View from City Road: Book for the end of the world

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Eschatologists are having a field day just now, and not only in the Ukraine. Latest to join the end-of-the-world-is-nigh club are the accountants Ernst & Young, whose VAT and Books paints a grim picture of life after the Budget.

The cornerstone of their prediction is that the higher the price, the lower the number of books sold. So virtually every extra pound produced for the taxman by imposing VAT on books would come from publishers' revenues.

They calculate that VAT at the full rate would lead to a 15 per cent drop in sales. With profit margins down to a new low of 2.4 per cent, few publishers would be able to absorb the increase.

That in turn, so the theory goes, would trigger all manner of Armageddon-style consequences - from cutting the number of titles produced each year to hastening the demise of the net book agreement and the small local bookshop.

Of course, people have been wrong about the end of the world before. And at least there is still time to stock up on VATless copies of the Book of Revelation.