Media VAT in the Nordic countries (2020)
Since July 2019, digital media have reduced value-added tax (VAT) throughout the Nordic region. But there are differences between the countries – and all VAT issues are not resolved. Nordicom has mapped the situation for media VAT in the five Nordic countries.
In March 2016, Norway became the first Nordic country to lower the VAT on digital news, followed by Iceland in July 2018. Denmark, Finland and Sweden – the three Nordic EU members – reduced or abolished the digital media VAT in July 2019.
So far, the question of VAT on digital media has been solved, but there are still some open questions in the VAT area, for example on how the digital VAT is applied and which general media categories should be subject to reduced VAT rates.
Relating to EU VAT rules
State media subsidies, aiming to strengthen democracy and freedom of speech, can be direct or indirect. While direct media subsidies go through the state budget, indirect subsidies – which this article is about – are regulated through national VAT legislation.
National acts must be harmonised with the EU VAT Directive, which long vetoed lowering the VAT on digital platforms. However, in November 2018 – after a review of the directive – the EU gave the go-ahead for equivalent VAT on printed and digital (electronic) publications.
At that time, the Nordic media industry had long protested against media content being subject to different VAT rates depending on whether it was read digitally or on paper. Also, politicians were ready to work for platform-neutral VAT rates.
Following the EU’s green light, the governments in Denmark, Finland and Sweden quickly proposed to apply the same VAT reductions to both printed and digital publications. In Spring 2019, decisions were taken: the VAT laws were revised, and on 1 July 2019, amendments came into force in the three countries.
The two non-EU members were a bit ahead: Norway abolished digital VAT on news in 2016, while Iceland reduced the VAT rate on a range of digital media in 2018, after approvals from the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA).
Only news media have reduced VAT in all Nordic countries
Paid-for news media, that is, printed newspapers and digital equivalents (in Norway, also TV news) comprise the only category with a reduced VAT level in all five Nordic countries.
Finland, Iceland and Sweden apply reduced VAT rates of 10, 11 and 6 per cent, respectively, while in Norway news media are VAT exempt. In Denmark, newspapers are VAT exempt, but must pay a fee calculated on revenue from newspaper sales (see the section about Denmark below).
Comparing the five Nordic countries, Denmark and Iceland are at opposite ends of the spectrum; while Denmark has standard VAT for all media except newspapers, Iceland has reduced VAT for virtually all paid media. Norway stands out by applying VAT exemptions to the largest extent.
Further similarities and differences
In addition to news media, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden apply reduced VAT rates on books, periodicals and magazines (in Norway periodicals only), as well as cinema tickets (the latter with the exception of Sweden). But VAT levels vary between the countries, and there are also some local features.
In Norway, for example, VAT exemption on digital news media is more far-reaching than in the other countries and includes, for instance, TV news channels. Meanwhile, Iceland alone has a reduced VAT rate on streaming services and computer games.
As for cinema tickets, Iceland makes a difference between domestic films that are VAT exempt, and foreign films with a standard VAT rate. Sweden, which abolished the cinema VAT reduction in 2017, has, together with Denmark, a standard VAT rate for all cinema tickets.
Below, the graph and country descriptions show more information about the media VAT country by country.
Graph: Media sectors with reduced value-added tax (VAT) rate in the Nordic countries, 2020
In Denmark, there are no reduced VAT rates at all, only a standard VAT of 25 per cent. The standard VAT is applied to all media, except for newspapers, which are exempt from VAT. Newspapers must, however, pay 3.54 per cent of the newspaper sales value (lønsumsafgift). As of 1 July 2019, the same conditions apply to digital newspapers (elektronisk leveret avis).
Also, the magazine and book sectors wish for reduced VAT. As for the magazine industry, an analysis of the competitive interaction (in Danish) between traditional news media and magazines (magasiner) is currently underway, initiated in the media policy agreement for 2019–2023 (in Danish). The agreement is now being renegotiated, following a shift of governments in June 2019, and the analysis is to be presented during spring 2020 and serve as a knowledge resource for the media negotiations.
In Finland, newspapers, periodicals and magazines, books and cinema tickets have a reduced VAT rate of ten per cent. Since 1 July 2019, the same reduced VAT rate applies to digital publications.
Previously, Finland had different VAT rates for subscriptions and single-copy sales of newspapers and magazines, with reduced VAT rates for subscriptions extending over at least one month and standard VAT rates for single copies. This changed on 1 July 2019, when the VAT rate for single copies was also reduced to ten per cent. Until 2012, subscriptions to newspapers and magazines were exempt from VAT in Finland.
In Iceland, there is a reduced VAT rate (11%) on newspapers, periodicals and magazines, books and cinema tickets. But unlike the other Nordic countries, reduced VAT also applies to private electronic media – sound recordings, radio and TV – as well as streaming services and computer games.
The reduced VAT rate for digital news services, magazines and books, together with streaming services and computer games, was introduced on 1 July 2018, one year ahead of the VAT reductions in the EU states.
A local Icelandic feature is that domestic films are exempt from VAT, while foreign films have a standard VAT rate. Until 2002, the same system applied to books.
In Norway, newspapers and electronic news services, periodicals (fagpresse) and books are exempt from VAT, while cinema tickets have a reduced VAT rate of 12 per cent. Consumer magazines (ukepresse) are subject to the standard VAT rate of 25 per cent.
Norway abolished VAT on electronic news on 1 March 2016, after approval from ESA (PDF in English). Since then, electronic news services – that is, digital newspapers and other online news services, plus TV (and radio) paid-for news – are exempt from VAT, in line with printed newspapers. For example, the TV2 News channel is VAT exempt.
Since 1 July 2019, digital books and periodicals are exempt from VAT. However, the zero-VAT rate for periodicals on the web has aroused debate, as it is limited to digital editions of the printed journals or static numbered digital editions. In other words, their online services with continuous updates are not exempt from VAT.
In February 2020, the government proposed to extend the VAT exemption to in-depth journalism (dybdejournalistik), to be able to include continuous digital periodicals. The proposal, which is now on referral, is suggested to enter into force on 1 July 2020.
In Sweden, newspapers, periodicals and magazines and books have a reduced VAT rate of 6 per cent. From 1 July 2019, the same reduced VAT rate applies to the digital counterparts. Cinema tickets previously had 6 per cent VAT, but as of 2017, they have a standard VAT rate.
TABLES: MEDIA VAT IN THE NORDIC COUNTRIES 2000–2020
Download from Nordicom’s table database:
Data collected in cooperation with the statistical offices in Finland and Iceland, and medianorway (Nordicom's statistical network).
NATIONAL DOCUMENTS: Acts on VAT, rates of VAT, press releases, etc.
Danish Customs and Tax Administration (Skatteforvaltningen): Beregning af lønsumsafgift, Metode 3
Danish Ministry of Taxation (Skatteministeriet): Lønsumsafgift - Avgiftssatser
Lønsumsafgiftsloven [Act on Pay Roll Tax]
The Finnish Tax Administration: Kirjojen ja lehtien arvonlisäverotuksesta [About VAT taxing of books and newspapers]
Laki arvonlisäverolain 85 a §:n muuttamisesta (15 March 2019) [Act on Changes of 85 a § in the VAT Act]
Iceland Revenue and Customs: Value Added Tax
Lög um virðisaukaskatt, 1988 nr. 50 (incl. changes) [Act on VAT 1988 no. 50]
Norwegian Tax Administration (Skatteetaten): Merverdiavgiftshåndboken 2019
Lov om merverdiavgift (merverdiavgiftsloven). LOV-2009-06-19-58 (sist endret: LOV-2019-12-20-98 fra 01.01.2020) [Act on VAT]
Government, 21 February 2020: Regjeringen har i dag sendt et forslag til merverdiavgiftsfritak for dybdejournalistikk på høring
Ministry of Finance, 21 February 2020:
Høring - Forslag om endring av merverdiavgiftsfritaket for aviser
Höringsnotat: Endring av merverdiavgiftsfritak for aviser (PDF 547 KB)
Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket): Momssats på varor och tjänster
Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Culture, 14 March 2019: Regeringen lämnar förslag om sänkt moms på e-publikationer till riksdagen
Parliament Decision, 08 May 2019: Extra ändringsbudget för 2019 - Sänkt moms på e-publikationer