Booksellers have criticised the Man Booker Prize's change of stance on the print availability of longlisted titles as “disappointing”. However others have applauded the ruling, saying publishers must be able to set publication dates as they wish.
The Man Booker Prize released new rules yesterday (12th January) relaxing the previous requirement for longlisted titles to be in stock within 10 days of the longlist announcement. Dotti Irving, c.e.o. of Four Colman Getty, said: "We discussed it with the advisory committee, which includes publishers and agents, and it was thought that you couldn't ensure print availability with the longlist announcement, because too many big titles are scheduled over the summer, and there's nothing wrong with some anticipation. But the rules encourage publishers to make copies available as soon as possible."
The issue sparked controversy last year when several longlisted titles were not available to sell in the stipulated timeframe, leading some booksellers to accuse the prize organisers of failing to enforce their own rules.
Now the new rules dictate that if publication comes after the longlist announcement, the publisher "must make the novel available for sale as an e-book", but without a time frame being specified.
Not only does the new rule prevent traditional bricks and mortar booksellers from being able to display and sell the longlist titles around the same time as customers interest is spiked by media coverage of the selection, it also gives advantages to digital booksellers like Amazon.
Kate Skipper, buying director at Waterstones, said: “It's disappointing that the new rules have missed the opportunity to ensure that fans of the physical book can read the longlisted titles during the peak of media coverage. At a time when sales of physical books are proving more than resilient, this seems at odds with the way the market is moving.”
She added: “However we trust that publishers will do the right thing for their books and their readers and ensure that any longlisted title is simultaneously available in physical and electronic form immediately after the announcement.”
Simon Key, co-owner of The Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, London, said: “It is just pathetic. It is supposed to be the biggest book prize of the Commonwealth but actually the publishers are completely dictating the rules. Publishers flouted the rules last year and now the prize has changed the rules to suit the publishers. If those were the rules, why change them? The organisers have changed them so many times in the last few years that it is not the same prize any more. It is not the Booker Prize. It’s not for booksellers, it’s not for authors - its for publishers.” He added: “We can sell e-books through Hive but we can’t display them or say to customers ‘come and see them’. The digital availability is of very little use to us.”
However Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown joint c.e.o., who represents David Nicholls, David Mitchell and Howard Jacobson, who were all longlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, and whose books were all released after the longlist announcement, welcomed the change regarding print availability, saying publishers should be allowed to set publication dates as they wished.
However Geller described another newly introduced rule, stating that books originally published outside the UK must have been published no more than two years before the UK publication date in order to be eligible, as "strange".
“In my experience, British publishers are never too late [to publish],” he said. “I suppose it’s as ever to control the onslaught of American titles but I don’t think it will make much difference [in practice].”
Several of the eligibility rules also clarify who counts as a publisher and who as a self-publisher; with self-publishers not eligible to enter for the prize. According to the new rules, a publisher is "in part defined as producing at least two literary fiction novels by different writers in the year." Smaller presses, which may perhaps publish only a single literary novel in a year, will be able to submit books only through the call-in process.