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
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

East15 Acting School: Finance and Contracts Officer

£20,781 to £24,057 per annum: East15 Acting School: The post involves general ...

Recruitment Genius: PA / Sales and Training Administrator

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Support Manager

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role's responsibility also...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager - Heli Ski Specialist

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen