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December 16, 2012, Sunday

Don’t tax learning

E-books are on the rise, and consumers in many countries are asking why they should pay a higher tax on e-books than on printed books.

Most countries in the world have sales taxes on books. Turks pay 8 percent sales tax when they purchase a printed book. If you are British, you will be familiar with the movement to abolish taxes on print editions that began years ago in the UK. As a result, the UK is in a rather unusual position as it does not tax printed books. Personally, I think every nation should follow their example.

Although in European countries reduced tax rates are used in some cases -- for groceries, printed books, newspapers, etc. -- taxes on electronic goods in Europe, including Turkey, are extremely high. Some countries pay as high as 23 percent or 25 percent or even 27 percent. The dust has yet to settle in what tax policy will eventually be for e-books. It is still under discussion if an e-book should be taxed the same as electronic goods. I wonder, what do you think?

Recently, while attending a seminar on the influences affecting digital publishing and the printing sector, organized by the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce, I learned from Dr. Onur Bilge Kula, libraries and publishing general manager of the Culture and Tourism Ministry, that between April 2010 and April 2011 approximately 45,000 books were published in Turkey and only 1,310 were e-books. I say “only,” but some may be surprised it was even that high. You may be wondering who can afford to buy e-books when many say they cannot even afford to buy a printed book. Books are a luxury item for many Turks.

It was refreshing to hear a Turk emphasizing the importance of developing reading skills. One of the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce board members, Mehmet Develioğlu, in his opening statement at the seminar, said that “culture and art open the way for trade.” He concluded his summation of where Turkey is headed in developing media, publishing and printing by saying, “We are at the crawling stage in Turkey.” Develioğlu believes that Turkey has a great opportunity in this field and should not miss it. I tend to agree with him in that in the coming years the number of those who read books is going to increase as more and more individuals spend a good amount of time on their computers, iPads, smartphones, Kindles and so on.

What about those Turks who do not yet have their own computers and other gadgets? In fact, even if they wanted to read they could not afford a printed book. Public libraries have been slow to develop here. However, according to Dr. Kula, this is changing. Steps are being taken to open public libraries in places like Kars, Erzurum, etc., and to make these libraries user-friendly and attractive to encourage people to read.

Many of us from the West grew up making regular visits to the local library and enjoyed checking out books. Back home, the resources in libraries are available to everyone regardless of age, gender, race or income level. In many places, they are available to residents of the city completely without cost. Libraries are important in helping to promote the skill of reading and love for reading.

Ali Fuat Arıcı in 2009 published his research on improving reading in Turkey. He is concerned about how the Ministry of Education in Turkey can help Turks turn reading into a lifelong habit. Following the examples of other global campaigns to improve reading habits, such as the “Read On” magazine published in England by the National Reading Campaign and “Get Caught Reading” in the US, Turkey has recently introduced similar campaigns, such as “100 Basic Literary Works,” which was conducted by the Ministry of Education.

More effort is being made to help young Turks develop better reading skills and a love for reading. The opening of more public libraries around the country is a start! All of us who have grown up in countries where every school has a library are aware that to instill a love of reading in students, school libraries play a vital role. In addition to access to printed books, as young people have access to e-books that are interactive, the love will grow.

Wouldn't it be good if every nation followed the example of the UK and did not tax learning?

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

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