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Orange, the mobile operator, is to end its 17-year sponsorship of a literary prize for women’s fiction, preferring to direct its marketing budget towards the silver screen.
Currently the headline sponsor of the British Academy Film Awards, Orange is also behind the popular “Orange Wednesdays” two-for-one cinema ticket initiative. Describing the decision as “a wrench”, the company said its 2011 sponsorship of the Orange prize for fiction was worth £17.5m worth of comparable editorial advertising spend.
A week before this year’s prize ceremony at London’s Southbank Centre on May 30, Kate Mosse, co-founder and honorary director of the prize, was upbeat: “This is the end of an era but no arts project should stand still and we are now looking forward to developing the prize with a new partner.”
The award has traditionally exerted a big impact on winners’ book sales. “I’m surprised, to be honest,” said James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones
. “There are prizes that lose momentum and direction a little, but this isn’t one of them. I can’t believe that someone won’t leap into the void.”
Lisa Jardine, the British historian who is also a patron of the prize, dismissed arguments that there was no need for women-only prize, stating that the Orange prize’s success had vindicated the idea. “The world is a different place now. We’re excited because now people are queuing up, and that shows us how far we’ve come.”
Research by Arts and Business, the body that acts as a broker between private investors and cultural institutions, shows a 20 per cent dip in UK corporate sponsorship of the arts over the past five years.
But Philip Spedding, director, warned against seeing Orange’s decision as representative of a wider malaise. “A 17-year commitment is a huge investment and it could be that it has come to a natural conclusion,” he said.