The imposition of VAT (18%) on books publishers in Sri Lanka results in the loss of thousands of jobs. Publishers say that about 30 percent of bookstores have shut down because of the country’s economic crisis.
Before January 2024, there has been no taxes no books, and Sri Lanka’s book publishing industry was in crisis even before the VAT imposition. The cost of book publishing has increased because of many reasons. For instance, the price of paper has increased by 300 percent, and stationery prices has increased by over 20 percent.
Sri Lanka Book Publishers Association (SLBPA), President Samantha Indeewara, said Sri Lanka imported around 90 percent of the inputs for producing books, and all those inputs were subjected to VAT and other import duties. But the end product was not subjected to VAT earlier before 2024. Indeewara reported that book sales in Sri Lanka had dropped in recent years because of the economic crisis.
SLBPA former President Vijitha Yapa said that when Ranil Wickremesinghe was Prime Minister in 2002, he proposed a tax on books. However, the government withdrew the proposal as a result of protests from the country’s book publishers.
Since then, Sri Lanka’s book industry did not get an opportunity to discuss the impending taxes with the government. Yapa said that from what he knows, no other South Asian nation has imposed VAT on books. Yapa said:
“Some publishers only print about 500 copies of a book. Earlier, we used to print thousands of copies. Prices of books are now high because we print less. There are no economies of scale. Printing books is so expensive here that people actually print books abroad and bring them here. It’s cheaper for them to pay import taxes than to print in Sri Lanka. Thousands of jobs will be lost.”