The article on "The GST & Books" in your January issue did a fine job of outlining some, but not all, of the problems caused by taxation on books. I am especially concerned with the effect that taxes on books have on the free flow of printed matter into this country. It makes no difference whether the tax is GST, PST, a new harmonized tax, or an import duty: all such levies, if they must be collected as books enter the country, serve as obstacles that restrict Canadians' access to material published in other countries.
The difficulty is not limited to increased costs to readers. Many booksellers will no longer import books unless they can do so from distributors who already have arrangements for handling GST paperwork. Without such arrangements, the burden for the bookseller is onerous, especially when books must be returned. This means that books from smaller distributors, not to mention independent presses, are unlikely to find their way into stores here.
Further, the fee for collection of the GST by Canada Post is levied per parcel, so that a given order from a distributor may require the payment of multiple fees if the whole order cannot be filled at once (as when books are temporarily out of stock). This is another disincentive to the importation of books.
If I order books directly by mail, I had better be in town when they arrive, or they will be returned to the sender in a few weeks for the want of a few dollars in GST plus fee. If foreign publishers decide to send me complimentary or review copies of books, they had better not do so when I am out of town, or the books will come back. And if I want to order a few more copies of my own book from a foreign publisher who has published it, I will have to pay to get them into the country, even for the purpose of sending them out again as gifts!
This is why I feel that I am living behind a paper curtain. That curtain will not rise until all taxes on books are lifted.
Innis College, University of Toronto