Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Blurb and GST

Email received as part of Blurb's general awareness campaign

I have always thought that Blurb provides great service. This has been borne out several times when the product, a digital photo book, arrived at my door damaged, dinged or generally in a state that wasn't acceptable for the cost paid. Every time I complained (in the nicest possible way) and every time Blurb came through with a quick replacement. Great customer service.

However I recently had reason to get grumpy with the company. Since late last year I've noticed an extra charge appearing at the checkout. Just as you complete the order, a 10% GST charge appears. I was an a bit of a hurry the first time I saw this tax addition, but recently had the time to look into it some more. Even though I was ordering from what I took to be a US Site, and paying in US dollars, I still had to pay an additional 10%. I found this almost unbelievable since I was importing a book from overseas, and its value was less than $1000 I shouldn't have to pay GST right? Wrong.

If you live in Oz (or at least have an Aussie delivery address) you get to pay the tax, regardless of the total cost, or the currency

I wrote to Blurb's customer service asking what was happening. They replied that as they had an business interest in Australia, they were obliged to charge GST. I was not convinced. I had paid from a US account, in US dollars, for a book that arrived from California, via a US courier company (FedEx). I wrote more, demanding some answers but only got the same answer, this time in a slightly bigger point size. After a few more exchanges I called a local GST expert in Sydney. He confirmed that as the company had an Australian ABN it had to collect GST – the fact that it was being ordered from a US company, paid in US$ and delivered from California wasn't seen as relevant. GST has to be paid. I was pretty surprised at this. I've spoken to a lot of my photo students about this, most of whom order photo gear online from OS. No one pays GST on anything under $1000. But the problem is the ABN number.

Blurb did mention it had an Australian printer, but wouldn't divulge who this was. And since my month-long stream of grumpy emails started, I have noted several changes to the Blurb website, mostly pointing out a (new?) Australian Site, along with Sites for the UK and other countries. The latest was a global email informing me that as I had a delivery address in Australia I'd be paying GST – I don't think for a moment my emails sparked this off but then again, maybe they did? I've not heard of anyone else raising the issue.



To make matters worse I calculated that the total cost of my book was $30 more than the US$ price. Blurb's answer to this is that
it merely sets a price "... that the Australian market can bear...". 

Nothing to do with the exchange rate, which kinda sucks, because the rate works out to be what we were getting more than two years ago.
Ordering books from overseas, I was naively hoping to benefit from the strong Aussie dollar. In this case, apparently not!

I got over the annoyance of not being able to cash in on a
strong Aussie dollar. Nothing I can do about it anyway (other than find another bookmaking service). But that leaves the Aussie (‘au’) Site business. Who's to say where that 'au' Site really is? I've had a .com site for years and yet it's Australian owned and run. But it looks like it might be a U.S. site.

I'm not for a moment suggesting Blurb is dishonest, far from it - its customer service department was quite frank with all of my enquiries, but it highlights a GST Tax regulation that I think few Australians know about, or agree with. But, as I wrote to Blurb, that's a problem I have to take up with my own government not their company accountants.