Sir: I fully agree with Mr Michael Lewis ('Cheque-book publishing', 15 April) when he refers to the lunacy that currently riddles the publishing industry'. But having said that, may I correct a point of fact? Time-Life did not turn round several years later and sell Andre Deutsch back to its original owners at a discount.
Time-Life did not buy it in the first place. They approached me in 1969, through Raimund von Hofmannsthal, asking if they could buy a minority interest; and after long negotiations during which I was advised by Lord Goodman their final offer was so good that he told me, 'If you do not accept it I will have you certified'. They bought 40 per cent of the equity, and insisted that I personally should retain majority. I ended up with 56 per cent, and four per cent was shared out between Diana Athill, Nicolas Bentley and some of my other close friends. This was confirmed in the company's minute books of 17 December 1969, and two Time-Life people joined our board — one of them, to my delight, dear Raimund von Hofmannsthal. Time-Life were ideal partners in that they never interfered in any way with our publishing policy, so I ought to have been -happy. No doubt it was my fault that I was not. What I could not bear was their passion for meetings. They believed that great publishing would result if the various publishers in which they had purchased an interest sat together round conference tables at regular intervals. I was convinced that such meetings would be a terrible waste of time, and the two I did attend — one in Salzburg and one in southern Spain — confirmed this. Another thing which drove me mad was the number of detailed forecasts asked for by their accountants — forecasts which, given the nature of our type of publishing, could only be pointless fairy stories. By the middle of 1972 I had become so bored by all this that I asked Lord Goodman to switch from marriage broker to divorce lawyer, and unhitch us; which he did, much helped by the friendli- ness of Time-Life. In December 1972 the two Time-Life directors resigned, but I persuaded Raimund to return to the board as a private individual, simply because we loved him. The price we paid for the shares when we bought them back was a little less than what we had been paid for them, but it was far from being 'a discount price'.
One other point. Mr Lewis suggests that the dissolution of the Net Book Agreement is 'inevitable'. I totally disagree and un- doubtedly many of my senior colleagues in the publishing world would share my views. I believe the Net Book Agreement, which has been such a marvellous regulat- ing influence in the book trade throughout the EEC countries, will continue for a long, long time to come, in spite of Mr Terry Maher of Pentos saying that its demise is just around the corner.
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