I live in the United States –North Carolina, to be specific– and am a one-woman show. Each day, I get up and put in 8 to 14 hours on various projects. Comics, short stories, novels, products… I do all of my own shipping. I answer emails (poorly, and usually in batches when I finally get a spare hour). I’m trying to salvage a simple Kickstarter that went so far off of the rails that I’ve had to start building new rails. You want to see me juggle plates? I will try to juggle plates! And then I will need new plates.
In other words, I’m exactly like every single other independent businessperson working for themselves in the creative economy. Sure, the tasks change: maybe you make music instead of comics, or put out .pdfs of knitting patterns instead of novels. Regardless of the flavor, we all put in the long, long hours because we love what we do.
(Lord knows it’s not for the money. This has been my first year as an independent full-time creator, and it’s been ridiculously rough. Sometimes I’ll search online just to learn what a dental hygienist or an actuary makes, and sigh.)
But as of December 30th, I’m making minimum wage for a typical 8-hour workday. In North Carolina, this works out to $7.25 an hour. That was my benchmark for whether or not I can (airquotes) make it (/airquotes) as an independent creator. I gave myself a year to see if I could do it. And I can! Woo hoo!
Here, I’ll save you the math: this works out to $290 a week, $1160 a month, and $13920 a year. Also, this does not include overtime. If I work over 8 hours a day, it’s unpaid labor.
(Did you know that an actuary can earn upwards of $250,000 a year?)
One of my steadiest sources of income are digital downloads. These are amazing! I create a product, bundle it in a handy downloadable file, stick it in my store, and forget about it. I don’t have to invest in maintaining an inventory or shipping. It’s an up-front investment of my time that can pay out again and again. Combined with Patreon*, digital downloads are a major component of my earnings.
are were also the best way for me to reach international readers. I no longer offer shipping anywhere other than within the United States. I will ship overseas when asked, but nothing turns a potential customer away more quickly than seeing that the shipping and handling on an item exceeds the cost of the item itself. There are no barriers to digital downloads.
Well, not until January 1, 2015.
I wrote about VAT-MOSS a month ago, when I first learned that new tax regulations would target digital products in the European Union. These taxes are… complicated. The stupid-short version is that taxes are based on where the customer is at the moment of purchase. Not where I, the seller, live and/or work. Not where the customer lives. It’s determined by the location of the customer when they decide to purchase a digital product.
I’ve been watching the subsequent VAT-MOSS clusterfuck like a dog watching that last pizza crust on the plate —Where’s it gonna go? How’s it gonna land? Will I be quick enough to take advantage of it?– and I’ve been hoping that the EU would simply decide to postpone the VAT-MOSS rollout for creators making less than X-Amount for another year. Since those supervising VAT-MOSS at the EU seemed surprised to learn that independent creators across the entire freakin’ planet had never even heard of this new legislation until it gained traction in social media, I felt that this wasn’t an unrealistic expectation. Allowing a one-year exemption for small independent creators would give everybody time to sort out the mess and prepare for the next stage in the creative economy.
As of December 29th, it appears that VAT-MOSS will roll out as scheduled.
There have been some minor changes to cushion the blow for small businesses, but these aren’t substantial and will have no significant effect on me. (I should point out that while the article I just referenced says “non-EU sellers are probably safe if they ignore [VAT-MOSS taxes]”, the breakdown from the gov.uk website states that “Businesses outside the EU (for example, the USA) that supply digital services to consumers in one or more EU member state are also affected by the changes,” and I’m gonna go with that one, thanks.)
So, I’m disabling digital downloads from my store to EU customers. This won’t involve much, since I use Big Cartel/Pulley as my shopping cart system and they are awesome. I change a setting, and EU customers no longer have the option of buying my digital products directly from me. Sorry, guys. I don’t want to be a dick. I’ll make sure you have access to these items through third-party vendors, Patreon, and by giving them to you free of charge when all else fails.
Finally, I don’t think this is a death knell for me as an independent creator. I was lucky enough to squeak in under the wire. But if 2015 were my make-or-break year… Well. It’s not. I got lucky. My sympathies to those who have to make major changes to their stores, or who have to abandon their creative pursuits altogether.
(I should tie all of this together with another joke about becoming an actuary, but that’s in poor taste when peoples’ livelihoods are a’splodin’ all over the world.)
*I should note that my Patreon has been lurking in the $750 range until mid-December, and the Spirit of My Readers are FREAKIN’ AWESOME! recently tipped it over the top.
ETA (5:15pm): Big Cartel also has a tax setting, and is aware of the VAT-MOSS changes. They are looking into workarounds so they can collect and report tax directly, but it will take time.