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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory