening, and I’m certainly looking forward to reading The Peripheral. Unfortunately it is also Locus Recommended Reading List season, and as anything by Bill is going to be on the list by default I really need to think diversity and read other books first.

Still, some of you will be interested to know what The Peripheral is like, so here as a few comments. The most important thing to note is that, unlike the Blue Ant series, this book is set in the future. The real future, not an unevenly distributed present. It includes smart phone systems that are embedded in the body, and distributed rather than being a single lump of tech. The other thing I got from the reading is that it is going to be quite funny. Here are a couple of quotes:

You’re a publicist, she’s a celebrity. That’s interspecies.

She smiled, displaying teeth whose placement might well have been decided by a committee.

Bill is still clearly very much interested in PR, but he appears to be taking a lighter and more sarcastic view of the whole thing, at least from the bits of the book I heard.

There was also a Q&A session. I asked him a follow-on question from the Start the Week show he did on Tuesday. He talked about how he expected that people from around the time of The Peripheral will look back on our era with as much disgust as we look back on the Victorians. Asking him what about us might seem so disgusting in the wake of the Ferguson verdict was, of course, a no-brainer, but I asked him anyway and he gave exactly the sort of answer I was hoping for. He said that, given much of what disgusts us about the Victorians are things they were very proud of, what will disgust future humanity about our era won’t just be things like destroying the environment, it will also be some of the things that we do that we think are wonderful.

On the subject of social media, Bill said he expected it to fade away as we become more connected, presumably because we’ll always be able to check in on what each other is doing, rather than needing a platform to do so. I’m less convinced about that, because the whole point of things like Facebook is to create a walled garden that users think is the entire internet. That people buy into this, despite the far greater risks, suggests that we’ll always be prey to such marketing ploys.

Another really interesting answer he gave was in response to a question about AIs. This is what he said:

Our idea of artificial intelligence may turn out to be like the flying cars of the 1940s

Science fiction authors, please take note.

Finally, Bill was asked if The Peripheral was going to be the first book of a trilogy. He said he hoped not, and in particular he hoped that it would not become one of those works of art whose value was diminished by its sequels. Yes, he was talking about The Matrix. Sorry Lana.

Posted in Books, Science Fiction | 2 Comments

Bristol Gets It Right On Rape

Anti-rape poster

You may have seen this poster before, because the campaign ran last year around this time too.

Full details in this report on Bristol 24/7. I’d just like to highlight the following:

Next year Bristol City Council will increase its funding for sexual abuse services from £75,000 to £115,000 from April 2015. Councillor Gus Hoyt, assistant mayor for public health said: “Research has shown that a large number of people wrongly feel that women bear some responsibility. This is a perception that must, must be challenged.

“Blaming the woman removes the responsibility away from where it always should be: the perpetrator.”

And yes, victim-blaming must stop. That applies to a whole range of different things. #BlackLivesMatter

Posted in Current Affairs, Feminism | Leave a comment

The VATman Cometh, Destroying Businesses

I’m a bit behind on this due to having been focusing on other things for the past few months, but I have just caught up on a change to VAT legislation that looks like being an absolute nightmare for anyone running a small press (and indeed anyone who sells digital products).

As you may know, the whole situation with VAT on ebooks is crazy. Although the rate for paper books is zero in the UK, the rate for ebooks is 20%. The avoid this, Amazon Europe has incorporated in Luxembourg, where the rate is only 3%. This gives them a significant advantage over UK-based rivals. Other large ebook platforms do the same thing.

The powers that be in Europe have, for some time, been trying to find a way to close this loophole. The obvious thing to do would be to have a common VAT rate across the EU, but of course there’s no way that individual countries will ever agree on what it should be. So instead they have created a bureaucratic nightmare.

From January 1st, the way that VAT is levied in Europe will change. Instead of companies having to charge VAT at their local rate, they have to charge VAT at the customer’s local rate. This is called the Place of Supply rule. This means that anyone selling digital products in Europe has to register for VAT in every country, charge VAT on each sale according to the local rate, and account for all of this on a quarterly basis.

Normally this would not matter too much, because it would only affect big companies. The UK has a healthy and very sensible turnover threshold below which you do not have to register for VAT. I have never bothered for my consultancy business. I’d probably save money doing it, as I’d be able to claim VAT back on purchases, but the time involved in filing VAT returns, and the near certainty of being investigated by VAT officers who won’t believe that my clients are primarily in the USA, make it not worth my while.

Except that the new rules coming in next year have a turnover threshold of zero for digital products. Yes, that’s right. If all you do is sell one ebook, or a few knitting patterns on Etsy, or a little app you made for fun, you are required to register for VAT and file VAT returns once a quarter. Even if the tax involved is only pennies.

Because I am coming to this rather late, I don’t have a good handle on all of the implications. For example, if you sell through Amazon, it may be that what you have is a Business-to-Business relationship with a Luxembourg company rather than a Business-to-Customer relationship with each person who buys your book. My little bookstore, however, would have to start charging VAT and accounting for where customers lived. I’m also pretty sure that a crowd-funding campaign would count as Business-to-Customer.

The implications for any small company selling digital products are so horrendous that the Head of Tax at the Institute of Chartered Accountants (England & Wales) has apparently suggested that small businesses stop selling in Europe to avoid all of this mess. Except, how can you? The digital world is global by nature. The better-written platforms, such as Amazon, will at least allow you to block sales via their EU-based sites. However, there’s nothing to stop someone in, say, Finland, buying one of my books via Amazon US, or Amazon UK. If they did, I may be legally obliged to account for that, and Amazon’s systems don’t give me enough information to do that.

