Reading the Booker Prize. The Booker Prize and its Impact on the UK Publishing Industry, with a Focus on Small Independent Publishers

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation, 2013

84 Pages, Grade: Distinction




Introduction Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Chapter 1 Review of Literature i) Academic Sources
ii) Journalistic Sources

Chapter 2 The Booker Prize and the UK Prize Industry

Chapter 3 The Booker Prize and the Small Publisher

Chapter 4 Methodology

Chapter 5 Presentation and Analysis of Findings

Chapter 6 Conclusions and Recommendations



This dissertation is an investigation into the annual UK Literary Award, the Booker Prize. After defining the prize and its machinery, it examines the effects of this award on the UK publishing industry, and the UK Literary Prize industry. A further key focus is the effect of the award on small independent publishers, particularly those who reach the final stages of the prize. The report found that the Booker Prize exerts a relatively substantial impact on the UK publishing industry, significantly driving sales of long listed, short listed and winning titles. It was found that the imprimatur of the prize is a powerful marketing tool that gains books and authors an important accredited visibility in an overcrowded marketplace. The influence of the Booker Prize on the UK publishing industry as a whole is however, limited by its exceptionally niche target audience segment which alienates the mid to mass market. The award has, however caused the emergence and re-profiling of prizes and what may be referred to as the ‘Bookerisation’ of the prize industry; even initiatives such as Richard and Judy book club are indirectly modeled on the Booker Prize. Finally the prize has huge implications for small independent publishers. Though success needs to be carefully managed, any Booker association can accelerate growth, engender vision and direction, and help a company gain a firmer foothold in a difficult industry that is monopolised by conglomerate owned imprints. Booker success can however be a financial strain for an independent publisher with small margins.


Part 1: Overview

A Brief History of Prizes

The Literary prize has a long history. As early as the 6th Century BC, competitions were taking place in regions of Ancient Greece in Greek drama and the arts. Poets, play-writes, dramatic troupes and musical performers competed against one another for highly coveted cultural prizes. Entrants performed before a panel of judges who followed sometimes elaborate protocol in deciding the winner. (English, 2005, p 31) Most famous of these were the dramatic contests in Athens to honour the Greek god Dionysus, which took the format of mass spectacle competitions in theatrical festal gatherings. The performing artists were given an almost quasi-religious significance (English, 2005, p31) accorded ‘respect due ministers of religion…sacred and inviolable.’ (Parke, 1997, p125)

By the Renaissance, cultural awards were firmly established with a range of literary awards, including university essay prizes, proving popular and extremely sought after. (English, 2005, p2)

The modern ascendency of literary prizes began with the legacy of Alfred Nobel and the establishment of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1901.Within three years of the first Nobel ceremony in Stockholm, both the French literary prize the Prix Goncourt and the reactionary Femina woman’s prize had been established. (English, 2005, p28) Furthermore, Joseph Pulitzer had declared his intention to launch a series of annual literary and journalism prizes in the United States. (English, 2005, p28) By the end of the century, a Nobel prize was in place for every field of cultural activity. (English, 2005, p28)

Over the past century, the number of prizes in literature and the arts has increased, reaching a ‘feverish proliferation since the 1980s’ (English, 2005, p2) Today, literary prizes are a ubiquitous form of ‘cultural’ or ‘symbolic’ capital in our society. As coined by French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, these terms refer to a logic of exchange in which value is measured in terms of prestige, cachet, recognition, and respect. (Thompson, 2010, p6) As such, prizes especially prestigious ones, contain value that is extremely sought after; though certainly lucrative as a result, the symbolic capital they represent can often far surpass economic worth.

The Costa and the Baileys Woman's Prize in literature, the Brit Awards, the Mercury Awards, and the Grammies in music, the Oscars and the Baftas in film, and the Turner Prize in art, to name but a few, hold strong symbolic associations. They are important triggers of recognition, signifiers of worth, prestige, quality and superiority. All are familiar household terms that have become deeply assimilated into our cultural consciousness. Popular talking points, they are also frequently subjects of debate, discussion, and often derision.

The Booker Prize: A Brief Sketch

In literary prizes, the most debated, discussed and derided of all awards is arguably the Man Booker Prize for fiction (hereafter referred to as the Booker Prize). The Booker Prize is an annual literary award for ‘the best original full length novel written in the English language by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland or Zimbabwe.’ (, accessed 2/6/13) Founded in 1968, it is ‘by far the most successful of hundreds of literary prizes established since the mid-twentieth century,’ (English, 2005, p197) ‘probably the most significant literary award in English letters’ (Strongman, 1998, p1) and Melvin Bragg extravagantly refers to it as ‘the grand national of culture.’ (Bragg, 1998, p37)

The main objectives of the Booker Prize are: to ‘encourage and reward authors’, ‘establish good quality fiction targeted at the intelligent general audience’, ‘to assimilate high quality fiction into the mainstream' and ‘to raise publicity and to sell a lot of books.’ (Cheele, 2013, p2) It has three sibling awards: the Russian Booker founded in 1992, the biennial Man Booker International Prize, established in 2005, and the Man Asian Prize established in 2007. These prizes although successful, have attracted less attention in the media.

The Booker Prize uniquely involves both a long list of twelve or thirteen books and a short list of ‘six outstanding books.’ (, accessed 7/6/13) It is concerned with front list books alone: entered titles must have a scheduled publication date for print editions between 1st October of the present year, and 30th September the following year. (, accessed 7/6/13) UK publishers may submit up to two full length books to the prize. The long list is drawn up in late July, on an annual basis; the short list is announced in September and the award ceremony takes place in mid-October. (, accessed 7/6/13) All three stages of the award afford high levels of anticipation and speculation, and attract an annual hoopla of media attention in the national press. The annual winner is announced in an televised award ceremony, broadcasted live from such prestigious venues as Claridges, the British Museum and recently, Guildhall to a BBC television audience of over half a million viewers. (English, 2005, p.197)

The prize is managed by an advisory committee, usually comprising two publishers, a writer, a literary agent, a librarian, and a chairperson. Their main task is to appoint the panel of judges who comprise a selection of literary critics, intellectuals, writers, and leading public figures. (, 2012, accessed 16/6/13) The prize is currently administered by Literary Director Ion Trewin.

Prize Money

The winning author is awarded a sum of £50,000 though it is worth noting that this amount has undergone a number of periodic shifts: At its inauguration in 1969 the prize was valued at £5000; this was increased to £10,000 in 1978, then again to £15,000 in 1984, and £20,000 in 1989. (Todd, 1996, p62) In 2002, under the new sponsorship of the Man Group, this was raised to £50,000, making it one of the world's richest literary prizes. When Booker PLC was bought by Iceland in 2001, the prize desperately needed a new sponsor to avoid becoming ‘the Iceland Prize’, (Iceland a humorously unsuitable sponsor for a high brow literary award). As an alternative investment management business specialising in liquid investment styles, Man was deemed more suitable. A member of the FTSE 250 Index, it has a market capitalisation of around £1.9 billion. (, 2012, accessed 7/6/13) A lucrative move for the Booker Foundation, Man could more than afford to double the prize money.

The £50, 000 prize money, does not however, include the guaranteed exponential increase in book sales, as well as potential adaptation into other media: radio, TV serialisations, and film. Neither does it factor in many other subsidiary benefits for the author such as: possible increased future advances from the publisher, tours, guest appearances on television and radio, commissioning of columns in literary supplements, and an almost guaranteed lucrative exposure to the international media. Weekly sales for past winners have shown an increase of anything from 463% (Mantel's Wolf Hall) to a staggering 1918% (Howard Jacobsen, The Finkler Question.) (, 2012 accessed 17/6/13) The average unit sales of a winning title is around 400 000 copies. (, 2012 accessed 17/6/13)


