The new Man Booker website helps readers engage with authors and the prize in fresh and exciting ways.

It’s no secret that the most revered prize in English literature has come in for some flack this year. Anne Enright’s winning novel was seen by some commentators as a lofty and elitist choice. But then the prize has always attracted criticism and stimulated debate.

Critical situation

The future of the prize, what it represents and how it is administered is one cause for hot debate. Such is the passion and strength of opinion in publishing that everyone gets it in the ear at some point – booksellers, authors, critics, publishers, readers and, of course, Richard and Judy.

Word wide web

In the meantime, while the debate about books rages, along comes the technology to fit the writers’ craft. The internet is the most efficient distributor of text ever invented and yet the publishing industry seems at a loss to know how to use it. We all love books – they are objects of rare preciousness and symbolism, but they are also, principally, a means of distribution. If Dickens was around today he’d no doubt be a blogger.

Universal appeal

The internet can make stories available everywhere. It is unbound by shops, stock, printers or price. New writers and narrative formats will undoubtedly emerge to use this medium intelligently and satisfy and engage readers in unexpected ways.

Long tailed tales

The new Man Booker Website, launched late summer 2007, is pulling in readers from 200 plus countries. This is the long tail in action and it demonstrates that there is an appetite for quality fiction via the internet. While visitor numbers are still modest, the level of engagement is high. Some writers will soon find that the speed and reach of the web will make them seriously think about this as a means to connect with a readership the scale of which a book could never reach.

Visit the Man Booker Prize website.

This article appeared in Moot 01, June 2008.