Death by taxes

For some time I entertained the idea of selling ebooks directly over this website. What follows is the story why I don’t. And, incidentally, how the EU’s attempts to stop tax evasion by large online retailers harms small businesses in the denationalized world of the internet, helping monopolies to rise and persist.

Come 2015, European law will change how VAT is calculated for customers buying virtual goods. Currently, when buying virtual goods, you pay VAT on whatever rate is applied by the country the vendor resides in. This being tax laws, it’s a little more complicated than that, but for the sake of my point we can keep it simple. Because VAT is very different across europe, that goes from 3% in Luxembourg to 27% in Hungary. So of course Amazon’s and Apple’s stores are located in Luxembourg, benefitting from lower VAT and their ability to keep prices low, to many a tax payers irritation in those countries with higher rates. Nobody wants a race to the bottom, so this is a tough situation to fight. However, European parliament decided to do something about the situation and so now VAT on virtual goods will be calculated by the nation the customer buys from or resides. So, say I buy an eBook off Amazon, January 1st onward I’d have to pay 19% VAT instead of 3%. 7% if Germany finally gets its shit together and puts eBooks at the same tax rate as paper books, but still more.

This law is mostly directed at big corporations like Amazon and Apple. In my humble opinion, it will only serve to cement their power, worsen what many already perceive as a monopoly. You know the gist of that discussion from half the rest of the internet and basically all the daily paper, I’m sure, so I’ll spare you yet another discussion on it.
Now, where lies the problem?

For some time I have thought about selling my ebooks directly on my site. It’s a valid addition to any author’s site, increasing control and independence against stores while increasing customer service. However, the internet knows no borders. Once I set up my storefront, anybody can buy my books. I’ve had sales outside of Germany before, every once in a while getting a book sold in Italy, Spain, France, or the UK, not to mention Brazil, India, and Japan. This is probably going to increase now that I started publishing more works in English.

I am going to assume that Amazon, Apple, Google et al. know how to handle this stuff and are able to afford it. They’ll pay a couple millions more per year and all’s well for them. No big deal.
I, on the other hand, am simply unable to handle the logistics of that. I’d have to ask every customer where s/he’s from and adjust VAT accordingly for every single sale. Oh, I’m sure there’s automation for that or at least there will be, but even then there’s still the process of filing all these taxes with whatever number of European countries I will have done sales.

Not to mention, I usually don’t even know the exact country my customers live in, because I sell virtual goods, they can go to the next house in the street or to Singapoore, it makes no difference. IP is unreliable, so I’d have to ask every customer and trust they tell the truth despite knowing many give a fake street address for the sake of privacy. Countries such as Luxembourg are so small, most people are bound to be in the IP range of a neighboring country, giving wrong results. Oh, and Europe has a couple of areas exempt from VAT, composed of a couple of exclaves and islands belonging to member states. Let’s just say lawyers in that field probably don’t have to worry about their jobs for quite some time.

So congratulations, Europe, you just decreased the likelihood of any European startup appearing to challenge Amazon’s monopoly by trying to fight them. As TV Tropes puts it: Nice job breaking it, hero!

Oh, if anyone wants to ask for a solution to the tax evasion problem, I see two options. Either no VAT on virtual goods (as is done with the similar sales tax in the US) or unified European VAT rates. Both would be met with fierce opposition, but there is no middle ground I can see that doesn’t hurt small businesses.

Introducing Introduction

In brief: New short story, eight hour fiction challenge, most boring cover I ever did, out now on Smashwords and Amazon.

Ladies and gentlemen, my first publication in English, not counting re-publishing public domain work. Cue the fireworks.
At 2,400 words (2,100 counting only the story itself), this is a very short piece, though still twice as long as my introductory shorts in the German Meilensteine der Evolution series. It is certainly the shortest I would ever publish as a standalone, except maybe a free one once I figured out how to set things to permafree reliably on Amazon.

Further apologies follow once I get to the cover, so on to the story. itself.
The year 2061, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is here the floating city of Pacifica has been growing since the late 2020′s. We follow Chang Wu, a Chinese immigrant who just arrived for a job interview, around town and towards his first assignment. However, he does not yet know what that assignment is, really.
Introduction is a flash fiction in the style I first got to know short stories from the likes of E.A. Poe and Ernest Hemingway: Very short pieces of fiction building towards a twist or surprise ending. Stories that are all about the ending. Mind you, this is neither Poe’s gothic fiction nor Hemingway’s realistic stories, this is science fiction, technically hard science fiction with everything happening and seen possible by current or probably possible technology.
What this is, is a tour arounf town through the eyes of a new arrival who is basically a man of our world, entering a very foreign one. It mainly serves to illustrate how different our future could be from our present. A showcase of ideas, condensed into one city.
I’ve been wanting to write a story set in the city of Pacifica for a long time, there are a lot of story ideas set in different time periods waiting to be put to paper. Holographic politicians in the 2040′s! Plant aliens in the 2100′s! There’s just so much one can do with a city that is by its nature constantly shifting and changing, inviting innovation and experimentation. Meaning, this is a mere, well, introduction to the setting. I will certainly return with a full story, maybe sooner than expected.

Blame for this story can be put on the August Eight Hour Fiction Half-Month Challenge. The challenge was to write, edit, and publish a story within eigtht hours. I decided to try it when I found out about it earlier this month via Cora Buhlert’s blog.
There not being a topic or theme this time first threw me off, but then I got the idea I could use this as a starting point of building this city I had in mind for so long, depicting a moment in its history I never knew how to show (I knew how to show the consequences of it, but not the event itself). So I did it, wrote the story in about 4 hours, created a cover and added front and back matter in one more hour.

Speaking of the cover, it was surprisingly hard to find something to fit on it and I ended up with perhaps the blandest cover I ever did. There is basically no illustrations I could use of a swimming city. I am not good enough an artist to make one, especially the timeframe given. I toyed with the idea of putting in something that would hint at the ending, but decided that to be too much of a spoiler. I suppose it’s possible to do subtly enough using a fitting silhouette at its borders or below the title. Maybe I will come back to that by changing it later.
So I settled for water with text over it.
At least I found a nice font that looks a little like my idea of Pacifica’s skyline with its swimming 21sup century skycrapers and the like (with the – to those who read it – obvious exception of New Venice). It does not have a bold option, though, making a hard to read. *sigh*.

Uploading to Amazon is something I’ve done a few times by now and as always, it worked like a charm. I always do that late in the evening so approval has been finished when I wake up in the morning. Uploaded, approved, go!
This was the first time I put a book on sale with another retailer than Amazon, uploading it to Smashwords as well. I was anxious how that would work out. You see, in Amazon I always upload a finished Mobi file, meaning formatting cannot fail, because Mobi is virtually the same as AZW, the proprietary kindle file format. Smashwords doesn’t let you do that, except for ePub and then you’re stuck with only ePub.
Smashwords uses a program called the Meatgrinder to convert a Doc file into a couple of file formats to provide the ability to sell a book for almost all currently available platforms, ranging from surviving palmtops (PDB), to current independent e-readers (ePub) and the Kindle series (Mobi). The Meatgrinder is infamous for rejecting input until it is perfect. Introduction being 100% text seemed safe enough to try and put into the grinder. I was really surprised how it worked perfectly at first try, the book going online at the store the moment conversion was done. After all I heard of Smashwords being a complicated vendor to submit to on a technology level, this was the last thing I expected. The only thing that takes time is the review for Premium Distribution, which will take a few days according to Smashwords’ FAQ. Given that gets done successfully, the book will then become available at other major ebook stores such as Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks. I will add links at the book page if and when that works.

Here it is at Smashwords, available in Mobi, ePub, PDF, RTF, LRF, PDB, TXT, and for online reading at US$ .99.
And the Amazons. All of the Amazons (ordered by guesstimated likelihood of being interested in downloading a book in English): US/International (.com), UK, Australia, Canada, India, Mexico, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, Brazil

Now, if only the moniker “seapunk” hadn’t already been taken by something else. And Ocean Punk has been taken already, as well. Damn. It does have shades of Cli-Fi and Ribofunk, though, so I’ll just go with that.

English! Do you speak it?

So, I started an English blog in addition to my original German one. Now what did I do that for? Short answer: because I have English books to be published soon and thus, an English-speaking audience to gain. Long answer: Well, this blog post has 418 words according to the WordPress counter, so that would be that.

So, I’ve basically been blogging since 1999, back when I did handcode every single page, without a CMS or knowing anything about PHP. On Geocities. In an age when merely having a website made tv stations call you and assume you were an expert on, well, stuff. Fun times.
Almost all of this time I blogged in my native German.

The major change came with starting to sell e-books. I had always dabbled in the English language somewhat, joining discussions in comments and boards, writing the odd short, reading a lot in English. I was of the mindset that if one could read any text in its original version, reading a tranlation or dub is always inferior, so I started reading ever-longer books in English, concentrating on my favorite genres, science fiction and fantasy.

There’s a number of reasons I am now preparing to publish own stories in English, and I decided a corresponding blog should go along with it.

Some stories are reactions to writing prompts originally in English.
Some are or were supposed to be submissions to anglophone (usually American) competitions or magazines.
And in some cases, the subject matter just feels more home in English to me, such as a book I have in early draft, featuring zombies. And yes, I do know zombies are a tough sell in an almost over-saturated market. Just wait until I can tell more, I promise to do something yet unseen to the sub-genre.
There are also a few short stories written in English classes, so if I ever find those, they will probably go here, as well.

This blog will not consist of translations of my German blog, but of original content, even when the topics of posts overlap. That way I want to ensure both blogs deliver the best and most relevant they’re capable of.

As you can see right now, the transition is not completed yet. Some elements of the site are still in German because they were hard-coded into the original site to be so. I deliberately kept the original’s design to have a common visual identity across languages. Those will be replaced one by one in the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for the actual content on here, starting later this week when I have Introduction out, my first short available as an e-book in English.