The Battle of Hay-on-Wye
Is the festival ruining Britain's premier town for secondhand books? Andrew Johnson reports
Sunday 25 January 2009
An uncivil war has broken out in the small but internationally renowned book town of Hay-on-Wye on the Powys-Herefordshire border.
The booksellers who put the town on the map 30 years ago are angry and fearful at collapsing sales, and are pinning the blame on the festival, which began 25 years ago, on the internet, and now on each other.
The chief culprit, to their minds, is the self-styled King of Hay, Richard Booth, who is credited with starting the whole Hay phenomenon and who used to run one of the town's biggest book dealerships.
Mr Booth, they say, is no longer capable of attracting the publicity the town needs, nor of challenging the festival which, they argue, has become a corporate monster with sponsorship by Sky and The Guardian. They argue it sucks up the thousands of tourists who used to browse in the town's second- hand book emporia but now no longer visit except to park their cars.
In response, the rebels have been condemned as "parasites feeding on [Booth's] success" by his loyal bookkeeper Eve Redway.
The dealers are, however, facing real concerns. Paul Harris, who runs the antiquarian shop Oxford House Books, said some have seen their trade fall by 50 per cent over recent years.
"You can fill a town with books, but that won't bring people to the town," he said. "You need publicity and promotion, which is now all sucked up by the festival. Richard used to be great at drumming up publicity and denouncing the festival. He's not able to do that any more, so we need to set up a council to replace him."
Mr Booth, who has been unwell for some years, said yesterday: "We were founded as a town attraction, not as a bookselling attraction," he said. "Now, the town isn't promoted at all: it's the festival." The two sides are set for a showdown meeting next week, with Mr Booth's "abdication" on the agenda.
Peter Florence, who founded the Hay festival, argued last night that if the booksellers can't make money from its 65,000 visitors, they "need to rethink their strategy".
Authors speak out: Has Hay really lost its way?
'The problem is a combination of the recession and the internet. I sympathise with the booksellers'
'There are two different types of bookseller... I'm quite sure that in the summer, they all do well'
'I call the festival Waterstones-on-Wye. It's almost lost touch with intellectual value'
'Many festival goers don't go into the town, but the idea that the festival detracts from Hay is clearly preposterous'
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens trailer: The most extreme fan reactions on Twitter
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
General Election 2015: Polish prince challenges Nigel Farage to a duel over immigration question