A few weeks ago, a journalist friend of mine was at a publishing company having lunch in the boardroom. He was there with agents, authors, retailers and people from the publishing company. And the talk was bad. "VV bad," in the words of my friend. In groups like this it is often difficult to reach any sort of consensus. In fact, they often just become lying contests, and as we've yet to come out of the recession, recently the lying has taken on Herculean proportions.
But the one thing they could all agree on was the bleak outlook for the publishing industry. With hardback sales roughly down 40 per cent across the board, with the closing of Borders, the threat of the Kindle, the slashing of advances and the proliferation of celebrity autobiographies, the assembled print dinosaurs could do little but cry into their consommé, and glug back the Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Which means next year it's incumbent on all of us to spend as much money in bookshops as we possibly can. I'm not advocating an Amazon ban, but if you care about the health of your neighbourhood bookshop, then you should vote with your feet. And your purse. Because the publishing industry is in dire straits and needs all the help it can get.
I'm doing my bit, and so should you. One of the joys of living near Hay-on-Wye is the three-hour Saturday trawl through the dozens of secondhand bookshops. Peter Florence's literary festivals have certainly contributed to the literary vibrancy and economic health of "the town of books", but it is the 30-plus independent bookstores that create the year-round cultural equity.
Bibliophiles have been flocking here for decades, so for many there is no novelty about the place, but if there is anyone who laments the digital migration of bookselling, and who hasn't been to Hay, there's really no excuse for you not to go. Don't wait for the festival: go now (and then come back for the festival). And buy lots and lots of books.
As Ray Bradbury once said, "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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