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Whitebread Book Prize No longer Backed By Retail Group

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December 15-31, 2005 Edition

Whitebread Book Prize

No longer Backed

By Retail Group

LONDON/12/13/05—The European retail group Whitbread is pulling out of its annual sponsorship of the Whitebread awards, which have been second only to the Booker Prize among the Britain’s literary awards. The company said it is no longer commercially viable to sponsor the prizes, which include the £25,000 book of the year prize.

The Whitbread Book Awards provide £5,000 to the winners in five categories: Novel, First Novel, Biography, Poetry, and Children’s Book, plus a grand prize of £25,000.

The hotel and restaurant firm, which established the awards in 1971, says it no longer sells products using the Whitbread name. After the 2005 award is given on January 24, 2006, the company will no longer sponsor the prize. But it said it will look to find a new sponsor for the book awards, an entity that shares its vision for the award and is committed to developing and nurturing it.

A spokeswoman said: “After long consideration, we decided our sponsorship was no longer commercially sensible, even under one of our other brand names. “

For 34 years, Whitebread has been one of Britain’s most prestigious literary awards. Whitbread has been synonymous with one of Britain’s most prestigious literary prizes for more 34 years.

But its association with the award for the country’s most enjoyable reads doesn’t fit its image any more, the leisure company said yesterday.

The Whitbread name no longer appears on any products sold by the company, which operates through brands such as Beefeater restaurants, Costa Coffee and David Lloyd Leisure centres. The company has decided that its link with the literary world is outdated, and is in negotiations with four companies to find a replacement sponsor.

“Over the past few years [Whitbread] has undergone significant change,” a company spokesman said. “It is no longer a consumer-facing brand.

“The board reviewed its sponsorship strategy and concluded that now is an opportune time to find a new sponsor. Whitbread’s number one priority is to find a like-minded organization that shares our vision for this award and is committed to developing and nurturing it.”

The £25,000 Whitbread Prize is rivalled only by the Man Booker Prize for prestige and generates considerable publicity and subsequent sales for authors who win, or are shortlisted.

The shortlists for 2005, announced last month, included Salman Rushdie in the Novel category for his book, Shalimar the Clown, which also made it to the Man Booker longlist. Mr Rushdie is a previous winner of the category in 1995 for his novel The Moor’s Last Sigh.

Past winners of the Whitbread have shown how important the prize is for promoting sales. Andrea Levy’s Small Island, which won the Best Book of 2004, went on to sell more than 600,000 copies in paperback.

The 2003 winner, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon, has sold more than a million paperback copies.

In 2002, Claire Tomalin’s biography of Samuel Pepys beat the novel Spies, written by her husband, Michael Frayn. In 2001, Philip Pullman found success with the only children’s book to have taken the overall top prize.

The transition to a new sponsor is not unprecedented. Booker did so in 2002 when it handed over sponsorship to the Man Group, a City investment firm.

The Whitbread Book Awards give £5,000 to the winners in five categories: Novel, First Novel, Biography, Poetry, and Children’s Book, plus an overall prize worth £25,000.

The Whitbread name is no longer used on any products sold by the company, which operates through brands such as Beefeater restaurants, Costa Coffee and David Lloyd Leisure centers.

The shortlists for 2005, announced last month, included Salman Rushdie for his novel, Shalimar the Clown.

The award has been instrumental in boosting sales for the winning books. Andrea Levy’s Small Island, which won the Best Book of 2004, went on to sell more than 600,000 copies in paperback. The 2003 winner, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon, has sold more than a million paperback copies.