A win or a shortlisting is subsequently, extremely lucrative for the publisher. The cover strapline ‘Long or Short Listed for the Booker Prize’ or ‘Booker Prize Winner’ is a much coveted and transformational part of a publisher’s marketing mix. Overseas rights deals can also be negotiated, which can add to burgeoning sales. ( accessed 17/6/13). Double Booker winner, Hilary Mantel reported that her 2009 Man Booker prize for ‘Wolf Hall’ had ‘helped her find publishers in over 30 countries, made her sales soar, and hugely boosted her royalties.’ (More Intelligent Life, 2012) For a large publishing house, having multiple books on the Booker entry list and several on the long and short lists is a matter of symbolic pride. (Flood, 2007) As noted, it guarantees an uplift of sales, and not only ‘bestsellerdom’ but also what Todd (1996) refers to as ‘fastsellerdom’, i.e. rapidly burgeoning sales bringing revenue in very quickly. (Todd, 1996, p13) But for a small independent publisher, any Booker Prize association can be gastronomical. The aforementioned uplift in sales of the successful novel may double or even triple a small company's revenue. (Thompson, 2010, p277) The instant international profile and symbolic capital it affords can considerably accelerate the rate and pace of expansion of a small company. The examples of Canongate, Sandstone Press and Salt Publishing will be elsewhere considered.

The Press

The Booker Prize receives ‘acres of media attention’ on an annual basis’. (Appendix D) Its relationship with the press is a complex one. The scandal that has traditionally surrounded the prize and kept media coverage flowing will be discussed in Part 2. Frequently derided as an object of journalistic satire, this often plays to its advantage: press attention, whether good or bad, reinforces its position as a major talking point.

Since 1993, the Booker Prize has been represented by events and public relations agency, Four Colman Getty. On an annual basis, this company delivers ‘a full marketing and media campaign, including a range of marketing collateral, in-store displays, social media, website management and audio mobile phone extracts of the long listed novels.’ (, 2012, accessed 6/7/13) The level of coverage increases each year across print and digital media. In 2012 a new website was launched for the Booker Prizes, including an interactive timeline and fully integrated social media. To date, this has attracted in excess of a million visitors from all continents, and the Facebook and Twitter accounts have accrued a combined 30,000 followers. (, 2012, accessed 6/7/13) The longevity of their association means Four Colman Getty has fostered an intimate understanding of the Booker Prize, and how to exploit it to its full potential in the press. Media coverage throughout the years has certainly contributed to the Booker’s almost occultist ability to drive sales and ability to sporn seemingly instant international best sellers.


Finally, the suspense and speculation created by the Booker Prize’s long and short lists lends well to Britain as a ‘gambling nation.’ (, Gambling Nation, 2012, accessed 7/7/13) The odds are first set by William Hill after the long list is announced. These can change quite dramatically before the announcement of the short list and immediately before the winner is announced. Interestingly, the contest does not officially recognise vocabulary such as ‘favourites’ and ‘runners up’; it is the British propensity for gambling that has led to use of terminology. (Todd, 1996, p20) Like the scandal and speculation, it allows this gambling terminology to persist, in fact, this is encouraged on the Man Booker web site. It serves to generate interest and discussion and perhaps reach a wider audience segment.

Part 2: A Brief History of the Booker Prize

In order to assess the extent of the Booker's influence on the UK publishing industry, it is first necessary to address the question of how the Booker prize has come to occupy such an unassailable position in prize and publishing culture. This section aims to track the Booker's history from its conception in order to illuminate some of the reasons for its success.

The Booker Prize was inaugurated in 1969 after Thomas Maschler, publishing wunderkind of Jonathan Cape, approached the executives of Booker PLC, a multinational, agro-business conglomerate. Fortuitously named, Booker it employed over 20,000 people and at this point, generated an annual revenue in excess of $5 billion. (Huggan, 1997, p415) (Cheele, 2013, p3)

Maschler had spent time in France during October prize season of 1968. The Prix Goncourt a literary prize attributed to ‘the best and most imaginative prose work of the year’ had specifically captured Maschler's imagination. (English, 2008, p199) The circus of media attention that surrounded this prize had created an event of notable cultural magnitude in the Parisian media. This led Maschler to reflect that there was no equivalent prize in the UK; in fact the earliest surviving book prizes in Britain, the James Tait Black[1] and the Hawthornden[2] attracted almost no publicity at all. (English, 2008, p199) Maschler reasoned that an upstart prize, if correctly managed, therefore had the possibility of seizing the virtually unassailable position of the prize of prizes in the literary world. (English, 2005, p199). He swiftly approached the executives of Booker PLC, David Powell and Charles Tyrell, with the idea of funding a new prize determining that he would fill the vacuum with a ‘well heeled, high profile prize for the novel of the year.’ (English, 2008, p201)

In many respects, the prize was not well positioned to succeed. (English, 2008, p201) A direct emulation of the Prix Goncourt, and also remarkably similar to Italy's Premio Strega[3] prize, it was quotidian in its aims: A ‘national novel of the year award’ of the most generic sort, with a remit that could scarcely be more obvious. Ion Trewin, Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation states:

‘From the very beginning of what was originally called The Booker Prize, there was just one criterion – to judge 'the best novel in the opinion of the judges.' And 42 years later, this is a key sentence that rules.’ (Trewin, 2012, Appendix D)

Judges and critics alike have persistently, and sometimes vehemently wrestled with the implications of this vague criteria. (What does 'best' mean exactly? How short is a 'full length' novel? What about 'faction' or documentary fiction? What about 'fiction in verse'?) (Todd, 1996, p63)

The Booker Prize was similarly unspectacular in terms of its history: It had missed the important symbolic distinction of being the oldest book prize by more than fifty years. It trailed the second generation of book prizes that had emerged after World War II such as the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize (1946)[4], the Sommerset Maugham (1946)[5] and the WH Smith (1959)[6]. (English, 2005, p201) In 1968, it was by no means alone in the book prize market; the 1960s saw the upstart of many new prizes, The Guardian Prize for Fiction[7] and The Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize[8] were both founded in 1965. (English, 2005, p201)

Subsequently, in its early years, the prize almost collapsed. English (2005) notes that the minutes of these early years ‘clearly indicat[ed] preperation for an early exit.’ For example, the chair resigned in 1971 because of Maschler's ‘overbearing nature and insistence in acting like a chair.’ Judges were routinely refusing to be part of the panel and publishers were actually refusing to enter books. (English p.201, 2005)

Scandal and Controversy

In the early 1970s, the Booker prize was ‘rescued’ by a series of scandals. (English, 2005, p203) The most famous of these is John Berger's scathing acceptance speech for his novel, G, during which he denounced Booker PLC as ‘an enterprise built on the backs of migrant workers.’ (English, 2005, p203) This event afforded maximum impact due to the fact that it was preceded by another lower key scandal, namely the resignation of judge Malcolm Muggeridge in 1971, who had protested against the sexual candour present in the novels under discussion. (Todd, 1994, p66) The Booker organisation responded by making an immediate press release, fully capitalising on the event, perhaps even over emphasising Muggeridge's charge of 'pornography'. Both Muggeridge and Berger were bona-fide TV presenters; the ‘celebrity signatures’ forged by these consecutive scandals, ensured they attracted maximum publicity, resonating not only among literary circles, but also the wider public.

The Muggeridge resignation allowed the press to drag up the dichotomy between art and obscenity; the Berger incident afforded them the opportunity to drag up the dichotomy between art and politics. Both incidents supplied the opportunity to weave a journalistic narrative of celebrity misbehaviour. (English, 2005, p204) Press coverage rose from fifty to two hundred stories in 1972, and increased again in 1973 (Man Booker Archive, English, 2005, p206). Television coverage of the event afforded opportunity for further scandal. Selina Scott interviewed Angela Carter without knowing who she was, and asked eminent chair of judges panel, Fay Weldon if she ‘had actually read the books.’ These ensuing events were important in ensuring previous scandals would be revisited. (English, 2005, p206)

As an almost direct result, a decade after its near collapse, the Booker Prize managed to outstrip all other British Literary prizes combined in the sheer volume of publicity and gastronomic book sales it could generate for its winner. (English, 2005, p207) Even to be short listed was now considered a greater distinction – symbolically as well as monetarily– than any other prize.

