Bunhill: Expensive suits in publisher's closet

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RICHARD DESMOND, the pornographer chairman of Northern & Shell, is in dispute with, among others, Ernest Saunders and the millionaire David Elias - as readers of the Independent will know.

What is not so widely known is quite how profitable Desmond's disputes have become for him. He is, without doubt, a ferocious litigator. Magazine distributors and others, beware.

Last year saw him take action against United Magazines - a subsidiary of United Newspapers. The argument at the time was much the same as the one he is having with David Elias now. Namely that he agreed to publish magazines for distribution and the distributor let him down, leaving him with millions of unsold copies.

In the event United purchased a stable of magazines from him in order to release itself from what it thought was a penalistic contract. None of the magazines purchased are still published.

Indeed, when one looks through the United accounts for 1992, there is a figure of pounds 12m mentioned 'in respect of the termination of the Northern & Shell contract'.

But that is not all, for I learn that in 1992 Desmond also came to blows with Seymour Distribution - a subsidiary of one of the world's largest publishing companies, Hachette.

Sadly for readers, Seymour is saying very little, except: 'The settlement made with Mr Desmond is subject to a confidentiality clause.'

But gossip in the publishing trade has it that the dispute was of much the same nature as the one with Elias.

Yet another outfit that came to blows with Desmond is the publishing trade magazine Circulation Factors and its editor, Roger Melody. He published a story about Seymour and Desmond, only to be threatened with a writ and all manner of punishment.

From a man allegedly worth pounds 50m, this was hard to swallow. Melody ran an apology in his magazine.

But what of Elias? Undoubtedly he is an ambitious man. He has plans to launch a new City newspaper to rival the Financial Times.

Under the direction of the Mail on Sunday City editor, Clive Wolman, plans are well advanced. In the opposing camp John Coyle, the veteran PR man acting for Desmond, also has plans for a City-centred magazine. All very confusing.

Wolman and Coyle are lunching tomorrow, and I trust they will have better luck at settling the dispute than Elias and Desmond. Because I doubt whether Elias is going to be as easy a pushover as Melody was.

(Photograph omitted)