The Hay Festival of Literature & Arts, taking place now through June 10th in Wales, has been one of the largest growing literary gatherings since its inception in 1988. From a humble gathering of around 400 bibliophiles, it has become a staple for the community that expects to draw in around a quarter of a million guests over its ten day run this year. The Festival boasts panels with famous authors, debates about literature and environmental sustainability, and a number of other topics and activities. A much-cited quote taken from Bill Clinton in 2001 declares it “The Woodstock of the mind”. It is unfortunate, knowing about all this, to hear the recent press around participants’ demands to completely ban the Kindle from the event for the duration.
It would be hard to call this a surprise considering the nature of the festival. Whatever else it has become, the festival was begun as a way to draw attention to the town of Hay-on-Wye and its position as a central location for independent bookshops. In many ways this has been amazingly successful. As things expanded, and they certainly have by this point with there being over a dozen different official “Hay Festival” events happening around the world every year, it just would have been nice for a bit of a wider view to take hold.
I’m not against the idea of the festival. If anything, however, the Kindle belongs right in there with everything else. Consider their own description of the festival itself:
“Hay celebrates great writing from poets and scientists, lyricists and comedians, novelists and environmentalists, and the power of great ideas to transform our way of thinking. We believe the exchange of views and meeting of minds that our festivals create inspire revelations personal, political and educational.”
This event is meant to be a gathering in celebration of great writers and thinkers, not favorite formats and business interests.
The Kindle protesters, led by local bookshop owner Derek Addyman, blame the activities of Amazon for the recent closings of five of the area’s thirty or so secondhand book stored this year. Add to this the fact that the town’s only seller of new books went out of business as well and you can understand some of the pressure that the group must be under.
It’s interesting to see exactly how hostile the statements are getting, though. Addyman has been quoted as saying “Booksellers here definitely want them banned. You see people walking around with Kindles and they are like robots in another world…Kindles are just a phase and they won’t last. They are our enemy.” It isn’t a great way to garner sympathy from potential customers, given the increasing support eReaders have been enjoying every year.
If the Hay Festival really is a celebration of the written word and great writers, then the Kindle is going to be especially important in making those things more accessible to the readers of the world. If this is still simply a propaganda-driven event meant to promote Hay-on-Wye bookshops then they need to make that more clear. To the best of my knowledge there has been no actual ban, nor was there ever really going to be one, but it is rather sad that this sort of thing is allowed to hijack what is otherwise an interesting and potentially productive event.