Right now I am desperately trying to get some tax advice as to what I can and cannot do. However, because the vast majority of people affected by this are so small that they have never registered for VAT, and probably don’t make enough to afford an accountant, finding someone able to give good advice may be quite hard.

There is a petition on asking the Secretary of State for Business to provide some sort of threshold below which registration will not be required. Please sign. However, from what I have read I’m not convinced that he can do that without withdrawing from the system altogether.

There is also a plan for a Twitter campaign tomorrow morning (UK time) to try to make the government aware just how many small businesses are going to be wrecked by this legislation. Details are here. All support will be gratefully received. If you don’t have time to follow the link, please at least look out for anything containing the hashtags #VATMOSS and #VATMESS, and retweet like crazy.

Somehow I will find a way for Wizard’s Tower to stay in business in some form next year. But right now I have no idea how.

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TDOR Video

The Lord Mayor of Bristol, the Rt. Hon. Councillor Alastair Watson raises the transgender flag outside City Hall to mark the Trans Day of Remembrance.

This is the first ever civic event in Bristol organized for trans people. The event was organized by the Rainbow Group, the City Council’s LGBT staff network.

I’m in the picture because I was doing audio recording for Shout Out Radio. The video was taken by Michelle Hine.

Also in shot is the Lady Mayoress, Mrs. Sarah Watson. In the background in the orange coat is Danielle Radice, the Leader of the Green Party on Bristol City Council.

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The TDOR Ceremony

The head table at TDOT 2014

Our TDOR Remembrance Ceremony took place last night. It was attended by 28 people, most of whom were trans, and at least three of whom were people of color. (I say “at least” because I don’t know how everyone identifies.) Inevitably it was a solemn affair, but we did also have a constructive discussion about progressing trans rights in Bristol afterwards.

Thanks are due to the Rainbow Group, the City Council’s LGBT staff network, who provided the money to hire the venue, and to Sarah and her colleagues from LGBT Bristol who provided the refreshments & flowers and did most of the work.

My apologies to Jamie and the rest of the Bristol University group for missing their event. Lots of people wanted to talk to me after the ceremony, and I needed to stay and listen to them.

The discussion, perhaps inevitably, focused primarily on health issues. There is a huge amount of anger amongst the UK trans community at how badly we are treated by the NHS, and how specialist gender services appear to be getting steadily worse. Sadly there is not a huge amount that the City Council, and bodies funded by it, can do about this. However, there are other things that can be moved forward, and hopefully I’ll have more news in a few weeks.

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Bristol 24/7 TDOR Coverage

One of the things I did yesterday while I was in Bristol was write an article about TDOR, and how Bristol compares to other cities as far as trans rights goes. That went live today in Bristol 24/7 as part of their coverage of the day. You can read the whole thing here. I may have somewhat put the boot in to celebrity media feminists.

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Flag in the Post

The flag raising party

The raising of the trans flag at City Hall has made it into the Bristol Post (I’m guessing only the website, but if there is a paper version I’d love a copy). The caption for that photo is: “Bristol City Council equalities officer Simon Nelson, Lady Mayoress of Bristol Sarah Watson, Lord Mayor of Bristol Councillor Alastair Watson, Martin Spellacey and Amy Mosley of Bristol City Council Rainbow Group, Bristol City Council employee Jessica Davidson and Cheryl Morgan of TransBristol” and the photo credit is Amy Jones, the Council press officer I have been working with.

I would have liked more trans people in the photo, but many of those who attended are naturally nervous of such things. My job in TransBristol, such as I have one (it being an anarchist collective), is to be the person who fronts up to the media so that other people don’t have to.

What I’m much more pleased about than the photo is that Amy and her colleagues used quite a bit of the material I sent them for the press release. The Lord Mayor then quoted me at the flag raising ceremony, and the Post used the same sentence:

By raising the transgender flag over City Hall on this important day, Bristol is sending a clear signal to the many trans people who live and work in the city that they are valued members of the community, with as much right to life, health and happiness as any other citizen.

Yeah, that.

By the way, a number of City Councillors attended the event. I don’t know them all by sight so I can’t give you names, but I did spot Daniella Radice, the leader of the local Green Party. Simon tells me that there was good support from Labour, and the only Tory to turn up was the Lord Mayor.

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TDOR in Progress in Bristol

Flag raising

Well that went very well. We had a large group of people at City Hall to witness the raising of the Transgender Flag. Many of them were trans. There were also lots of allies, including the Rainbow Group, the Council’s LGBT staff network, who had organized the event; Simon Nelson, who I had on the radio yesterday; Out Stories Bristol, witnessing the historic event; Bristol University LGBT+, who ran such an awesome trans awareness campaign on Twitter this week; Bristol Pride; and LGBT Bristol.

The flag was raised by the Lord Mayor of Bristol, the Rt. Hon. Councillor Alastair Watson (who is a Conservative).

Some of the very many people in attendance are pictured below.
Flag raising

I was interviewed by Edward from Made in Bristol TV. I have no idea when/if that will air, but it was great to have them there. I just wish we’d had someone more photogenic lined up to talk.

Also I have edited a clip from the Lord Mayor’s speech for broadcast on Shout Out tonight. My guess is that it will go in the news section at the front of the show. I’m pleased about that because the Council folks cribbed much of the speech from the press release material I had written for them.

This evening we have two remembrance ceremonies: one in the city, and one later at Bristol University. I am reading The List at the first one, and hope to attend the second. There will also be people from LGBT Bristol and the Council on hand to engage with the trans community and hopefully take forward some of the issues that Simon and I discussed yesterday.

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