Commissioner Kroes wants the digital agenda to shake up the world of electronic publishing, making e-books more avaliable and affordable.
Speaking at the Paris Book Fair, Kroes told her audience of bibliophiles that the "digital revolution" offers many benefits and urged the industry not to be too cautious, as the music industry was, before it saw the benefits.
Kroes said that "we are not sufficiently taking advantage" of the possibilities of electronic publishing, noting that e-books are 25% of the US sales but only one nation in Europe had more than 2%. To remedy this, the commissioner made three suggestions, "First, we need the right digital content, so readers can enjoy ever more tailored and interesting material." She noted that Europeana, an online collection of European culture, had more than 26 million exhibits.
She said that the Orphan Works Directive would make it easier to publish works not commercially avaliable with no clear rights owners and she saluted France, who aim to put 500,000 such works, from the 20th Century alone, online.
"We need to think European to compete globally," she said, suggesting, Specifications and standards can help: for example, by supporting interoperability and portable eBooks. ePub is just one example. Most readers expect to be able to access their books in whichever country they are, and on whatever device they choose; if European publishers can't meet those expectations, consumers will vote with their wallets; or go to the big American companies who can offer that kind of scale."
Cross border solutions were needed and Kroes pointed out "I and my services are open to ideas."
Her third idea was about tax. "
Globally, according to one study, the number of countries providing a VAT exemption or reduced rate to eBooks rose significantly, around 50%, over just three years. But not in Europe. Because in Europe we continue, for the most part, to charge the higher rate of VAT for eBooks; even when paper books enjoy a reduced rate," she said.
However, she added, "The EU Commission is obliged to enforce EU law. But that does not mean we all agree with it, or think it needs to stay as it is."
From 2015 VAT would be payable, based on the destination country. "Even more importantly, the intention is for the subsequent system to align VAT rates applied to print books and eBooks. But – as with all tax decisions – member states will need agree, unanimously," she explained.