Last week I took a couple of days out to visit the 25th wonderful wet Hay literary festival with my Dad. We had a great mid-week jaunt running around bookshops and watching curious lectures by Bettany Hughes, Kate Humble, Nicholas Parsons and Terry Pratchett among others.
Hay can almost sell itself, there’s so much new information to tweet and all the brightly coloured displays to instagram, but the town seems so anti-technology. Sometimes by accident and sometimes entirely on purpose!
No connection no likey
I learnt so much from the lectures and came back with lots of new ideas. The biggest problem as a ‘sharer’ is that I couldn’t get online or even get phone reception while there. So at the end of each lecture when the ‘Don’t forget to turn your phone on and tell your friends’ sign came on I scoffed loudly in the proper British way before going to queue for the next event. I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get signal or at least had trouble, though I wouldn’t say it spoilt my experience but it did make me wonder how valid having a Hay Festival Twitter account and probably online marketing plan is.
The Kindle killers
My Dad and I are both big readers and big fans of new technology, we both have the Kindle app on our iPads. So it interested us to hear that a small group was taking an anti-Kindle stance in the town. According to the Daily Mail they even blame the Kindle for the closure of five shops in the town over the last year.
There’s plenty of evidence that people are buying more books online every year but the Hay festival is about stories and about books as a physical entity (although they do advertise some new books as available as eBooks) the huge numbers of people buying real paper-based books at the festival speaks for itself. Also I think the speakers for the Festival make a valid point:
‘Most of the bookshops in the town specialise in rare, second-hand books which are not usually available electronically.’
I think perhaps the biggest danger is still the Amazon market-place where individuals can sell second-hand books for more than you’d get at a boot-sale. I have no doubt either that the tech-savvy staff of some of these shops will keep a close eye on the prices on Amazon to keep current.
I think it’s probably important to encourage people to read whichever way they choose, although I champion both the libraries and small book companies. But unfortunately as people who provide a service you have to roll with the times to an extent and focus on what really sets you apart. For example the best collection of craft books I found came from the great Hay-on-Wye Booksellers, and I’d happily recommend it.
We bought second-hand books from the town but I think some of the shops may still have a long way to go to improve their shopping experience. I’m not talking about becoming a new Waterstones, but (without naming names) a small number were dusty, unfriendly and badly signposted a la Bernard Black Books (but less charming).
“You sold a lot of books. You got on well with all the customers. I have to fire you.” – Bernard Black
- Banning Kindles is no way of celebrating books (guardian.co.uk)
- Hay literary festival booksellers fight to ban ‘soulless’ Kindles from world-famous arts event (dailymail.co.uk)