Exclusive

Hay-on-Wye v Amazon: Politicians join fight to stop closure of bookshops in historic town

Britain’s literary capital is fighting back against the online retailer – with help from the Welsh Tories

Whitehall Editor

For more than 50 years it has been the literary capital of Britain and home to the most famous book festival in the world. But now senior politicians have joined forces with the booksellers of Hay-on-Wye to warn that the town’s future is being put in jeopardy by the online retailer Amazon – and its vast distribution centre less than 50 miles away in Swansea.

Over the last three years, five of Hay’s 30 bookstores have closed as visitor numbers and revenues have plunged. The remaining shops, which have to pay overheads and taxes of more than £1,500 a month, say that they are finding it increasing hard to make ends meet.

Some have even taken to selling their stock on Amazon – but say the 20 per cent commission they have to pay to the company often means they barely cover their costs.

They have now been backed in their campaign by the Welsh Conservatives, who have begun a campaign to “level the playing field” between the high street and the web.

“The irony is that Hay-on-Wye is one of the most famous bookshop towns in UK and is competing against the biggest multinational distributor of books, who don’t pay their fair share of tax and have a huge warehouse just down the road in Swansea,” said Andrew Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives. “We’ve got to have a level-playing field if historic towns like Hay, if our high street, is to have a chance of survival.”

High-street shops have to pay rates as well as tax on their profits, but companies like Amazon use international tax laws to minimise their liabilities.

Amazon’s vast distribution centre in Swansea Amazon’s vast distribution centre in Swansea  

Last year Amazon’s UK subsidiary paid £2.4m in corporate taxes, despite making sales of £4.3bn. The tax bill was almost as much as the £2.5m in government grants Amazon received over the same period, according to a Companies House filing. Its 800,000 sq ft distribution centre in Swansea Bay, which opened in 2008, was partly funded by the Welsh Government.

Anne Brichto, who runs Addyman books in Hay with her husband, said that since then life had become “very tough”. “Over the last three years we’ve lost five book stores and those that are still here are suffering badly,” she says. “As booksellers we don’t go into the trade to make lots of money but we do have to cover our overheads and that is increasingly tough. We’re paying £500 a month in rates plus about £1,000 in rent. It costs us £3.80 [just to] throw out a bag of litter.

“Obviously if you just have a warehouse outside town your costs are going to be nothing like that. But then you lose the chance just to go into a shop and browse and find something new and unexpected.”

Ms Brichto said that, like many booksellers, she had put her stock on Amazon but she said this was not a long-term solution because of the 20 per cent commission she had to pay.

“My fear is that if more shops close we will lose the critical mass of bookshops that attract people to Hay. Oxford Street would not be successful if every shop apart from Selfridges closed down.”

Browsing at the Hay Festival Browsing at the Hay Festival  

Peter Harries, who has had a second-hand bookstore in Hay for 25 years, said the way things are going the Welsh high street could vanish in 20 years.

“The high street is more than simply a collection of shops on the side of the road; it is the backbone of the local economy,” he said. “Wales is home to Hay-on-Wye, the ‘town of books’, and yet it competes on a playing field dominated by international online giants: some of whom don’t pay even half the tax that Welsh high street shops do.”

Amazon did not respond to an invitation to comment.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower