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Friday Report: June 19, 2020

It’s Juneteenth, and as I reported last week, the ongoing Situation Out There continues to disturb and distract us. It feels like everything is going in slow motion. Nevertheless, some progress has occurred this week.

I’ve made still more improvements to the code that handles coupons and discounts on our site. I updated and improved our FAQ, Account Help, and Device Advice pages, and switched much of our site to use a wider, more readable font. I also made a bit of progress on the next edition of my iCloud book, though there’s a great deal of work left to be done. I worked with authors on free, minor updates to a couple of books that will be appearing shortly, talked to some user group leaders about working with vendors, and outlined three new books I’ll be working on later this summer. My Take Control to-do list has shrunk slightly from 110 items last week to 107 this week.

SummerFest 2020

The big news this week is the beginning of SummerFest 2020, which runs from now through July 8. During this time period, you can save 30% on all full-price Take Control books using coupon code summerfest2020, and you can also save 25–30% on a long list of other fantastic Mac apps, many of which we use here daily. I hope you’ll check out all the deals and help support artisanal software developers.

WWDC Next Week

Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference begins next week, and as always, I anticipate it with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I have no inside information from Apple, but rumors strongly suggest we’ll be hearing about an upcoming transition to a new ARM-based processor line for Macs, which could make life very interesting for everyone and affect many of our books. We also expect to hear about macOS 10.16, iOS 14/iPadOS 14, and new versions of watchOS and tvOS too. We don’t yet know anything about what will be in these updates or whether they’ll be delayed past their usual September/October release schedule considering the pandemic-related shutdowns over the past few months. Since we traditionally release several new books in the late summer or early fall to cover the new operating systems, we’ll be watching very carefully to see what alterations our plans will require.

Fall Plans, Part One

Although I don’t know all the specifics yet, I do have some general expectations about our publishing schedule over the next four to five months. First, we’ll continue to work through our backlog of outdated titles that need refreshing. In some cases, we might have to do a bigger update now and a smaller update after the new operating systems ship, or vice versa. We also plan to rejigger our lineup of macOS titles, covering roughly the same range of material we have in the past but divided up differently (and, we hope, in a more sustainable way). I would like to think we’ll have at least a few books ready for the new operating systems day-and-date with their release, if not sooner, but I fully expect we’ll still be catching up with OS compatibility updates through the end of the year.

Besides new books, as I’ve mentioned in various places for over a year, we have other changes in the works. For example, we are eager to create a proper mechanism for giving Take Control books as gifts—something that’s currently awkward at best. We plan a redesign of both our interior templates and our covers, in anticipation of eventually offering paperback versions of some of our titles. And we’re working on a novel discount program that we think everyone will love. In my ideal world, all those things (and the rest of my to-do list) will be wrapped up before the end of 2020. However, if I’ve learned one thing from 2020, it’s that the world is far from ideal. We’ll do our best!

Ebooks and Taxes

A topic that has come up with increasing frequency lately is that of sales taxes (sometimes referred to as VAT, GST, or PST, among other names) applied to ebooks. To make a long story short, some jurisdictions that previously did not tax ebooks are now starting to do so, while other jurisdictions (including Norway and the UK) that previously taxed ebooks have stopped doing so. These changes are causing some headaches.

One of the reasons we use FastSpring as a reseller rather than charging credit and debit cards directly (or using a more straightforward payment processor, such as Stripe) is that FastSpring handles all the tax stuff for us. They figure out what taxes are owed, calculate and charge the relevant amounts, submit the required reports to all the various tax authorities across the U.S. and around the world, and remit the taxes they’ve collected. It’s a gigantic accounting hassle, and we’re happy not to have that on our hands.


FastSpring has been slow to adapt to the changing laws (which, in fairness, is partly due to the fact that they in turn rely on an outside company called Avalara for tax computations). As of right now, FastSpring treats all digital products the same for tax purposes. So if a given jurisdiction taxes any digital product, FastSpring charges taxes on all digital products, including ebooks. In order for that to change, FastSpring has to (among other things) update their APIs so that vendors like us can specify which type of digital product each item is, and then they have to use that information to get finer-grained tax information from Avalara. Once they’ve done that, we’ll need to update our code so that each item we hand off to FastSpring is specially tagged to indicate its specific subcategory of digital product. But until FastSpring completes their programming and testing and publishes an updated API, it’s entirely out of our hands. (And, even once that does happen, we’ll need some time to do our own programming and testing.)

We know those of you in places that have stopped taxing ebooks would like for FastSpring to stop adding them to your order. We would like that too! But it’s a process we can’t do anything to hurry.

Update 6/20/20: I forgot to mention a second issue involving taxes, which is people outside the United States trying to pay for books in U.S. dollars and then being asked for a ZIP code (which they might not have). I wrote about that in our FAQ; scroll down to “I’m outside the United States but I want to pay in U.S. dollars. How can I do that?”

Whenever a glitch of any kind occurs with FastSpring, customers inevitably wonder why we don’t “just” ditch them and switch to a different payment system without this or that problem. Long story short: it doesn’t work that way. Hypothetically, if we decided to switch to a different payment system, we’d be looking at weeks of full-time programming and testing work on my part (during which time, of course, I couldn’t be writing, updating, editing, or publishing books—or working on any of the other things on my to-do list). We’d also have a much greater accounting burden when it comes to taxes, even if we used an outside company such as Avalara or Quaderno to do the actual computations and filings. (And, of course, the cost of such services is another consideration.)

Are there other options? Certainly. Might we someday go down a different path? It’s possible. But for the immediate future, doing anything different when it comes to payments would be incompatible with staying in business, and I hope you can understand how that would be a priority! We appreciate your patience and forbearance.

Up Next

This time next week, with the WWDC announcements out of the way, I hope to have more interesting and concrete things to say about our publishing plans. And I’d like to think that to-do list will keep shrinking. As always, we welcome your feedback, comments, and questions.