Scandal is present almost every year right up to the present day. In 1992, Roddy Doyle’s win for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha was deemed ‘shamefully commercial’ (Norris, 1995, p222) Two judges threatened to walk out in 1993 when Trainspotting appeared on the long list and the novel was subsequently removed. (Bissett, 2012) James Kelman's 1994 win for How Late it Was, How Late, was rumoured to have been voted in by several judges only to block the first choices of others. (Todd, 1996, p 65) In 2001, previous Booker judge A.L. Kennedy deemed the prize ‘a pile of crooked nonsense’ with the winner determined by ‘who knows who, who's sleeping with who, who's selling drugs to who, who's married to who, whose turn it is.’ (Moss, 2001). Booker judges were accused of 'putting populism above genuine quality' in the 2011 shortlist; Dame Stella Rimmington's prioritising of ‘readibility’ was badly received and led to the bid for ‘a rival prize that makes literary excellence its priority.’ (Masters, 2011) (The recently named 'Folio Prize' will be discussed in subsequent chapters). Hilary Mantel's recent double win, her most recent for Bring Up the Bodies 2012 was criticised for being, despite its merits, only a sequel to a historical novel. (Testard, 2012) Also, with more independent publishers on the 2012 shortlist than ever before, it was remarked that the best-selling author from the biggest conglomerate representative was the victor when there were three excellent novels from independent presses who could not even afford office space in London. (Testard, 2012). Mantel's remarks about Kate Middleton in her speech on 6th March 2012 (opportunistically taken out of context) only served to bring the prize another helping of publicity, just as the Booker hype for 2012 was beginning to subside. (Brown, 2013)

Within the coverage of many of these stories, there is what may be described as a detectable ‘duplicity’ or ‘conscious jocularity’, where the journalist manages to simultaneously deride and exonerate the prize. (English, 2005, p215) One innocuous example of this is The Guardian's ‘Not the Booker Prize’ which involves a hunt for the year’s best book ‘in the opinion of the reader’ instead of the judges. (, accessed 27/6/13) Here the prize is simultaneously mocked, and brought into sharper focus in the public eye. As mentioned, the work of Four Coleman Getty is very effective in terms of the Booker’s relationship with the press; their carefully toned, and timely press releases emanate from an intimate understanding of the machinery and identity of the award.

Overall, this tainted history has frequently led to questions about the credibility of the prize and whether it can really be trusted as an arbiter of literary merit. In any case, there is no denying this rhetoric of scandal has elevated the Booker Prize to a position of popularity and pre-eminence, that would not have otherwise been possible.

Part 3: Research Proposal and Objectives

For such a huge award, surprisingly little work has been done to date on the implications of the Booker Prize for the UK publishing industry. Attempts to situate it as a specific form of symbolic or cultural capital in the publishing world, or an instrument of exchange and esteem in the literary world, are surprisingly limited. Yet, the complex, powerful role the Booker plays in publishing is one that certainly deserves further scrutiny. (English, 1999) Since the 1980's, it has come to occupy 'an almost zeitgeist significance’[9] ascending to an unassailable 'cultural totem' in 20th and 21st century culture. (English, 1999) As we have seen, its ability to drive sales, to elevate unknown authors out of obscurity, and to financially elevate publishers renders it something of a cultural and commercial phenomenon.

Within this context, this dissertation aims to advance understanding of the overall impact of the Booker Prize. Given the dearth of research that has been conducted to date, there are many important issues that fall out with the perametres of this investigation.[10] Yet despite its restrictions and limitations, the key objectives of this dissertation fall into three main areas of interest. These are:

i) the overall impact of the Booker Prize on the UK Publishing Industry,
ii) the positioning and influence of the Booker Prize in Prize Culture in the UK, and
iii) the impact of the Booker Prize on the small independent publisher.

As such, the main objectives of this dissertation are:

i) to assess the impact of the Booker Prize on the UK publishing industry
ii) to critically evaluate the role of the Booker Prize within prize culture in the UK publishing industry
iii) to critically assess the impact of the Booker Prize on the small independent publisher within the UK publishing industry
Subsidiary objectives that will be addressed in the Review of Literature include:
iv) to broadly evaluate the impact of the Booker Prize on ‘literary canon’
v) to evaluate the significance and effectiveness of the Booker Prize as a marketing tool in the UK publishing industry
vi) to ascertain the poles of public and journalistic opinion surrounding the Booker Prize

Chapter One will select and critically review a selection of the most pertinent literature written on the Booker Prize to date. This will be divided into three sub sections. The first will review key academic sources to establish the main lines of discourse surrounding the prize. The second section will use further academic sources to discern the Booker’s relationship to marketing and publicity. The third section will critically review a sample of quality journalism to ascertain main viewpoints of the Booker Prize in the press. These may be said to have informed, and can reflect popular public opinions of the award.

