I love a good book. I also love talking about a good book and reading what other people have to say about it. It’s a cycle we readers constantly find ourselves stuck in. Once a book is hailed as brilliant, we want to see what the fuss is about. So, we go out and buy it. And once that author becomes known, we keep coming back for more.
The media have a powerful hand in this cycle. There are a heap of niche magazines and websites out there for the art world to relish in, but newspapers and television channels get in on the action too – when they want to, that is.
What I found was a well-established objective.
Newspapers are dominated by news agendas, but how do they set about reporting on a cultural event, and does it impact on the artist’s success? Let’s take the Man Booker Prize as an example. The winner of this highly esteemed book prize wins £50,000 and all shortlisted authors are guaranteed a worldwide readership, huge media coverage, plus a dramatic increase in book sales. Whoever wins the prize is guaranteed fame and fortune (I put that in quotes because it says so on the Man Booker Prize website).
So, is the kind of coverage that leads to fame and fortune accidental? How is it that an art prize such as this can generate such applause, seemingly without meaning to? I say seemingly because when I first set about researching this topic, I presumed the hike in book sales and fame of the authors who are shortlisted was all quite natural. What I found, however, was a well-established objective.
From September, I followed four UK newspapers’ (The Independent, The Guardian, The Evening Standard and The Telegraph) coverage of the prize, mapping out the articles they wrote about the award. Between the four, I counted a total of 167 articles on their websites. The most coming from The Telegraph, which had 82 articles. The Guardian and The Telegraph even incorporated separate sections into their websites, entirely focused on the Man Booker Prize.
Articles concerning the Man Booker Prize were mostly published in the ‘books/literature’ section, but coverage also crossed in to media and sales, with reports on publishing and the hike in book sales.
…many people engage in discussions about the prize…
Another element of the coverage occurs in social media. A quick search on Google for blog entries and on Twitter for the Man Booker Prize hashtag returns incredible results – many people engage in discussions about the prize; commenting on the selection and on the books themselves.
Newspaper websites also encourage readers to leave their views in the comments section at the bottom of each article. By instigating public comment, newspapers and social media create even more publicity for the award.
Book sale increases are guaranteed. This year in particular saw the shortlisted books achieve record-breaking sales. The week before the announcement of the Man Booker Prize winner, Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending sold 2,535 copies. Sales then jumped to 14,534 copies the week following the announcement, an increase of 473%.
I took the following paragraph from the Man Booker website. I think it hits the nail on the head in proving that fame and fortune comes to an author once he or she makes it to the shortlist and perhaps proves the Man Booker’s intent:
Every year the Man Booker Prize winner is guaranteed a huge increase in sales, firstly in hardback and then in paperback. There is a spin-off too in global sales of books, in future publishing contracts and in film and TV Rights. Besides the fortune, the winner of the Man Booker Prize can also be sure of fame. The announcement of the winner is covered by television, radio and press worldwide.
What do you think? Is it the media that generates this publicity? Or perhaps increased use of social media is responsible for this year’s record sales? Or is it the Man Booker Prize itself, managing to maintain an excellent marketing strategy that actually works?
Perhaps it’s a perfect mix of the three.
Image courtesy of The Man Booker Prize