We’ve been to Hay on Wye four times in the last six years, and as you’d expect during this turbulent time for publishing, it’s been possible to watch the changes in the famous town of books.
Chat to locals and you’ll hear that the town is diversifying, taking into account its spectacular surroundings and high quality wool. The Hay of the future might be a general leisure destination based on antiquing and outdoor pursuits, with the occasional expensive series of lectures.
That may still happen. But even if it does the picture for bibliophiles is currently rosy. During our last visit in 2013, we found a general air of decline with the number of shops falling year-on-year. There was a rather fun new shop concentrating on Penguins through the ages but a former favourite was undergoing a closing down sale and others had already gone to the pulper in the sky.
Curiously, although the number of shops continues to decline slightly (and I’m sorry to say that the Penguin shop didn’t make it), our most recent trip seemed more promising. The remaining shops seem to be in rude health. And the quality and range of titles seemed greater than ever – although some high end shops are no longer with us, contraction seems to have been concentrated at the pile ’em high, remaindered end of the market. As such, the amount we spent and the number of books we bought were far higher than in previous years, across the range of our interests.
For the moment, Hay remains the town of books, and quality seems to be trumping quantity. It’s more-or-less off season now and relatively cheap to visit. Go spend a weekend; your bookshelves will thank you.