Chapter Two will consider the Booker Prize in the context of prize culture in the 20th and 21st Century, and specifically other literary prizes in the UK. Awards such as the Costa Award, and the Bailey’s Woman’s Prize for Fiction will be considered as derivatives from the Booker Prize.

Chapter Three will consider the impact of Booker success on the small publisher. The significant opportunities as well as the disadvantages of Booker success will be contemplated. This chapter will use the key examples of Canongate, Myrmidon and Tyndale Street Press as secondary evidence.

Chapter four will define and critically assess the methodology employed for all primary research conducted for this project. The research undertaken includes in depth interviews with Ion Trewin, Literary Director of the Booker Prize, Robert Davidson, Managing director of Sandstone Press, and two Edinburgh booksellers. It also includes two focus groups, one consisting of industry professionals and one comprising the Booker’s target market, i.e. general intelligent reader.

Chapter Five will present and analyse the findings of this research.

Chapter Six will draw conclusions from both primary and secondary evidence presented in this dissertation and make recommendations for further study.

Though examples may be drawn from previous years, the primary window of our investigation will be generally restricted to the years 2006-2012. It was not possible to deal systematically or in detail with every specific title for these years. Only books that fit most pertinently with the line of argument will be explored. Also it is acknowledged here that the Booker Prize has an effect on the international book trade; however, our study is limited to the UK publishing industry specifically.

Chapter 1
Review of Literature

i) Critical Reception of the Booker Prize: Academic Sources

As an award that has been built on, stabilised and sustained by scandal and controversy, there is little surprise that, from its conception, the Booker Prize has been subjected to strong opinion, both in academic sociological, and journalistic fields. This section will acknowledge the most pertinent criticism in the field to date to ascertain the main discourses that surround the Booker Prize.

As in all prizes, the conflation of literary and artistic merit, and the predominantly commercial aims of the Booker Prize has long been a subject of contention. In a detailed analysis of the Booker Prize between the years of 1970 and 1995, Richard Todd (1996) identifies the significant role played by the Booker in ‘the commercialisation’ of serious literature and turning quality fiction into a ‘purchasable, consumable commodity.’ (Todd, 1996, p61) In this, Todd has little trouble reconciling the commercial and literary aims of the Booker Prize, positing that they have worked together in order to create a new framework for modern literary canon formation. (Todd, 1996, p3) A literary canon may broadly be referred to as ‘the glacially changing core of consensus,’ about certain novels when surrounded by the ‘rapidly changing debate’ about others. (Harris, 1991, p13) Deciding the works or authors of a canon is a discipline normally attributed to the field of academia: for example, in the 1930s, Professor F.R. Leavis identified a literary canon in regarding Jane Austen, George Eliot and Charles Dickens among others, as alone exemplifying ‘the great tradition’ of English Literature. (Todd, 1995, p101) Taking commercial trends into consideration is a dramatic departure from these traditional methods. In the sense that it has defined literary fiction as a commodity, Todd suggests that the impact of the Booker Prize has actually altered the way in which canons are formed in literary fiction.

English (2005) agrees with this high evaluation of Booker's contribution to literature. Where Todd assesses the general market place, however, English focuses on the role of the media in this canonisation process. His particular interest lies in the function of scandal that has propagated so much journalistic capital[11] for the Booker Prize. The strategy of ‘maximising the flow of disesteeming discourse’ to gain publicity, a game even Booker judges are involved in has, he argues, led directly to its unrivaled popularity and success as an award. (English, 2005, p188) This has in turn afforded this significant impact: the influencing of literary canon formation. (English, 2005, p214)

