A good sell

<p>The first outing for the Hay Festival 21 years ago was a rather sedate affair with only about 1,300 people turning out for the 35 events. It is, of course, sedate no longer. Attendance last year was about 120,000 and there are 358 adult and 97 children's events in this year's programme. And that doesn't even count the ancillary, impromptu events, such as Ruth Padel's press conference on Monday after she resigned the Oxford University poetry professorship.<br />
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As the size of the programme has grown exponentially, so has the selling side. There are 25 stalls at the festival this year, including food and drink concessions, Hay area crafters, a local farmer's fruit and veg stand, charities, and some more left-field operations such as the booth for Christ College Brecon, a Welsh boarding school. But books remain the focus with four booksellers: Pembertons, the festival's official bookselling partner; a Welsh government-backed Literature in Wales concession; overall festival sponsor the <i>Guardian</i>'s stall for their imprint Guardian Books; and Oxfam.<br />
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Pembertons, the only one of Hay-on-Wye's 39 bookshops that specialises solely in new books, has been the festival's official bookseller for the last 19 years. When I catch up with owner Di Blunt after a rammed Julia Donaldson and Axel Schaffer signing, she says with a laugh, &quot;Sometimes it feels like 900 years.&quot;<br />
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The first weekend has been &quot;extremely busy&quot; and Blunt expects to shift about 100,000 books over the 11-day festival. The difficulty she says, is getting the numbers right. She adds: &quot;You're always, always nervous, wondering if you ordered the correct amount of books for each signing. And you have to remember how important it is for each author. They may be only one of about 150 signings, but you have to get it right.&quot; <br />
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It is busy as well over at the Oxfam stall. This is the first year at Hay for the charity, which shifts about 11 million books a year and is Europe's largest second-hand bookseller. Kavitha Singh, who manages an Oxfam shop in Cowbridge, Wales, says, &quot;Books are by far the most successful part of Oxfam's retail arm and it makes sense that we're here.&quot; Singh adds the point is not just to sell books and get donations over the course of the festival but to raise awareness. <br />
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Of course, having a second-hand bookseller at a book festival does raise some concerns&mdash;authors and publishers do not get any revenue from the sales. But this is a <i>Guardian </i>-reading crowd. While talking to Singh, I see a couple of people donate books that they have just purchased from the Pembertons stall. A win-win, I think you might call that.</p>