Hay Festival Embraces Reading Revolution

Lucy Cotter, Arts and Entertainment Correspondent
Hay Festival Embraces Reading Revolution

As thousands of people flock to Britain's largest literary festival to celebrate books, the state of the publishing industry itself is in flux.

The Hay Festival in Wales is in its 26th year and attracts some of the world's most renowned writers.

However, the rise of ebooks, piracy and internet sales mean there are challenging times ahead for the industry, although the actual numbers are encouraging.

Total book sales, combining physical and digital, last year were £3.3bn. Digital sales increased by 66%, but although physical copies declined slightly they still made up the lion's share of the total.

Miriam Robinson, head of marketing for the bookshop Foyles, says those that innovate will survive these turbulent times.

"It's rosy for some and very scary for others, which is natural in a state of flux we're seeing in this real revolution in how books are made," she said.

"It is a boom in reading. People are reading more in one way or the other than they have been for a very long time which is exciting, publishers who are getting it right are seeing the benefits. The retail side is where there is actually something to play for."

Hay started from humble beginnings, but now spans five continents and boasts 11 separate festivals. It was described by Bill Clinton as the "Woodstock of the mind".

Thousands now descend on the small Welsh town to be inspired with 10 days of debates and conversations with poets, politicians and comedians, not to mention best-selling novelists.

Among others this year's star turns include John le Carré, Hans Blix, Caitlin Moran, Carl Bernstein and Lionel Shriver.

Festival director Peter Florence told Sky News he set it up as a way of attracting inspiring individuals to the area.

"It was really a way of entertaining ourselves and trying to think how you could get the most interesting people to come and hang.

"It started really small and intimate - and it's just got a lot bigger".