Squires (2005) also agrees with the Booker’s perceived impact on the process of canonisation. She notes that this process has in turn resulted in the Booker's high international profile, and recognition as an arbiter of quality in fiction; this has led to its being a 'pertinent force in overseas markets, particularly in the US'. (Squires, 2005, p93) Of note is also the remark that Booker ‘has had to invest in popularity’ in its bid to maintain its position of the ‘most eminent literary award.’ (Squires, 2005, p84) Squires comments that the judges, uncannily, mostly seem to 'strike a balance between these commercial, and cultural aims of the award'; also the clandestine nature of the discussion means it is still largely 'unclear what goes on in the judging process’. (Squires 2005, p86) The paradoxical nature of the Booker; always needing to fulfill its mission of promoting ‘the best’ of literary fiction, while also sustaining its pre-eminent place in the public eye, and selling a lot of books, she concludes, suggests its extreme self-consciousness as an award; she reasons that even on an unconscious level, the judges must consider how the external literary community: readers and publishers will respond. (Squires, 2005, p96) In an interview after his win with Sense of an Ending in 2011, Julian Barnes remarked of his win: had it been a different set of judges, a different novel would have won. (Barnes, 2011) He notoriously described the prize as a kind of ‘posh lottery’ (Brown, 2011) hinting at the inadequacy of such an important award being determined by flimsy subjectivity. Bourdieu (1998) on the other hand argues that awards such as the Booker Prize operate within a microcosm; they obey their own laws. What happens in the microcosm of the Booker Prize cannot therefore, be understood by looking only at external factors. (Bourdieu, 1998, p 39) Almost by definition, it has elected a right to self-govern, and to determine its own laws and idiosyncrasies in the judging process.

Norris (1995) asserts that the twin aims of the Booker Prize, to judge ‘the best novel’, and ‘to sell a lot of books’ is ‘a conflation of mutually antagonistic ideals.’ (Norris, 1995, p19) Unlike Todd, (1995) Norris is troubled by the idea of synonymously judging ‘both literary credential and commercial appeal.’ (Norris, 1995, p76) Viewing books solely on their ability to win prizes is, she argues, encouraging literature to be viewed principally as a ‘product’ when it is actually something very different. Where Todd exonerates the commodification process, Norris believes it instigates a demeaning and reductionary attitude towards literature. She further remarks on the confusion this causes with regards to the evaluation of literary merit; she warns that if literary credentials and commercial appeal are said to be synonymous, there is a danger that such a confusion may be further disseminated and seen as standard interpretation of what is ‘good’ in respect to fiction. She gives the example of Booker Prize winners being adopted as school texts as a result of their accolade. (Norris, 1995, p76) Clark and Phillips however, argue that publishing is, by its very nature, a conflation of ideals; to some extent it is really always ‘an interplay between the creative and the economic’ (Clark and Phillips, 2008, p2) The Booker Prize in this light, simply reflects the inherent nature of the industry.

J.A. Sutherland agrees that the machinery of the Booker Prize deeply influences the reception process in literary fiction. He believes the prize exerts a largely negative effect on the industry in that it can restrict or limit the impact and visibility of other novels. Sutherland infers that ‘in a limited market of fiction of this kind, successfully promoting certain novels which were already likely to be reviewed and to sell, involves consistently failing to acknowledge writers outside the mainstream.’ (Sutherland, 1978, p9) As will be discussed in the journalistic sources, several other critics concur that the Booker Prize consistently overlooks good novels. However, in a prize such as the Booker that relies so heavily on all the anticipation and scandal a single winner axiom affords, the fact that books will be overlooked is surely obvious and inevitable.

In confutation of Sutherland and Norris, Huggan argues that ‘literary prizes legitimise literature.’ (Huggan, 1997, p413) Following on from this, De Bellaigue (2004) deems the Booker judges ‘arbiters of excellence in literary fiction’ and perceives the Booker Prize as can be viewed as ‘an objective golden standard’ (De Bellaigue, 2004, p44). The absurdities of any serious claims to objectivity have already been discussed, though Bourdieu points out that a prize like the Booker is self-governing by nature. In any case, the difficulties of bandying around superlatives such as ‘the best’ have been venomously criticised and seem almost designed to invite scandal.

