Amazon dropped as sponsor of Quebec literary prize after all 5 finalists speak out

Organizers of the Prix littéraire des collégiens have decided to abandon Amazon's sponsorship after the authors published a joint letter in Le Devoir denouncing the company's "inhuman methods."

Writers speak 'with one voice' to defend province's local bookstores

The Prix littéraire des collégiens in Quebec has dropped Amazon's sponsorship after the finalists criticized the company's negative effect on local bookstores such as Montreal's Le Parchemin. ( Susan Mckenzie/CBC )
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Writers nominated for a prestigious Quebec literary prize were blindsided by the news that Amazon was sponsoring the award, says author Dominique Fortier.

Organizers of the Prix littéraire des collégiens have decided to abandon Amazon's sponsorship after all five finalists, including Fortier, published a joint letter in Le Devoir denouncing the company for hastening the demise of local bookstores.

"We have many independent booksellers who do a terrific job of defending our works, and we need them really as much as they need us," Fortier, nominated for her novel Les villes de papier, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Amazon has defended its reputation in Canada's literary community. 

"We have a long-standing track record of supporting Canadian authors and readers and will continue to explore ways to recognize writers and support literature in Quebec and across Canada," the company said in a statement.

'We all spoke with one voice'

Fortier said she and the other four finalists found out about the retail giant's involvement with the prize during a press conference.

"We gathered and there were journalists and little canapé​s to eat, and then they did the press conference and said, 'Oh by the way, this year's sponsor is Amazon,'" she said. 

"It was not a good surprise."

Dominique Fortier is nominated for her novel Les villes de papier. (Martine Doyon)

So she and the other authors — Karoline Georges, Kevin Lambert, Jean-Christophe Réhel and Lula Carballo — decided to speak out about the company's "inhuman" practices, saying it had no business associating with the award.

They had the backing of their publishers, as well as several Quebec literary organizations, including the provincial library association, book editors' association and professional writers' union.

"We all spoke with one voice," Fortier said. 

Looking for another sponsor 

Claude Bourgie Bovet, co-founder of the prize, told The Canadian Press she is saddened by the negative response to the Amazon sponsorship.

Nevertheless, she said organizers "will work to try to do what we had done with Amazon, that is to find a partner able to offer money and support to develop the prize and ensure its longevity."

Sponsorships, she said, have increased the influence of the award and allowed it to grow.

The authors say Amazon is hastening the demise of local bookstores in Quebec. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

Amazon said the controversy will not stop it from getting involved in literary prizes.

It noted that it is already the main sponsor of the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, which The Walrus magazine produces on the online retailer's behalf, and contributes to other initiatives promoting literature.

There are 1.6 million French-language titles for sale on Amazon.ca, including the five books nominated this year for the Prix littéraire des collégiens.

A 'very special' prize 

But Fortier said this particular award is "is not like any literary prize — it's very special."

The award's format involves sending copies of the finalists' books to colleges and universities across the province. Representatives from the schools meet in Quebec City in the spring, where they debate the merits of each title and select a winner.

"It is a prize that's aimed at 17- and 18-year-old kids that, for many of them, are discovering Quebec literature maybe for the first time," Fortier said.

"So if Amazon wants to create prizes and call them the Great Amazon Prizes, I think that's fine and no one will object to it — but this is a bit different, I think."

Organizers said that with the suspension lifted, the nominated books will be sent to the 65 participating schools before the Christmas break.

The winning author receives a $5,000 prize.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Canadian Press. Interview with Dominique Fortier produced by Imogen Birchard. 

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