Author of his own fortune

Given all the attention devoted to the likes of Random House and HarperCollins, it is easy to run away with the idea that publishing these days is all about conglomerates. But, as Philip Sturrock, chairman of Cassell, says: "The big boys don't get it all their own way."

While accepting that there are some advantages to being multinational - especially international reach - Mr Sturrock maintains that small can be beautiful. Particularly when it comes to breaking schedules and publishing books in a hurry, as happened recently when Lord Owen wanted his book about the Balkans to hit the shops when the topic was hot.

But perhaps the greatest strength he points to is the ability of smaller independents, such as Cassell, to exploit niches. The publisher, which is due to publish annual results in April, is perhaps best known for Nick Hornby, the writer who turned the books world upside down with his love letter to football, Fever Pitch, which is likely to increase its earnings still further when the film version appears later this year.

But Cassell really prospers outside the mainstream. Besides books on gardening and health, it has a strong academic arm that includes two religious imprints, one of which enjoyed huge sales in 1994 on the back of the revised Catholic Catechism.

Indeed, imprints are a key part of Mr Sturrock's strategy. Mr Hornby and Joe R Lansdale, the cult crime writer, are published by Victor Gollancz, the literary line Cassell acquired in 1992 two years before floating. Prior to that, it had taken in Blandford and Arms and Armour, military publishers. While there are such books as the Cassell Dictionary of Proverbs, others bear such names as Ward Lock.

Mr Sturrock admits that the approach taken by himself and his colleagues since they acquired the company in a management buy-in from the US broadcaster CBS in 1986 might make the public less aware of the company's reach. But he believes that giving a separate sense of identity to individual editorial teams produces greater commitment and motivation. Rather than getting them to focus on the financials, he insists that if they are managed properly, the profits follow. "Part of the skill of being a publishing manager is how you manage these people," he says, adding that it is a fine line between indulging them and exerting strict control.

Despite what some may see as an old-fashioned approach, Mr Sturrock - managing director of Routledge until it changed hands in 1986 - is not averse to a bit of commercialism.

Although Cassell was generally in favour of the Net Book Agreement, he believes that its collapse has so far favoured the company because it has made many booksellers, especially smaller chains such as Books Etc and Hammicks, more prepared to do deals with publishers and to think about promotion in their shops.

At the same time Mr Sturrock has sought to cash in on the company's assets. As hardback publisher of Dick King-Smith, a children's author, it rushed out the book on which the hit film Babe was based, suitably renamed to attract a new generation of readers. It has also made nearly pounds 1m by licensing the name Mrs Beeton, of cookery book fame, to the food producer Ginsters for a line of chilled foods.

Such an attitude might have been expected to impress the City. But Mr Sturrock admits to feeling a little disappointed by the shares since the company's float. Some of this is down to uncertainties about the publishing industry in general in the wake of the end of the NBA, as well as what he calls "froth about the possibilities of electronic publishing". There is also concern over the effects on general publishers of WH Smith's strategy of reducing the number of titles stocked in its shops.

Although 1995 was not an especially good year, with profits of about pounds 736,000 on sales of pounds 23m, observers are expecting an improvement in the figures about to be announced.

Mr Sturrock, while keen to stay small in approach, still plans to build the business up to pounds 100m turnover. No wonder he is keen to point out that another Hornby book is on the way.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before