Thursday, October 14, 1999 Published at 18:02 GMT 19:02 UK
84 Charing Cross Road.Com
Hay-on-Wye is worried that culture will lose out to cost
By Hugh Sykes of BBC Radio 4's PM programme
Helene Hanff ordered her first batch of books from Marks & Co at 84 Charing Cross Road in early October 1949. The essays by Thomas Hazlitt and Robert Louis Stevenson took nearly a month to reach her in New York City.
Internet shopping is having a huge impact on the second-hand book business.
He'll miss the people wandering in to browse and chat, but he'll save himself a fortune. His rent and rates in Bloomsbury add up to £35,000 a year - the websites will cost him about £1,500, and storage for the books near his home another £5,000.
A street away, at Bloomsbury Books, Mike Thompson thinks he'll be on the web by Christmas - he told me that one site with 40,000 titles on it, fully catalogued, will cost him less than he pays his window cleaner in a year. How much does he pay his window cleaner in a year? Five pounds a month.
Mike also hopes internet shopping might bring rents down - until now, landlords have been able to charge bookshops whatever they wanted, knowing that they had to be located in busy tourist districts like Charing Cross Road, or the little streets round the British Museum. Not any more, thanks to the net.
Michael Bartlett runs his specialist military-history book business from a converted courthouse in a down-at-heel district of Talgarth in South Wales. No tourists ambling along his street. He sends out 300 catalogues, but since he's been on the net the catalogue part of his business has been eclipsed - he has about a 1,000 enquiries a every three months from the website. He's had orders from all over the world - most recently from Alaska, Shetland and Latvia.
Paying the price
But in Hay-on-Wye, the book town on the Wales-England border near the Black Mountains, the self-styled 'King' of Hay Richard Booth is suspicious of the Internet.
Booth Books have a website, but he has no intention of giving up his shops. There are nearly 30 bookshops in Hay - and the cafes, guesthouses and giftshops depend on the tourists who are attracted to the town by the hours they can spend browsing for books on real shelves.
Richard Booth told me he feels threatened by the net: "If we just concentrate on Internet bookselling, there's no reason to come to Hay".