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Canada Quebec literary prize drops Amazon sponsorship after outcry from nominated writers

A prestigious Quebec literary prize has decided to abandon a sponsorship from Amazon after writers nominated for the award denounced the online giant’s “inhuman methods.”

Organizers of the Prix litteraire des collegiens announced Monday the next edition of the prize will go ahead with funding from a foundation as they try to find a new sponsor.

The prize was suspended last month shortly after Amazon was announced as the main sponsor. Critics blamed the online retailer for hastening the demise of local bookstores and said it had no business associating with the award.

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Claude Bourgie Bovet, co-founder of the prize, said in an interview that 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.”

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

“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.

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 litteraire des collegiens.

The finalists for the 2019 edition of the prize were among the most vocal critics of Amazon Canada’s involvement.

In a joint letter published in Le Devoir, Karoline Georges, Kevin Lambert, Jean-Christophe Rehel, Lula Carballo and Dominique Fortier denounced what they called Amazon’s “extreme competition” and its detrimental effect on small booksellers.

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“Must we recall the precariousness of the book trade and literary publishing?” they asked. “Must we bring up the inhuman methods of this online selling giant, which constitutes a peril for small retailers and cultural sites?”

Bourgie Bovet had argued that the sponsorship increased the influence of the award and allowed it to grow. She said she was “saddened” by the negative response.

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. The winning author receives a $5,000 prize.

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

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