Per Saugman

Scientific publisher at Blackwell's
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The Independent Online

Per Gotfried Saugman, medical and scientific publisher: born Slagelse, Denmark 26 June 1925; OBE (Hon) 1989; married 1950 Patricia Fulford (died 2005; two sons, one daughter), married 2005 Sidsel Brun; died Copenhagen 25 November 2005.

Per Saugman, a Dane, was resident in England for over 50 years and during that time almost single-handedly revolutionised the practice of medical and scientific publishing in the UK. Between 1951, when he joined Blackwell Scientific Publications, and his retirement as managing director in 1987, he grew BSP from a company with a turnover of £23,000 and annual profits of £800 to one with revenues of £27m and operating profits in excess of £2m. In 1953 the company published 12 books; this grew to over 220 in Saugman's final year.

Under his guidance BSP expanded from its base in medicine to encompass dentistry, biology, agriculture, geology, chemistry, veterinary medicine and nursing. Blackwell Publishing, as the company has now become, is built substantially upon the very secure foundations laid by "PS".

Per Saugman was born in Slagelse, Denmark, in 1925, son of the director-general of the Danish Army Medical Corps, and his father's medical background perhaps helped formulate Per's ultimate choice of publishing career. He was never an academic, and an apprenticeship, aged 16, to the Copenhagen bookseller Ejnar Munksgaard put him on the route to a career in bookselling and, ultimately, publishing. Per Saugman was never to forget his first love of bookselling and he regarded close contact with specialist booksellers as a cornerstone of understanding what titles would sell well.

From Denmark he first travelled to Switzerland, to join the Swiss Wholesale Book Company in Olten, and later Wepf and Co in Basle, before moving to England in 1949 to George's bookshop in Bristol. There he joined the medical department and from then on never ventured into general bookselling or general publishing again. Saugman said, "The trouble with a general book is that you expect some to be successful, and they are not, and others to fail, which they do not, and nobody knows why." He preferred a more evidence-based approach.

After a short time in Oxford with B.H. Blackwell, the booksellers, and following a return to Munksgaard in Denmark, Saugman applied for, and got, the job of sales manager with Blackwell Scientific Publications. Two years later he was managing director and had begun to commission books such as Sheila Sherlock's Diseases of the Liver and Biliary System (1955), Arthur Rook's Textbook of Dermatology (1968) and Patrick Mollison's Blood Transfusion (1951), subsequent editions of which remain a backbone of the Blackwell medical list today.

Saugman's approach, almost unknown at the time, was actually to visit doctors and dentists at their place of work, rather than wait for their ideas for books to arrive in the post. Rival publishers were known to complain at this technique, especially when Saugman turned up in their home towns, often some way from Oxford and the South-East. He specialised in matching the right idea with the right person for the right audience and always followed the dictum of one of his mentors, Sir Basil Blackwell: "If I'm in doubt about a book, I've said to myself, would the world be poorer without this book, or would I be poorer with it?"

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, as Britain's scientific output grew, so did the output of BSP. Saugman rapidly saw the need to develop books for all sections of the medical and scientific audience. The "Lecture Notes" series was one of the first of its kind and it has been popular with medical students for over 40 years; over 55 volumes have been published. Academic journal publishing was also nurtured and developed by Saugman. He launched the British Journal of Haematology in 1955 and started Blackwell's long association with publishing for learned societies, exemplified by the journals of the British Ecological Society, which celebrate their half-century with the company in 2006.

Blackwell also developed internationally under Saugman's stewardship. His first employer, Munksgaard in Copenhagen, was bought by Blackwell in 1964 and this growth continued up to his retirement with acquisitions of publishing concerns in Germany, Austria and France. In the trade he also chaired the STM (Scientific, Technical and Medical) group of publishers, of which BSP was a founder member. Of his many honours, he was perhaps most proud of his appointment in 1989 as honorary OBE, for services to the book trade and publishing in particular.

Per Saugman was a natural showman. He lived life to the full, and was a man for whom the "publishing lunch" might have been invented. In less health-conscious times, the smell of cigar smoke reminded everyone that PS was in the office. Per was supported throughout his career by his devoted wife Pat, who predeceased him in 2005 and he was especially pleased to see both his sons, Philip and Peter, follow him into the business and work closely with him.

Per Saugman died suddenly in his native Denmark, but had visited Oxford for one last time in September to deliver a moving and typically lyrical speech on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the British Journal of Haematology.

Allen Stevens