Printed matter ― overview of zero-rating

By Tolley
  • (Updated for Budget 2020)

The following Value Added Tax guidance note by Tolley provides comprehensive and up to date tax information covering:

  • Printed matter ― overview of zero-rating
  • Zero-rated items
  • Printed items that are liable to VAT
  • Related supplies
  • Loan and hire
  • Book tokens
  • Importing printed matter
  • Vanity publishing
  • Production
  • Multiple supplies ― the package test
  • Supply splitting
  • E-publications

This guidance note provides an overview of the VAT treatment of supplies of printed matter. 

VBOOKS1000; HMRC Notice 701/10 ; HMRC Notice 700/24 ; De Voil Indirect Tax Service V4.273; VATA 1994, Sch 8, Group 3

A number of items of printed matter are liable to VAT at the zero rate. However, the zero-rating will only ever apply to relevant items that are produced using paper and card. Goods containing text in other format, such as CD-ROMs, video tapes or audio cassettes will always be liable to VAT at the standard rate. The standard rate will also apply to the storage and distribution of text by fax, email, microfiche, internet or similar. For example, if a magazine is physically printed it will be zero-rated, but if the same magazine is distributed via email it will be standard-rated.

For other notes on this topic, please see the Printed matter ― single or multiple supplies and Printed matter ― production services guidance notes.

Zero-rated items

For a table summarising the VAT treatment of the most common items of printed matter, see the Summary ― VAT treatment of common types of printed items guidance note.

Books and booklets

These are items which normally comprise text or illustrations which are bound in a stiff cover. The following items would be zero-rated (this list is not exhaustive):
•reference books
•directories and catalogues
•collections of letters and other documents that are permanently bound in a cover
•fiction and non-fiction literary works
•loose-leaf books, manuals and instructions (including the binder where supplied)

•amendments to loose-leaf publications

VATA 1994, Sch 8, Group 3, Item 1

School work books and other educational texts that are supplied in question and answer format can also be zero-rated as long as the essential characteristic of the publication is that of a book or booklet. Exam papers can also be zero-rated if they qualify as a book, booklet, pamphlet, etc.

HMRC Business Brief 04 2012 provided clarification on the VAT treatment of supplies of books containing photos A summary of the main points

More on Zero-rated supplies: