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'I'm still doing the same thing.'

23 August 2004

The extraordinary success of Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves has shown yet again how one hugely successful book can transform the performance of a small publisher. There are now more than 1.1m copies of the book in print in the UK and it has also been a surprise international bestseller, in spite (or perhaps because of) its very English appeal. The book was voted Book of the Year at the British Book Awards and its publisher Profile was named Small Publisher of the Year.

Profile's turnover doubled in the year ending 31 March and the nine shareholders received their first dividend cheques since the company was founded eight years ago. 'Before this experience I was thinking: "Independent publishing is hopeless; I'm a terrible publisher; it's not working; I should give up". Now I think I'm a genius. But I'm still doing the same thing.' MD Andrew Franklin, former head of Penguin's Hamish Hamilton, compares publishing to gambling. 'Every publisher deserves an Eats, Shoots from time to time, but without solid underlying growth, it's just like gambling - or even more like gambling than publishing is normally.'

HarperCollins' excellent results internationally (boosted by The Purpose Driven Life - see News Review 16 August) have show yet again that when a big company is powering along it can turn in a healthy profit. But the corporate cohorts can also stumble badly. The Penguin UK warehouse disaster shows how a usually efficient distribution system can be brought to its knees by the badly planned introduction of a state of the art automated system. Those with long memories will recall Oxford University Press and Littlehampton suffering similar traumas. The worst of the Penguin debacle is now in the past, but substantial sales, especially of Penguin's rich backlist, have been lost. Andrew Franklin must feel that he prefers the gamble of life in his own small company to working for his previous employers.