Writers and artists turn prize-fighters
The Financial Times
In a world obsessed with glitzy awards ceremonies, the winner of tonight’s Orange Broadband prize for women’s fiction in London can expect a great deal of public attention – although not quite reaching the levels of media frenzy seen at the 60th Cannes film festival last week.
The ever-increasing numbers of awards events and the high profiles accorded to the winners and nominees have altered the nature of awards and the roles they play in the marketing for films, books and music.
In spite of the proliferation of prize ceremonies, however, the more established awards have not faced a real challenge to their dominance. In the film industry, only the US Academy Awards – the Oscars – matter when it comes to filling cinema seats.
“The Oscars really are the golden egg in film terms,” says Stuart Kemp, UK bureau chief of the Hollywood Reporter. “That is the only film award that actually means anything in pecuniary terms. If a movie wins the Oscar and is no longer on general release, it will be brought out again. That doesn’t happen with other prizes.”
A film such as Brokeback Mountain, which picked up 78 awards including three Oscars, would have been unlikely to gross $178m at the box office – on a $14m budget – without such awards.
For a boost to book sales, the highlight of the UK publishing world remains the Man Booker prize. “The Booker makes an incredible difference [to sales]. Most winners become millionaires,” says Dan Franklin, publishing director of Jonathan Cape, which counts past winners Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan among its authors. “A win turns an author into a significant figure on the international literary stage.”
However, the dominance of the big awards should not discourage organisers and sponsors of other ceremonies since no awards – even the big ones, in fact – are just about increasing sales. Awards are as important for the profile of publishers, record labels and film studios as for the success of the winning titles.
When Canongate author Yann Martel won the Man Booker in 2002 with Life of Pi, sales passed 1m and the cash generated enabled the tiny Edinburgh publisher to expand overseas through alliances in the US and Australia.
“We sold a lot of books and it brought a lot of money into the business,” says publisher Jamie Byng. But more significantly it altered perceptions: “Doors that before didn’t open very wide were suddenly flung open and people had confidence in what we were doing and how we did it.”
For Diana Evans, who won the Orange new writers prize, which will also be announced today, on its inauguration in 2005 for her novel 26A, the award helped open new markets for the book. “We went on to sell rights in a further seven or eight languages once she won the prize,” says Clare Alexander, her agent.
The indirect impact of awards is also well recognised in the music industry. Amy Winehouse, a winner at this year’s Brit awards ceremony in February, used the win to launch herself in the US market.
The Brit awards also act as a showcase for British talent generally.
“The media frenzy around the show generates wider interest in British music, so much so that this year the UK albums market was up 27 per cent in the week of the show,” says Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the British Phonographic Institute, which organises the Brits.
Similarly, according to Amanda Berry, chief executive of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, coverage of the Bafta film awards in more than 130 countries gives a broader boost to British talent.
“The British film industry is not just about what happens here [in the UK]. It is about British talent working in film around the world,” she says.
The publicity accorded to awards means you don’t need to win or even be shortlisted for a prize in order to benefit from an event: perhaps the best example was provided recently by the band Red Hot Chili Peppers. A week after a mere performance at this year’s Brit awards, UK sales of its albums rocketed 218 per cent.