The next section will specifically focus on the commercial aims of the award and the Booker Prize as a marketing tool.

ii) The Booker Prize, Marketing and Publicity

The commercial intentions of the award are perhaps most apparent in the entry instructions which state:

Any eligible book which is entered for the Booker Prize will only qualify for the award if its publisher agrees:

a) to contribute £5,000 towards general publicity if the book reaches the shortlist, b) to contribute a further £5,000 if the book wins the prize. (, accessed 14/7/13)

This clause explicitly clarifies the pivotal role of publicity, marketing and selling on the Booker Agenda that has so provoked critics such as Norris (1996). Yet the decision to request a substantial fee in both cases is beneficial for the prize and certainly helps sharpen the effectiveness of the Booker Prize as a marketing tool at these crucial stages.

The Booker’s power and effectiveness on this score has been widely acknowledged. Baverstock (2008), Squires (2005), and Thompson (2010) agree on the considerable extent to which the medium of the book cover can increase a book’s cultural value; cover straplines indicating Booker success: ‘Winner’, ‘Long’ or ‘Short Listed for the Man Booker Prize’, are a transformational addition to any publisher's marketing mix. (Baverstock, 2008, p217) Baverstock also notes the extent to which the public is reassured by success. (Baverstock, 2008, p12) Exploiting this channel to market to its fullest potential, should it arise, is therefore absolutely critical.

Squires (2005) strongly agrees. She notes the factoring in amended reprints which include the strapline is important in planning ahead to maximise sales from the outset. (Squires, 2005, p87) Alison Baverstock (2008) also recommends producing overnight stickers for book covers announcing the win, short or long listing. She also advises preparation of attractive ‘point of sale’ materials for retailers’ use in bookshops in advance of the winner being announced. (Baverstock, 2008, p.217)


[1] The James Tait Black Prizes are awarded to the best work of fiction and the best biography published in the previous year. (, accessed 13/6/13)

[2] The Hawthornden Prize was founded in 1919 by Alice Wanderer. It is awarded to ‘the best work of imaginative literature’ which includes biography, travel, art history, etc, as well as fiction and drama (, accessed 13/6/13)

[3] Italy’s Premio Strega is the most prestrigious Italian literary award for the best work of prose fiction by an Italian author ( accessed 13/6/13)

[4] The John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize is an award for fiction, non-fiction, poetry or drama awarded to an author from the Commonwealth aged 35 or under. (, accessed 13/6/13)

[5] The Sommerset Maugham Award is awarded to British authors under the age of 35 for a published work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry accessed 13/6/13)

[6] The WH Smith Award is another literary award. Its aim is ‘to encourage and bring international esteem to authors of the British Commonwealth’.(, accessed 15/7/13)

[7] The Guardian Prize for Fiction is the oldest literary prize sponsored by any newspaper in the UK. 1999 saw the launch of the very popular Guardian First Book Award, recently won by Kevin Powers for The Yellow Birds about his experiences fighting with the British army in Afganistan. ( accessed 8/8/13)

[8] The Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize is awarded in alternative years to a volume of fiction (including short stories) and poetry, with the former in the odd numbered years and the latter in the even. ( accessed 8/8/13)

[9] Zeitgeist refers to ‘the spirit of the age or time’. This is a dominant idea, fad or school of thought that typifies a particular cultural period. See Eero Saarinen (2006), Shaping the Future, Yale University Press, p. 15

[10] Some important issues that are not addressed include: The Booker’s postcolonial significances, the Booker’s influence on literature and the zeitgeist, the Booker’s effect on prizes out with the literary spectrum. There are more.

[11] Journalistic capital may refer to another system of exchange whereby news stories are the economy. See R. Benson & E. Neveu (Eds.), Bourdieu and the joumalistic field (pp. 29^7). Cambridge, England: Polity.

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Reading the Booker Prize. The Booker Prize and its Impact on the UK Publishing Industry, with a Focus on Small Independent Publishers
Edinburgh Napier University
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Booker Prize, UK publishing industry, publishing
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Andrea Lyttle (Author), 2013, Reading the Booker Prize. The Booker Prize and its Impact on the UK Publishing Industry, with a Focus on Small Independent Publishers, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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Title: Reading the Booker Prize. The Booker Prize and its Impact on the UK Publishing Industry, with a Focus on Small Independent Publishers

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