New chapter as Bath Press dealings begin

Dealings begin next Monday in Bath Press, a book printer founded in 1845 by Sir Isaac Pitman, the inventor of shorthand, and now the spa town's largest employer.

Bath prints and binds about 27 million books a year, numbering among its titles Margaret Thatcher's Downing Street Years, Andrew Morton's Diana - Her True Story and David Attenborough's The Secret Life of Plants.

Demerged from Pitmans in 1983, Bath is 63 per cent-owned by its management.

It will come to the market through a reverse takeover by Diverse Acquisitions, a vehicle set up by company promoter Luke Johnson.

Roy Hill, chief executive, who will retain 9.3 per cent of the company after the float, said: "Going public means Bath Press has the financial strength to take advantage of the significant expansion opportunities in the book-manufacturing market."

In 1993, the latest year for which figures are available, unit sales of books increased by 2.2 per cent to 410 million books. The value of book sales, however, rose by 8.2 per cent to £2.7bn, implying a 5 per cent real increase in the price of the average book.

With 83,000 titles published in 1993 in the UK, the British industry is one of the strongest in the world.

Because of the growing demand for just-in-time production, the company believes, it is less and less practicable to manufacture books outside their principal market.

Bath prints a wide spread of titles, with 32 per cent of its books in the academic area, a quarter retail non-fiction and the rest comprising fiction, reference, education, children's books and Bibles.

Despite the strength of the market, Bath comes to the market with a three-year record of losses, although it bounced back into the black in the 34 weeks to November.

In the year to March, pre-tax losses were £659,000 from sales of £32.1m, following losses of £1.93m and £397,000 in the preceding two years. The directors said the reported figures included several one-off items not expected to recur and forecast a yieldof about 3.8 per cent.

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