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The Bookshops in Hay-on-Wye

A Visit to the Book Shops of Hay-on-Wye in Wales
Hay-on-Wye is a world famous booktown but is it worth visiting?
I was there recently and can give thoughts from three perspectives . . .

With secondhand and antiquarian bookshops disappearing at an alarming rate the thought of over 20 bookshops in one town is enough to make any book lover salivate. I’ve been to Hay-on-Wye several times over the last 20 years or so but my return trip recently was the first in many a year - so what was it like?

Firstly, I should preface my thoughts by saying I can look at Hay-on-Wye and the booksellers there in 3 ways. As an avid reader always looking for books to buy to read, as a first edition book collector and also as a book dealer so that, I think, makes it a multi-faceted view.

Overall it’s a nice place to visit, a small but nice town on the Welsh border, the downside is the journey, it’s not easy to get to from just about everywhere.
Once there though you should be happy, lovely scenery, the stunning River Wye, an old castle and a real old Market Town feel plus of course over 20 bookshops.

There’s a wide variety of bookshops and overall a huge selection, from the specialist crime fiction shop Murder and Mayhem to antiquarian and collectable bookshops such as Francis Edwards and Boz Books right through to modern remainders and general reading - it all sounds impressive - and indeed it is.

The catch for me was . . . I didn’t buy a single book!

It seems scarcely believable given how keen I was to buy and on the different levels at which I could potentially buy books. In fairness I did mention this beforehand to my brother when I said “I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t get a single book”
Why though?

I suspect the main issue is popularity, a lot of people are going over the books so much obviously sells and it’s a fact nowadays that replacing decent stock has never been more difficult.

Another aspect could be the internet, I noted in several shops they had stock on the internet, that would obviously take the more interesting books and whilst I understand the need for more sales it feels self-defeating when you travel to Wales, book a hotel then pick up a book only to see an Amazon SKU code pencilled inside!

I think if second-hand bookshops are to survive, outside of big cities, then clustering together like this may be the only way, the number and choice make it worth the journey.
Don’t read too much into my failure to buy, I doubt most others would have a similar experience, that said it was a salutary lesson in what’s happening/happened to the trade in secondhand books.

If you’ve been to Hay-on-Wye or have and thoughts in general on secondhand books and the selling or buying of them then please do share it below, thank you.
Yours,
Rod

7 Comments »

  1. Richard Oliver said,

    April 15, 2014 @ 5:32 pm

    Interesting! I’ve only been to Hay twice, once in Sept 1979 and again in Sept 2013. My impression on both occasions was that it had disproportionately less ‘interesting’ stuff than would an ‘ordinary’ second-hand shop in somewhere like Lewes or Brighton (both of which had decidedly more 2nd hand bookshops 30 to 35 years ago) - or the one remaining general bookshop in the Exeter area today. Actually, despite the dreaded internet, I thought the stock actually better in 2013 than in 1979!

  2. Rod said,

    April 15, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

    Richard,
    interesting comment, many thanks. I believe interesting stock is largely a case of location.
    If I ran a secondhand bookshop in Lincoln the stock would be more interesting than if I ran one in Grimsby, they’re not ideally placed in Hay.

    Another issue is resident stock, the best sells and the worst hangs around so eventually you get bogged down with undesirable and unsellable stock.
    Regards,
    Rod

  3. Richard Oliver said,

    April 16, 2014 @ 9:11 am

    Yes, I know of one in Horncastle where the ‘undesirable and unsellable stock’ has grown to such a size over the past 20 years that you can hardly get in the door!! Although some second hand booksellers have complained about the charity shop boom, a lot of the lower-end-of-the-market second hand bookshops carried stuff that no charity shop would dare put on display, but just send straight to paper recycling!

  4. Rod said,

    April 16, 2014 @ 4:46 pm

    Richard,
    charity shops really do kill the bookshops, Oxfam bookshops especially, I’ve seen the do it.
    I know we can’t cling onto the past but it does seem like a real shame to me
    Regards,
    Rod

  5. RBuxton said,

    August 11, 2014 @ 4:55 am

    Have visited HoW on two occasions, once in the 80s and again to visit the Festival in 2013. Wholly different experiences. My first impression was of a slightly eccentric place with a number of quaint second-hand bookshops and a pleasurable stroll around. My latest view (albeit in the midst of a major event) was of a town with a huge traffic problem, shops where to stop and peruse was socially unacceptable and was crowned by a visit to a cafe where they ‘had the language’ and proceeded to use it in the presence of English customers. I don;t know if this latter is an increasing phenomenon in Welsh Wales, but Hay is only just over the border, surely.

  6. Rod said,

    August 11, 2014 @ 7:45 am

    RB,
    interesting comment, many thanks.
    I’ve been many times but never come across the ‘lapsing into Welsh issue’ I wonder whether some resent the festival?!

    I know it sounds bizarre but at the Cleethorpes Airshow quite a few of the seafront businesses were complaining and didn’t want it on - despite making a packet out of it.
    I’ve not been to the festival as I imagine it to be chaos, their infrastructure is simply not geared up to such a big annual event, same as everywhere really, Lincolnshire show, Waddington etc - all create havoc on roads etc.
    Regards,
    Rod

  7. v said,

    August 11, 2014 @ 9:31 am

    R Bux

    I don’t ever spend my money in a shop where they intentionally lapse into Welsh in my presence. I live only 40 miles from Welsh border so have visited often and experienced this.

    It’s rude of them to do this and I don’t give my cash to people who are rude to me, be they in Welsh shops or here in English pubs!

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