Danes Pressing (or not) Ahead

The weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

We’ve heard back from the Danish government on why they think taxing print is a good idea. But their response raises more questions than it answers and exemplifies one of the fundamental problems facing environmental questions: ignorance.

The Ministry of Taxation has told us that the “The purpose of the advertising-tax is to reduce the quantity of printed door-to-door matters and will be for benefit of the environment”. The tax is 0.67 US cents per kilo printed, so a direct mail printer printing 700 tonnes per year will have to pay $469,000 in tax. The tax reduces by a half for print carrying the European EcoLabel, itself a flawed specification.

The Danish government reckons to raise DKK340 million per year in taxes, which is about $57 million and a trivial amount for a country with a GDP of $331 billion. They also expect the tax take to go down year to year, as the cost of print becomes untenable for media buyers. The social and economic cost to the country will certainly dwarf the income this tax raises, but that doesn’t seem to be a consideration in this hazy picture.

The tax covers “all forms of distributed advertising brochures”, with a few exemptions, such as telephone directories. Creative print buyers who want to use print can dress up telephone directories in all sorts of ways, especially if they want to reach very local audiences. In fact this could be an opportunity for digital printers who want to use variable data to create highly local, advertising driven publications. The question is how the Danish government defines a telephone directory. Does it have to be on yellow paper and only use black ink? 

The more worrying justification the Danes have for this tax is that reducing the amount of print will benefit the environment. Print’s sustainability is proven as is its effectiveness and popularity. The view that print is bad for the environment is superficial and ill-considered. It isn’t print that is bad for the environment, it is waste. The Danish government should be encouraging better waste management and reduction, and environmental awareness. Responsible use of print should be the focus, not demonising it on the basis of uninformed environmental misconceptions.

This is a slippery slope that risks restricting information access and the ability of Danish companies to promote themselves and engage with customers. This tax constrains media choice and assumes electronic media for information access. A tax that restricts media channels is effectively a tax on information and knowledge. This cannot be healthy for a free and democratic society. The Danish government expects to pass the bill early 2015, with the law coming into effect mid-2015 although we were advised that “the Ministry of Taxation is assessing the development on the market for door-to-door matters and the impact on the expected tax-revenue.” Perhaps there is some hope of good sense prevailing, but don’t bank on it.

– Laurel Brunner

This blog is yours to use if you want, as long as you fully credit the Verdigris supporters who make it possible: Agfa Graphics (www.agfa.com), Digital Dots (http://digitaldots.org), EFI (www.efi.com), Fespa (www.fespa.com), HP (www.hp.com/environment), Kodak (www.kodak.com/go/sustainability), Mondi (www.mondigroup.com/products), Pragati Offset (www.pragati.com), Ricoh (www.ricoh.com), Shimizu Printing (www.shzpp.co.jp), Splash PR (www.splashpr.co.uk), Unity Publishing (http://unity-publishing.co.uk) and Xeikon (www.xeikon.com).

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