Unhappy tale for publishers left in the lurch: Collapsed bookseller Bertram owes £25m but has just £600,000 available
Publishers, museums and media groups are owed £25million from a collapsed books wholesaler that has just £600,000 available to hand back to them.
Bertram Books was one of just two major national wholesalers supplying books to UK stores when it collapsed in June.
The firm owes money to around 2,500 trade creditors, according to company filings that lay bare the pressures facing the publishing industry.
Debts: Bertram Books was one of just two major national wholesalers supplying books to UK stores when it collapsed in June
The creditors include major publishers as well as smaller independents – many of which will already be struggling after the pandemic shuttered bookshops for several months.
Penguin Random House’s distribution company Grantham Book Services is owed almost £2.3million, according to the accounts on Companies House, while Pan Macmillan’s distribution group is owed around £1.8million and Oxford University Press more than £1million.
The private equity-owners of Norwich-based Bertrams, Aurelius, put the group up for sale in May, shortly after it was forced to temporarily close its warehouse due to the pandemic.
It went into administration in June, leading to most of its 460 employees losing their jobs, and is still in the hands of administrators Turpin Barker Armstrong.
Some of Bertram’s assets have been sold, including its online bookselling division Wordery, bought by Waterstones-owner Elliott Advisers, and its Norwich warehouse, which was bought by former arch-rival Gardners.
The collapse has been described as ‘like a bereavement’ by founder Kip Bertram, who created the firm with his mother Elsie in two chicken sheds in 1968, before selling it on in 1999.
But Bertram, 76, has disputed claims made by the administrators about why the company was tipped over the edge earlier this summer.
Turpin Barker Armstrong said book wholesalers had been ‘suffering from falling demand in recent years due to changes in the distribution model for literature and the rising popularity of e-books’.
The group added: ‘These factors, combined with the Covid-19-related closure of many public libraries and educational facilities, meant these businesses could no longer operate viably.’
But Bertram told the BBC: ‘It’s nothing to do with e-books or Covid-19 – people still like to hold and smell books.’
The most recent accounts filed show that in the 16 months to December 2018, Bertram’s made a profit of £8.5million.
It is unclear whether the trade creditors will get their money back – though it is thought some may have insurance that covers this type of situation.
As well as trade creditors, Bertram’s also owes money to other groups including employees and unnamed un-trade creditors, according to the filings. Aurelius was approached for comment.