January 29, 2019 / 4:00 PM / 21 days ago

Breakingviews - Thruppence: Who wins by sponsoring UK book prize?

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Man Group’s decision to end its sponsorship of the Booker prize leaves the UK’s prestigious literary award without a backer. The hedge fund manager decided there were more deserving causes for its 1.6 million pound annual cheque. And having a capitalist sponsor caused occasional frictions with left-leaning literati. While its shoes won’t be easy to fill, Breakingviews columnists have drawn up a shortlist of suitable replacements.

Writer Anna Burns smiles after she was presented with the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2018 at the Guildhall in London, Britain. REUTERS/Frank Augstein

AIMEE DONNELLAN: AMAZON

The online retail giant is often seen as a necessary evil by authors, and the nemesis of traditional booksellers. Funding aspiring writers could allow founder Jeff Bezos to show support for the arts, and shift the conversation away from criticisms of Amazon’s tax bill and aggressive business model.

ROB COX: DAN LOEB

The founder of New York hedge fund Third Point is already a literary star in his own genre: penning fiery letters to underperforming chief executives. He’s also trying to make a bigger splash in Europe as an uppity shareholder. Having an American backer would silence moanings by some authors that transatlantic writers should be excluded from the Booker.

JEFFREY GOLDFARB: NISSAN

What better way to get out from under a scandal that involves accusations of cooked books than to pivot to sponsoring the literary variety? Alternatively, disgraced former boss Carlos Ghosn himself could do it. The Ghosn Writer’s Award, anyone?

CHRISTOPHER THOMPSON: DEUTSCHE BANK

Europe’s capital markets are leaving London so it makes sense to support another once-thriving British cottage industry. The region’s biggest investment bank could fund the outlay, and earn fees, by arranging a securitised bond backed by the winner’s royalties. German regional banks would hoover up the mezzanine bonds, while the author would be stuck with the lowest-ranking equity tranche.

NEIL UNMACK: ARRON BANKS

The British insurance entrepreneur made an 8 million pound donation to the campaign to leave the European Union. The Booker sponsorship’s 1.6 million pound hit looks small by comparison. While many authors lament the referendum’s outcome, they will stop whingeing once money is on the line. If not, the annual bash would be a high-profile forum for brawling over Brexit.

DASHA AFANASIEVA: OLEG DERIPASKA

The Russian tycoon is still on the U.S. Treasury’s blacklist. Funding a prestigious book prize could soften Deripaska’s image, helping his name conjure up the battle for literary supremacy as opposed to Russia’s ruthless aluminium wars. But given sanctions limit Deripaska’s ability to realise cash from his assets, winners may have to get used to getting paid in En+ shares.

LIAM PROUD: MARTIN SORRELL

Sponsorships can help mend PR disasters, and few have felt the sting of public opprobrium as much in recent years as the ad executive, who left WPP following misconduct allegations. His prosaically-named new vehicle S4 needs a more memorable hook. Plus, Sorrell’s staff should be used to justifying marketing outlays through squishy concepts like “brand equity”.

ED CROPLEY: ALIKO DANGOTE

Africa’s richest man is keen to burnish his credentials with the British establishment beyond talking about buying Arsenal. Sponsorship would draw attention to the strong literary tradition in his native Nigeria and present the industrial magnate as a man of culture. It might even help him list his eponymous cement empire in London.

PETER THAL LARSEN: HUAWEI

The Chinese telecom-kit maker faces a security backlash and charges of busting U.S. sanctions. How better to signal commitment to free expression than by funding writers who will criticise it? It could demand the prize restore its pre-2013 practice of honouring authors from the British Commonwealth — excluding Americans. That would buy goodwill in London, and Beijing.

ANTONY CURRIE: THE EUROPEAN UNION

Nothing says “Up Yours, Milords” to the Little Englanders wanting to quit the country’s main trading partner than having the remaining 27 countries back the UK’s leading literary prize. But it’d also work for the Brexiteers: they can claim the EU’s sponsorship proves the continent’s political and economic body is just for elitists.

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