UK tax authorities can’t make heads or tails of adult coloring books

What is this
What is this
Image: EPA/Andy Rain
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The world’s sudden interest in coloring books for adults could have an unforeseen cost for British publishers.

UK publishers have been told that they now owe value-added taxes (commonly called VAT) on adult coloring books sold in 2015, reports publishing magazine Bookseller. The industry could stand to lose £4 million (around $5.9 million) if Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) decides to collect.

In the UK, books, magazines, and newspapers have a VAT set at 0%. So do children’s coloring books, which is presumably why VAT wasn’t expected for the 3.3 million adult coloring books sold in the UK in 2015. But the HMRC claims that coloring for grown-ups is a different animal completely. The Bookseller speculates that blank coloring books for adults may be considered “incomplete,” and therefore taxable by HMRC standards.

What’s in question, it seems, is the nature of adult coloring books. Six million is not a huge amount of money, especially across publishers, but the confusion hints at a broader question: What, exactly, is this fad? When adults rush to buy and color mostly blank paper, are they playing games, reading, passing time, self-medicating or none of the above? The answer to that will dictate who gets to cash in on the craze.

The HMRC website has a highly detailed section on what kinds of children’s books are charged 0% tax, including “children’s painting and drawing books with sample pictures for copying, or outlines of pictures for colouring, painting or drawing,” but their site says nothing of kid activities for those over 18.