Magazine article Management Today

Everyman Awake

Magazine article Management Today

Everyman Awake

Article excerpt

Anyone setting out to interview David Campbell, owner and publisher of the Everyman's Library, should know that the numbering system in London's raffish Berwick Street runs contiguously rather than (as is customary in streets) nipping smartly back and forth across the road.

When - several minutes late as a result of this aberration - you happen upon number 79 and discover a Georgian shop-front bearing the name, Berwick Street Books, you assume it to be part of Everyman's bibliocentric empire and barge breathlessly in. To your surprise, you find its shelves covered not, as you had imagined, with editions of Montaigne's Essays or Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of die Roman Empire but with magazines apparently dedicated to the cultivation of root vegetables and wrapped, for some unknown reason, in cling-film. When closer inspection reveals these to have titles such as Californian Big Boys and Grunt, a dreadful thought passes through your mind: could Campbell possibly be exploiting a hitherto unsuspected resonance in the word 'Everyman' to move into a quite different area of British publishing?

Seated in an office upstairs from his egregious (and entirely coincidental) confrares in the book trade, Campbell ponders the suggestion with the air of one weighing up its commercial possibilities and smiles a publisher's smile. 'I don't think it's quite in our line at the moment,' says the man who bought the Everyman title from Weidenfeld's J M Dent division in 1990 and relaunched it the following year. 'I must say that it does teach one an interesting lesson in the dynamics of the free market, though. We pay 18,000 [pounds] for our three floors whereas the people downstairs pay 18,000 [pounds] for one and then sublet it for 40,000 [pounds]. It makes you think.'

Those of you who grew up with the comfortingly Fabian presence of Everyman's pilgrim logo should stay calm: Campbell is only joking (I think).

Founded in 1906 by the eponymous Mr Dent, the Everyman title was created with the jejune ambition of putting together - in its founder's modest words - 'the most complete library for the common man the world had ever seen'. The guiding principle in this undertaking was to be affordability: 'All Everyman books were originally sixpence a volume, so that - as Joseph Dent said, with typical Victorian orotundity - with a couple of quid, a man could be rich for life,' remarks Campbell, wryly.

For the next 40 years, suitably grateful figures from the pages of D H Lawrence novels were to raise their cloth caps to the high-minded shade of JM Dent with one horny hand while clutching cheap editions of Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe or Marcus Aurelius Antoninus's Medications in the other. This uplifting state of affairs was not to last, however. 'Unfortunately,' says Dent's titular heir, 'the company never really recovered from the invention of the paperback and the subsequent domination of the market by a certain Penguin Books.' Thus it was that Campbell found Everyman's wistful pilgrim languishing - several acquisitions and a bit of publishing arbitrage later - in a dusty backwater of the Weidenfeld empire. 'I'd been stalking the title for more than a decade, while working for Gallimard and Hachette in Paris,' recalls Campbell, a glint in his eye. 'George Weidenfeld needed to sell, and I saw my chance to buy.'

And why? 'Let'sface it,' says Campbell, with a steely air. 'Everyman didn't just have a great history: it also had a great brand name. That's very rare in publishing. When people go into a bookshop, they, by and large, look for a book by its author. It is probably only in the case of Everyman and - [a faint rictus of distaste] - Penguin that they will actually look for something by brand. I had to borrow a certain amount of money to set up this company. With respect, if I'd called it, say, Campbell & Darwent, I would have been ignored. As it was, I could write to people like Seamus Heaney, Isaiah Berlin, Frank Kermode, asking them to be on the advisory board of a re-launched Everyman and they all said, "Yes, great". …

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