Letts diaries e-jected for new economy

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The Independent Online

It is a classic case of the new economy throwing out the old. Letts diaries may be the best known brand of diary and calendars in Britain, with a history dating back to 1796, but its owners don't want it. They want to be an e-business.

It is a classic case of the new economy throwing out the old. Letts diaries may be the best known brand of diary and calendars in Britain, with a history dating back to 1796, but its owners don't want it. They want to be an e-business.

This was the thrust of yesterday's announcement from Bemrose Corporation, the Yorkshire-based printing company. It has put its printing operations up for sale, including the Letts diaries. Instead, it plans to concentrate on its fast-growing internet-based promotional products business, which distributes items such as baseball caps featuring the British Airways logo.

It is a sign of the times that Bemrose is likely to change its name to reflect its new e-status. The most likely choice is 4image.com, its main internet brand. In another sign of the times, the shares soared 32 per cent on the news to 577.5p.

"The past 12 months have seen the transformation of our company from a print-based group to a progressive internet-driven distribution business," said Rodger Booth, the chairman.

The print operations, which recorded profits of £9m last year, could be valued at £40m to £50m, analysts said. The division employs 1,000 workers in locations in Derby, Hull and Dalkeith, but the company does not anticipate any job losses.

Bemrose admitted that it was a shame to be selling the Letts business, which was founded by John Letts more than 200 years ago and remained in family hands until the early 1990s. "I don't think we can be emotional about it," said Martin Varley, a Bemrose director.

Bemrose has been a poor performer recently. Last year it issued a calamitous profits warning after it over-estimated the demand for millennium diaries and calendars.

The disaster prompted Bemrose to appoint NM Rothschild to examine the group's strategic options. The review suggested that Bemrose would be better off concentrating on its promotional products business, which in September launched an internet ordering facility called 4image.com.

The company reacted rather sniffily yesterday to suggestions that it was merely jumping on to the speeding internet bandwagon.

"People could say that, but only if they don't understand our business," snapped Dick Nelson, the company's new American chief executive.

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