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The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value
Observing that cultural prizes in their modern form originate at the turn of the twentieth century with the institutional convergence of art and competitive spectator sports, English argues that they have in recent decades undergone an important shift—a more genuine and far-reaching globalization than what has occurred in the economy of material goods. And in the specific workings of prizes, their elaborate mechanics of nomination and election, presentation and acceptance, sponsorship, publicity, and scandal, he uncovers evidence of the new arrangements and relationships that have refigured that field.
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The underlying claim of James F. Prizes are competitions. But while the publicity might go to the winning writers, the real winners are the publishers, who need not just the increased sales and chances of film and TV adaptations that are likely to follow, but also the less tangible boost to their authority and prestige given by a prize.
The real winners are also more likely to be not just any publishers, but those that have already been successful. As the novelist Joanna Walsh, among others, has noted , the Man Booker rules make submissions from small publishers very tricky because of the size of the print run required and the amount of money that involves.
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And, further, each of these is itself owned by a multinational media conglomerate. As the sociologist John Thompson noted in his book, Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century, the economies of scale made possible through mergers and acquisitions have created this almost complete monopoly.
Over the past 20 years, while 12 different publishers appear to have published the novels which were awarded the Prize, six of these wins were for imprints belonging to Penguin Random House.
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An imprint already marked as prestigious is more likely to win again. In his article about Amazon and its relation to contemporary literary fiction, US literary scholar Mark McGurl suggests the extent to which reading of material normally scorned by the literary critic can deliver new insights.