Folio Society to sponsor world book prize

The Folio Society was unveiled as the sponsor of the latest literary prize, opening another front in the battle between book awards on Wednesday.

The publisher of limited-edition hardback books will offer the £40,000 annual prize to a writer of UK-published English language fiction from around the world, regardless of the author’s country of origin.

The brainchild of Andrew Kidd, managing director of literary agency Aitken Alexander Associates, the Folio Prize is seen as a competitor to the Man Booker, which has faced accusations of “dumbing down” in favour of populist titles.

Mr Kidd said the publicity generated by a brief announcement last year had shown that “there is an appetite for a new initiative aimed at bringing outstanding books to public attention and more simply that storytelling still matters to people”.

The Folio’s billing as the first English language book prize to be open to writers from all over the world highlights its differences from existing awards. The Man Booker and Costa are limited to UK or Commonwealth authors, while the big US prizes such as the Pulitzer are intended for American writers.

Announcing the sponsor and academy at an event in central London, Mr Kidd downplayed the potential for conflict between the awards, saying “this notion of prizes somehow rivalling each other doesn’t make sense to me . . . More initiatives that bring more great books to more people are a good thing”.

An innovative judging and selection process will see five judges selected annually from a stellar line-up of about 100 writers and critics who have signed up as members of the Folio Prize Academy. They include high-profile literary figures such as Pat Barker, Peter Carey, A.S. Byatt, Ian McEwan, Robert McCrum and Salman Rushdie.

The panel will consider 80 books, 60 of which are suggested by other academy members. The final 20 will be suggested by publishers, who are invited to submit five per imprint.

The prize represents a relatively large outlay for the Folio Society, which made profits in 2009 of about £1m. But Toby Hartwell, managing director, said the prize had seemed like a “natural extension” of what the company did and would be funded out of existing revenue as a marketing expense.

“I liked the idea of recognising literature of enduring value, books to be read not just in five years’ time but 100 years’ time,” he said, adding that the Society intended to be a sponsor for at least 10 years.

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